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Striking a blow for the soul of the NHS.

Byline: Paul Routledge

THIS is the new, "caring" face of the National Health Service under the Tories: obey orders - or you're sacked.

Mid Yorkshire NHS Hospitals Trust commanded whitecollar workers to accept salary cuts of up to PS2,700 a year or lose their jobs.

Letters went out to 162 receptionists, medical secretaries and other staff warning they will be fired at the end of April and rehired on lower pay. Or it's P45 time.

Not one has caved in to this industrial blackmail and yesterday they burned the threatening letters outside a Trust board meeting.

The Trust provides hospital services for hundreds of thousands of people in Wakefield, Dewsbury, Pontefract and surrounding areas. The staff involved, mainly women, have resisted job downgrading, taking three days official strike action last November and five more days this week. These are the people you meet first on the front line of the NHS.

They deal with the public. They organise your care, including my brother, in for X-rays yesterday. They are not just the "back office people" sneered at by the Tories. And, by heavens, are they determined! I met them on the picket line and was amazed by the strength of their commitment.

Some are ladies in their 60s, many are mothers.

This is their first taste of industrial action. But these "virgin strikers" have got the bit between their teeth and I can see why.

The legality of these dismissal threats is dubious.

The corrosive effect on workplace relations across the hospitals is unquestionable.

Personnel chief Graham Briggs says his ultimatum to staff is "perfectly legitimate". We must have different ideas about what's right and wrong.

Through massive incompetence at the top, Mid Yorks Trust has run up a PS20million deficit this year. Senior managers have come and gone more frequently than buses to Leeds, presumably with fat payoffs. Why should the staff pay for mismanagement they didn't cause? It gets worse.

The Trust spent more than PS4million on accountants Ernst and Young and management consultants Finnamore in the last two years, telling the managers how to run the business. Into the ground, as it turns out.

Why should low-paid workers accept salary cuts to fill the coffers of these private-sector parasites? This is what it's all about. The Tories and their Lib Dem lapdogs are turning the NHS into a business, driven by profit and loss. At heart, they hate the idea of "socialised medicine".

They're ideologically driven to abolish the health service as we know it - and want it.

That's why the stand of these Yorkshire lasses is so important. They're not just fighting for their pay. They're fighting for a properly-fund, decently-run NHS, for the patients, not the privatisers.

In a very real way, their struggle is our struggle.

I admire their courage and I wish them well.

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Title Annotation:Features; Opinion, Column
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Feb 1, 2013
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