NHS ‘Summer Of Discontent’ Fear

Hundreds of thousands of health workers could go on strike after the biggest trade union in the service rejected a pay offer and agreed to ballot members. Delegates at Unison’s health conference attacked the 2.5% rise in two stages, which they say is only worth 1.9%.

They warned of co-ordinated action leading to a “summer of discontent”. The Society of Radiographers has also voted to consider industrial action if the government does not reverse its decision to stage the awards. Both bodies earlier said members were “getting angrier by the day” at a below-inflation offer that they said amounted to a pay cut.

Unison leaders will now demand a meeting with Chancellor Gordon Brown to demand the pay offer be improved, and not staged. The conference unanimously agreed that a ballot of the union’s 450,000 NHS members would be held unless the offer was increased. The union represents nurses, ambulance crews, paramedics, occupational therapists and clerical staff.

The moves come after nurses in the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) also threatened to take industrial action, in a vote at their conference last week.

The Society of Radiographers, which represents 16,000 radiography staff, is holding its annual conference in Brighton. It has called on its executive to do “as much as possible” to persuade the government not to stage the pay award. If unsuccessful, the society voted to “consider further action”.

There is unlikely to be an all-out strike, but radiographers could take measures such as refusing to work overtime. This could affect the government’s ability to meet its 18-week wait target between GP referral and hospital operation – which depends largely on getting results from tests such as X-rays quickly.

Warren Town, the society’s director of industrial relations, said: “This is the first time that any government has staged an increase that is below the rate of inflation and is, in real terms, a cut.

“A stand must be taken against the government’s move to underpay the people that they claim are absolutely key to delivering NHS targets that they have set. Morale in the NHS was bad before but this penny-pinching has sent it to rock bottom.”

Low-paid ancillary staff such as cleaners and porters have also been told they will receive a staged pay rise, which the union has called “an insult”.

Former health minister Lord Warner has hit out at NHS staff, saying they were refusing to accept the need for change. He told the Parliamentary Monitor magazine: “If you say ‘Have (staff) delivered all that you would have liked them to deliver for that extra investment?’ then the frank answer for me is ‘Not as much as I would like to have seen’.”

Lord Warner added that staff had been slow to embrace new ideas such as the electronic patient record.