Several hundreds of trade unionists marched through Bristol yesterday, with sizeable contingents from UNITE, GMB, UNISON, RCN, Radiographers and other unions. GMB activists carried a coffin representing the threat of the NHS being killed off by the Tories and their Liberal supporters.
19 NHS trusts in the West Country are supporting the so called, Pay Terms and Conditions Consortium, more accurately known as the Pay Cartel, where they are seeking to break away from the Agenda for Change, national pay and conditions. Two other trusts, Royal Bournemouth and Christchurch Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, have already pulled out.
Each trust put in an initial £10000 to explore the legal and practical implications of reducing pay; and the early signs were that they were planning a 5% pay cut on all staff earning 5% of more. The Health and Social Care Act has already created a two teir system, where district hospitals may struggle to recruit and maintain specialist staff; if these hospitals also offer lower pay, then a staffing crisis could ensue. In addition, the proposed loss of wages would take millions of pounds out of the local economy.
All of the NHS unions have been working closely together in this campaign; and the position of the 19 trusts is becomming increasingly untennable. The mood on the demonstration was determined and cheerful.