Trades Union Congress (TUC) General Secretary, Brendan Barber, is to tell an NHS Together march in Sheffield tomorrow (Saturday 3 March 2007) that the government is in danger of squandering the political credit it has earned for its investment in the NHS and the better patient care that NHS staff are now delivering.
The march is just one of a series of events to be held across the country as part of a day of action called by NHS Together, the new alliance of all the organisations representing staff in the NHS, together with the TUC. Events range from unveiling an NHS Together banner at the peak of Skiddaw in the Lake District to marches, rallies, concerts and community campaigning in towns and cities across England.
Mr Barber will tell marchers: "There is a rising tide of cynicism about the NHS. People tell pollsters that the service has got no better since the government has come to power, even while saying that their own personal experience has been good.
"Voters should trust their own judgement, not that of the cynics. For there can be no doubt that extra cash, extra staff and the commitment of staff in the NHS has made a difference. Of course there is always room for improvement – and rightly, better services will always lead to even higher expectations – but we have a message to the cynics and opponents today. Stop trashing the NHS – join with us in celebrating the achievements – not just of doctors and nurses but the whole health team.
"This government should be getting much of the credit for this better NHS. We are well on course to spending the same as our European colleagues, after years when it was starved of resources. Bravely, the chancellor won the argument for higher National Insurance contributions to pay for better health.
"But it is in danger of squandering the political credit it deserves, and it is running out of time to put it right. It needs action on three fronts.
"First, it must deal with the cash gap. No one can expect health spending to carry on growing at the same rate every year, but the brakes have been slammed on too fast with job losses up and down the country.
"Second, it must end constant change. NHS staff are not against change. That's an insult. But too many top-down targets and endless reorganisations have become a substitute for the hard slog of delivering better patient care with government, managers and staff working together.
"Third, it must stop the fragmentation of the NHS. It's one of Britain's most valued institutions. It is based on the values of co-operation and working together, not competition and profit. Yet internal markets and the rapid growth of the private sector are fragmenting the NHS. Where different parts of the service used to work together, now they are competing for patients, and on a playing field with a distinct tilt to the private sector.
"And it needs to do all of these to win back the support of NHS staff who, with supporters, are demonstrating, marching and meeting across the country today – giving up their spare time because they love the jobs they do and love the organisation that makes that possible – the NHS.
"It is not too late to put the NHS back on track, and ministers are certainly much more willing to talk to us since we launched NHS Together – I welcome that.
"Nor do we want to join those whose policies want to go even further in fragmenting and breaking up the NHS who are using health as a political football to kick this government. The NHS is too important for that.
"So our message here today – and across the country – is work with us. Win back our trust. Work together to make the NHS even better."