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15
May

Health unions publish blueprint for the safe re-opening of NHS services


Fast, comprehensive and accessible testing, and the ongoing, ample supply of protective kit are among measures that must be in place for the NHS to be opened up safely as the UK begins to ease the lockdown, say health unions.

 

The 16 unions - including UNISON, the Royal College of Nursing, the Royal College of Midwives, the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy, Unite and GMB - have drawn up a nine-point blueprint, which also calls for staff to be paid properly for every hour worked.

The unions want to ensure that as outpatient clinics and operations resume the NHS continues to operate a safety-first approach. This means, says the blueprint, maintaining the two-metre rule, allowing certain staff to continue working from home and regularly redeploying those in high-risk areas to ones under less pressure. Otherwise there could be a leap in infection rates which risks overwhelming the NHS, the document warns.

 

The unions represent more than a million staff working in the NHS across the UK - including porters, nurses, radiographers, physiotherapists, midwives, 999-call handlers, cleaners, healthcare assistants, dieticians and paramedics.

They all want to avoid a repeat of the protective equipment (PPE) supply problems experienced earlier in the pandemic. These shortages sapped staff confidence, causing widespread and unnecessary anxiety, say unions.

 

Access to readily available PPE is especially important as employers in other parts of the economy begin to open up their workplaces and source protective kit for staff, say unions.

 

The blueprint also suggests that, over the next few months, Trust managers deploy many of the 40,000 staff who’ve returned to the NHS to relieve areas experiencing staffing shortages. Their presence could allow overworked staff some much-needed time off, the unions say.

 

While the priority remains saving lives, and keeping health workers and patients safe, unions are calling on the government to ensure staff working through the pandemic get proper overtime and are paid for every hour they’re at work. 

 

Unions want NHS employers to work with them so that the high value the public has placed on staff is reflected in pay talks, due to take place later this year. There can be no return to pay freezes and austerity, say the unions.

Commenting on the blueprint, UNISON Head of Heath Sara Gorton, who also chairs the NHS group of unions, says: “Tackling Covid has been a huge challenge, but this next phase will be a crucial test too. This nine-point plan will enable senior NHS managers to work with staff and unions to restart safely many of the services that had to shut up shop when the pandemic hit. Acting on the plan could prevent a second wave of infection.”

 

Read the full plan here.

 

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