NHS Bill - who's right?Posted by Alexander Hay
As nurses and midwifes revolt in the face of NHS reforms, are they right to do so, or simply doing too little, too late?
2012 has barely begun, and the first big political clash of the year is already underway;
The unions representing nurses and midwives have joined others in stating their "outright opposition" to the government's NHS plans in England.
The Royal College of Nursing and the Royal College of Midwives had expressed concerns in the past, but said they were willing to work with ministers.
However, now they want the entire bill covering the changes to be dropped...
Obviously, the RCN and RCM aren't really in a position to go on strike. Firefighters and ambulance drivers have that luxury as long as they're still charging off to wherever they're actually needed, but nurses need to be in the hospital and on duty in a fashion that makes picketing rather difficult.
Instead they are borrowing tactics from the Police Federation of England and Wales, which while neither a union nor able to go on strike, still exerts influence by getting very publicly stroppy with anything it doesn't like.
Whether this will change anything is academic, however - unless the government declares a sudden u-turn:
...The Health and Social Care Bill is still working its way through Parliament, and the bill is in the Lords at the moment.
In many ways it is over the worst political hurdles and it seems the only way it could be stopped would be if the Lib Dems blocked it when it returns to the Commons - but that is considered unlikely.
On the ground, changes are already being made to pave the way for the new system to kick in, in 2013...
Which is to say, whatever battles could have been won have already been lost. An earlier intervention may have had some influence. So why now? It seems that the government didn't quite let on how far their plans for the NHS would go, and with cuts to pensions thrown in for good measure, the RCN and RCM don't seem to have realised what was going to happen until it was too late. Then there was this revelation:
...One of the key developments was the news, which emerged just after Christmas, that NHS hospitals would be allowed to do 49% of their work in the private sector...
Which is probably not the sort of thing the unions were expecting at Christmas. They do, of course, have to share blame for the way this has been resolved. Taking the government - any government - at face value is a poor decision, and revolting this late in the process will probably come to naught. The government are the main culprits, however, but as they no doubt know, it's going to be a very long 12 months, and time is now on their side.
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