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'Patient Care Is at Stake': What the Trade Union Bill Means for the NHS

11/01/2016 09:41 | Updated 11 January 2016
  • Josie Irwin Head of Employment Relations, Royal College of Nursing

The Government says that the Trade Union Bill will protect essential public services. But all the evidence shows that happy, fairly treated employees produce the best work - and not just in our vital public services. This Bill will sadly make this harder and harder to achieve.

Two of the Bill's clauses aim to tighten controls on facility time. Facility time is vital in allowing trade union representatives time away from their clinical duties to spend on trade union activities, such as supporting those experiencing difficulties or negotiating improvements in the working environment - all of which also helps to improve patient experience and outcomes.

There is reams of research showing that happy, supported health care staff provide better care, and union reps make it much easier to build positive care environments where staff can do their best work. Concerns can be raised and addressed efficiently, stopping them escalate towards what can be devastating consequences. Ultimately, a cared for, supported workforce is beneficial to everyone - staff, patients and employers.

And the advantages go even further - union activity also has a positive impact on an organisations' finances, due to its impact on staff turnover. Research shows that staff with union support feel more content in their workplace, while staff turnover is three times higher in organisations without union representatives.

This means that for a large teaching hospital, facility time can provide an annual saving of £1million - equating to £100million across the NHS. Given the financial crisis the NHS is coping with right now, it doesn't seem like losing a further £100million a year through the trade union bill is at all a smart idea.

Why can't the Government see that facility time is not a burden on organisations? Or see that it helps keep communication between organisations and their employees open and effective. Through this channel, employers can ensure they get what they need from their staff, while employees can communicate what will help them to deliver the best work possible.

In health care this relationship is especially crucial - patient care is at stake. We know that facility time can improve productivity and finances in the NHS - so why is it at risk? The RCN is calling for all these changes to facility time to be struck from the Bill, before we have even more of a nursing staffing crisis on our hands.

Josie Irwin is Head of Employment Relations at the Royal College of Nursing

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