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This year Livewell lead Steward David Dodd and I attended the captivating 3-day event all about health service related topics for focus within UNISON over the coming year. This year’s theme was “One Team for patient care” ensuring that everyone who works in our NHS is valued, whatever work they do.

Conference was opened by UNISON president Libby Nolan, who highlighted that with the ongoing UNISON HCA campaigns around the UK alongside UNISON Paramedics, students, RCN, BMA and CSP strikes that have taken place over the last 24 months, staff in the NHS have conducted the most strikes in 41 years.

Wilma Brown, chair of the Service group executive committee also addressed conference applauding the success of UNISON campaigns in getting members back pay, a whopping 70 million pounds and counting! She recognised this year UNISON are celebrating the year of LGBT+ workers, focusing on the issues they face in the workplace just for being themselves. She urged delegates to also consider Migrant workers efforts as they are often discriminated against and exploited. She highlighted the pressing topics, including the campaigns for a pay rise and for a shorter working week and campaigning to achieve inclusion of Bank Staff in pay rises. She reminded delegates that we should not have to Strike just to get what is deserved.

All motions discussed in this year’s conference were all carried.

LGBT+ members

It was great to see that the LGBT+ community had a strong presence at this year’s conference. The motions 17 & 18 carried by the UNISON national LGBT+ Committee raised the issue of additional in-work costs experienced by LGBT+ members. It requested that UNISONs regions and branches support change in making our workplaces more LGBT+ inclusive. They highlighted the LGBT+ workforce continue to remain at a heightened risk of physical violence, bullying harassment or abuse from colleagues and/or patients. Speakers asked for more LGBT+ awareness training to be provided to staff in the promotion of Trans Allies.

Black Members

Motion 19 highlighted the need for more to be done in challenging racism in the NHS asking branches to facilitate further workshops on other key issues faced by Black staff. One speaker highlighted that employers are increasingly using performance improvement plans (PIP) against black staff to avoid having to report the use of disciplinary action, with 63 % of black nurses currently on a PIP and 49% spoken to rudely compared to their white colleagues. Motion 20 asked for national support in the facilitation of more Black member Self Organised Groups in the workplace to tackle the disproportionate inequalities Black workers face. With the Black community making up 26.4% of the NHS, most are in much lower paid jobs and most fearing to speak up about discrimination due to the backlash and bullying. Whilst motion 21 highlighted the shocking truth that oversees nurses seeking to leave the UK has doubled in the last 12 months and asked for support in the growth of our Overseas Nurse’s Network.

Disabled members

Motion 24 asked for the right to disability leave and that we demand employers recognise and sign up to a disability leave policy. Despite 2.6 million people in the UK currently being on long term sick leave and many meeting the disabled person definition of the Equality Act, many employers do not offer disability leave and therefore disabled staff are forced to take other forms of leave to manage their impairments. One speaker talked of their trust the ‘Greater Manchester Mental health trust’ abolition of the sickness absence policy, replacing it with a Wellbeing policy which is more inclusive of people’s long-term conditions and carers responsibilities. They continued by saying that only 5% of people in the UK working full-time are also full-time carers, and that carers should be allowed at least 10 days paid carer’s leave to reduce discrimination by association. Motion 23 asked for more employers to adopt a passport system to record and agree reasonable adjustments for disabled members.

Women members

Motion 25 raised issues faced by Women working in the healthcare sector. With 76.7% of NHS workforce being female, it is important to recognise that women are faced with often stressful and traumatic working environments and that this can impact negatively on their mental health. Other factors such as household responsibilities, cost of living crisis, under investment in the health industry, Tory austerity, discrimination and harassment have further impact on a women’s mental health, especially on women with disabilities and black women. One speaker shared the statistic that in the NHS 29% of black women and 21% of white women have mental health problems and that 1 in 100 are experiencing a severe mental health condition. In 2022, 4.6 million referrals were made to the mental health service. The Motions called for the SGE to work with the national Women’s committee to campaign for mentally healthy workplaces and encouragement for branches to train reps to negotiate robust mental health workplace policy.

Supporting UNISON stewards

Motion 26 reminded us that mental health difficulties are experienced by both men and women working in the NHS and that mental health illness within our workforce has risen significantly since the COVID-19 pandemic. It raised the difficulties that stewards are facing with supporting members who are going through poor mental health. It requested that regions provide support and training on these issues and guidance on where to signpost our members. Amendment 26.1 asked for all SGE action on this matter to be inclusive of our LGBT+ members.

Professional fees and mileage rates

Motion 37 carried by the Science, Therapy and Technical Occupational group shared findings of their research undertaken on the funding models of healthcare regulatory bodies across Europe. They found that these funding models for regulators did not solely rely on funding from their members, or annual fee increases. Speaker and Occupational Therapist Fiona Wild recognised that the Health and Care Professions council (HCPC) fees had risen by 47% since 2014. Despite UNISON’S ongoing campaigns and opposition, the HCPC went ahead with their 20% fee increase last year. This motion asks for UNISON’s long-term campaigning strategy to consider targeting the overall structure of regulators and to pay attention to how these regulators are funded, including more consideration of employers or government contribution. Motion 5 asked for NHS travel reimbursement schemes to more accurately cover the costs of motoring.

HCAs

Due to a shortage of staff in the NHS, healthcare assistance are taking on more responsibilities and clinical tasks without the pay to match. UNISON’s Pay Fair for Patient Care campaign continues to make great progress in making sure HCAs are recognised, respected and rewarded by their employers. HCAs on the Wirral are the latest success story, getting 6 years back pay following 61 days of strike action. Motion 33 asked that conference considers other priorities for our HCA members. Following the national UNISON HCA seminar in November last year, HCAs highlighted the need to ensure they have protected learning and development opportunities, and that UNISON continues to campaign for proper career progression opportunities for these members of staff.

If you would like any further information on the motions discussed during this year’s conference, please do not hesitate to contact me via email: laura.platt2@nhs.net