Saturday, 11 January 2014


The ‘free movement of labour’ (the other side of the coin to the 'free movement of capital' (pardon the pun!) can sometimes be a double edged sword, as well as also being counterproductive; particularly to vital public sector services.
Take the NHS for example. Because of the austerity measures being pursued by the Coalition government, thousands upon thousands of nursing and support jobs have been culled. I use the word culled deliberately.
It is no surprise then, that winter, and the pressures upon the NHS that these cold months bring, has forced the employers to accept that it has a severe shortage of staff!
The remedy?  Poach nurses from overseas. Entice staff from other countries (EU and beyond) to plug the UK shortages. Bring staff from countries that themselves are struggling with basic health needs.
This Coalition government is turning the NHS clock back to the 1950s (not to celebrate multiculturalism, but rather to divide & rule, weaken trade unions and feed the private sector).
That the NHS couldn't function without staff from around the world, or that those staff are excellent at what they do, or that lives are being saved because of them, is all true. The flip side though, is that the policy (not the people, but the policy) makes the NHS more vulnerable to privatisation and the private sector.
Governments do not support the free movement of labour to make the UK socialist!
However, a more bizarre illustration of the free movement of labour is happening in UK Ambulance Services.
The London Ambulance Service, for example, was told to ‘save’ £50m+ over five years and shed some 900 posts.
Posts, that when taken out would have a crucial effect on the patient care given to Londoners. The Union acknowledges that the original targets contained within the Service's Cost Improvement Plan (CIP) have now been revised, but that said, the LAS is still a victim of the Coalition's public sector cuts programme.
It is now accepted by many, that the London Ambulance Service, along with most other Ambulance Services, is short of clinically trained staff.
The remedy?  Poach Paramedics from the Europe, New Zealand and Australia. It is difficult to believe that those countries have a surplus of Paramedics.
Of course, on a personal level we welcome all staff joining the London Ambulance Service. We wish them well, hope they have a good career with us, give Londoners the excellent care they deserve, and, join UNISON!
But on a political level it can't be right.
How have we got to a situation where lots of young people in Britain want to train as Paramedics but there are multiple barriers put up in the way and masses of hoops to jump through?
Cuba, for example, trains young people to be doctors (young people from poor backgrounds). No barriers, no hoops.
They train them because they want doctors! They don't set academic barriers so high that only a few get over them, leaving other good people behind feeling worthless.
We want Paramedics, so let's train them!
How have we got to a situation where UK Ambulance Services have to advertise to recruit Paramedics from Europe, New Zealand and Australia?
How have we also got to a situation where UK trained Paramedics feel they have to go and work in places such as Abu Dhabi to feel valued, when the NHS is struggling?
Something is critically wrong here.
Someone said to me that to become a Paramedic these days is harder than becoming a Freemason! No comment.
We should not be importing Paramedics; we should be training our own first.
We should not be exporting Paramedics: All that knowledge and skill gone and lost, most probably forever. Services need to do something to keep them.
At a time that there has been a cull of staff within the NHS, Ambulance Services have set up their own Import/Export business!
No wonder Private Ambulance companies are rubbing their hands with glee.
Our Ambulance Services and NHS are not perfect, far from it. The things that are wrong need to be put right.
We still need to find a better way of dealing with the ever increasing call rates so that ambulance staff are not constantly pushed from pillar to post and suffer 'burn out' at a younger and younger age.
Let's also start by joining together to crush the stupidity of this idea that operational ambulance staff can work until they are 68!
It is stupid. It is dangerous. It is political. It is indefensible.

By Eric Roberts                                                                                                                                             Eric is branch secretary of London Ambulance Service UNISON branch.