HEALTH workers came out in force against “damaging attacks” on the NHS at a hospital demonstration.
Scores of Unison members, including porters, nurses, switchboard operators and clerical staff, staged the protest outside Sunderland Royal Hospital.
The demonstration was part of the TUC’s All Together for the NHS campaign which is calling on the Government to rethink health service shake-ups and funding cuts.
Changes include dissolving NHS primary care trusts and replacing them with GP consortia responsible for buying health services.
The Government claims family doctors are best placed to understand patients’ needs and wants them to decide where money is spent, but opponents say it will be disastrous.
Ann Clay, a switchboard worker and Unison’s Wearside Health Branch secretary, said: “GPs don’t even want this – they’re not businessmen – and we see it as privatisation.”
Ms Clay said funding reductions at City Hospitals Sunderland NHS Foundation Trust had already started to take their toll on staff and services.
“They have to save £20million over the next four years, and you can’t do that without affecting staff and the services we provide.
“People talk about protecting frontline services, but frontline staff need back-room support.”
Ken Richardson, a public health worker at Sunderland Teaching Primary Care Trust and chairman of Unison’s Wearside Health branch, said the Government’s proposals for GP commissioning would see GP consortia responsible for about £80million of public funds.
He said they would be free to contract private companies and pointed to fears that the Government reforms would see services run for profit.
“GPs don’t want this, the public don’t want it, we don’t want it and the British Medical Association doesn’t want it,” he said
Helen Finkill, Unison’s regional organiser for Sunderland, added: “Today is part of the TUC’s campaign to get behind the NHS, and that’s exactly what we’re seeing happen.
“We were promised the NHS would be ring-fenced, it wouldn’t be part of the cuts, but it’s already started.
“The hospital here has already asked for voluntary redundancies.”
The protesting health workers were joined by members of other Unison branches, including Sunderland City Council and Sunderland University.
Sunderland Central MP Julie Elliott and city councillor Dianne Snowdon were also out showing their support.
Ms Elliott said the Government had promised to protect the NHS, but it was effectively making cuts by not increasing funding to account for inflation and other considerations.
“We’ve got to have those real increases to keep up the same level of service to patients,” she said.
“Health service workers earning more than £21,000 are also subject to a pay freeze – that will include many nurses.
“It’s not just highly-paid doctors.”