Trade Unions are of vital importance in securing representation and fairness in the workplace. They have secured many rights that we take for granted today, and long may they continue.
However it’s about time that members of some of our largest trade unions realise that they are being used to fund and promote the Labour Party and its agenda.
What has triggered this posting is this petulant article (a Press Release which started life between floors at Transport House, Cardiff no doubt).
Dawn Bowden is Unison’s Head Of Health in Wales. She is also a Labour Party member, and was on the shortlist to be the party’s candidate for next year’s Assembly elections in Caerphilly.
In the article Ms Bowden criticises Plaid Cymru’s Party Political Broadcast saying that her union took exception to a ‘knock knock’ joke referencing ambulance responses.
Then she goes on to claim that Ambulance workers are angry at this, calling for an apology, only to obfuscate the issue by stating some statistics about Ambulance response times.
While the news article is written in the name of Unison, one must question whether this was the Union speaking or in fact the Labour Party.
Unison members really need to ask themselves whether people who have such a vested party political interest and who have their own political agendas are suitable to speak publically on their behalf.
Nowhere in the Broadcast does Plaid Cymru criticise Ambulance staff nor the Ambulance Trust, and it’s plain ignorant and obtuse to try and claim this.
It shows a shocking lack of understanding of the issues that our Ambulance Service have to deal with to make such a claim, and this by someone with such a revered title as ‘Head Of Health’.
It is a well evidenced fact that Ambulance response times depend on many factors beyond the Ambulance staff’s control including the equipment available, the proximity of other ambulances, their ability to offload patients and several other factors.
Demand for the ambulance service is rising, especially in rural areas, because alternative healthcare services in community hospitals have been withdrawn, the out of hours doctors service is inadequate in many areas and the delays in the ability to obtain a surgery GP appointment converts a need for a consultation into a pressing need for treatment which not infrequently results in a call for an ambulance. This is further compounded by the fact that we have seen hundreds of hospital beds being lost, and less nurses being employed here in north Wales. Add to this the fact that the Health Board here are looking to downgrade one of our maternity units, which will mean having at least two ambulances on stand-by to take emergency births to the nearest Consultant-led unit – that’s another two ambulances gone from general duty, applying even greater pressure on the service.
We have the greatest sympathy for our staff on the coal-face whose professionalism an dedication can in no way be doubted. It is a shame of the greatest order therefore that Labour are abusing their links with the Unions to set political attacks on political opponents who are merely pointing out the fact that our health service is under serious pressure, and that things cannot go on.
Can Unison’s Head of health in Wales really not see that unnecessary pressure is put on the ambulance trust because of policies put in practice by this Labour Government? This is a serious failure to comprehend and grasp the issues facing our health service and its staff. Or could she be stating her personal views as a Labour member? Either way, I fail to see how an Union representing people of all political persuasions and none can allow her to be a public spokesperson on their behalf.
Earlier this month a new Ambulance Response regime was put in place where ambulances are now expected to respond to calls based on a traffic light system, with the most urgent being red and expected to be seen to sooner than other calls. However this is merely moving the deckchairs on the Titanic. Only last week did we see ambulances queue 7 deep outside of Wrexham Maelor Hospital; yesterday we heard that there were 9 queuing outside Ysbyty Glan Clwyd. More than 8,000 hours were wasted by ambulance crews having to queue outside north Wales hospitals last year. Patients are in some cases waiting 8 hours and even longer to be seen at the Maelor’s A&E. In September we heard the case of the elderly lady in Rhosllanerchrugog who had fallen in her garden and had to wait 2 hours for an ambulance, which eventually came from Barmouth, literally the other side of Wales. Clearly the ambulance crews are under significant and sustained pressure, through no fault of their own. Neither is it the fault of our NHS staff in the hospitals or GP surgeries. No amount of changing ambulance targets will resolve the issue of declining hospital bed numbers and declining nurse numbers. The Government should treat the cause, and not the symptoms.
Finally, Ms Bowden says,
“In the development of your health policies, please do not denigrate our hard-working members for whom public service is a badge of honour.
“I would like to meet with you to discuss this further.”
Instead of claiming that a Party Political Broadcast which raises legitimate concerns about the direction of our health service, in a simple and pithy skit, is denigrating hard-working members of Unison, should she not spend her time and energy challenging the Government on why Unison members are expected to work under such circumstances? Why NHS Staff are suffering record levels of stress? Why whistleblowing is not allowed?
In addition I would expect to have heard someone in this position speak out on the issue of zero hour contracts in social care, and concerned at Labour’s continuing voting down of Plaid Cymru’s amendments to ban this practice. Yet we have heard nothing.
On a personal level, I worked a number of families who had lost loved ones either as a direct or indirect consequence of C. Difficile in north Wales some years ago. At the time the number of cases were at a dangerously high level (levels continue to be too high, incidentally). We had done everything possible to raise this issue of patient welfare and well-being with the relevant authorities. But our concern went beyond that. I contacted the Unison representative in north Wales (who is also a Labour Party member and a former Parliamentary candidate for them) to express my concern for the welfare of staff having to work in these conditions, and to ask whether or not Unison would work with us in raising these issues. I didn’t even get a reply. So don’t tell me that we are ‘denigrating your members’.
The best thing about Unison is its members. Its a shame that they are let down by some of their officers, who I can only conclude, use their positions to defend the Labour Party and attack political opponents.