Labour shadow health secretary to address health visitor union members in Lincoln

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Labour’s shadow health and social care secretary Jon Ashworth will give Lincolnshire’s health visitors ‘maximum support’ when he addresses a union rally in Lincoln tomorrow (Saturday).

The dispute centres on the calculation by the Unite union, that its 58 Lincolnshire health visitor members have lost more than £2,000 a year since they were transferred from the NHS to the county council in October 2017.

The latest round of talks with the county council, under the auspices of the conciliation service Acas, broke down yesterday (Thursday).

The rally in Lincoln tomorrow will see the protestors meeting in the Minster Yard at 11am. The march will start at 11.30am going through the city centre and ending with speeches at High Bridge. Lincoln’s Labour MP Karen Lee will also address the rally.

Labour’s shadow health and social care secretary Jon Ashworth will tell the rally that: “An incoming Labour government will make the restoration of the health visitor service in England a top priority in terms of a major boost in recruitment numbers and the funding to match.

“We will stop the constant salami slicing of the service witnessed in recent years which has led to the lowest number of health visitors in England since September 2009.

“We will put an end to the grotesque pay anomalies and erosion of professional standards, such as currently exists in Lincolnshire.

“We recognise the vital work that health visitors do for families and young children during those important early years – and that’s why I am here to give you maximum support.”

The health visitors have already taken or scheduled 13 days of strike action. Today (Friday), two further 48 hour strikes were announced starting on August 27 and then on September 5. Both actions commence at midnight.

Unite regional secretary for the East Midlands Paresh Patel said: “Unite will support our health visitors in Lincolnshire for as long as it takes against a council that has turned old-fashioned pig-headedness into an art form.

“We call on local people to turn out tomorrow to show that their strong support for the health visitors who are the bedrock in local communities delivering a joined-up public health agenda for families, some of whom are in vulnerable circumstances.”

The health visitors are on the NHS Agenda for Change pay scales, but say they have had no increases in pay since being transferred to the local authority which has different pay rates – even though both council and NHS employees have received wage awards, these health visitors have not.

Unite, which embraces the Community Practitioners’ and Health Visitors’ Association (CPHVA), is also seriously concerned about the downgrading of the health visitors’ professional status, resulting in fewer staff doing the specialist health visitor role.

Health visitors had voted by an 84 per cent majority to strike.

NHS staff in England last year accepted a three year pay deal which, for the majority of staff, meant a 6.5 per cent hike in pay over the three years.

The dispute only involves those 58 health visitors transferred from the NHS under Agenda for Change terms.

Lincolnshire County Council has confirmed a career progression scheme for health visitors will be implemented in October, while robust plans remain in place to support local people in the event of further strikes called by Unite union.

“We remain committed to moving ahead with career progression plans for our health visitor workforce”, said Heather Sandy, Interim Director of Education. “We have written to staff explaining how the scheme will work and how it offers salaries beyond those available in the NHS.. All health visitors who successfully progress through the scheme will benefit in this way.

“With regard to the current industrial action, the council were disappointed that Unite, who represent about a third of the health visiting workforce, continually failed to engage with our Collective Disputes Procedure and took the step of balloting for industrial action. We have engaged with constructive dialogue with representatives from Unite with the assistance of ACAS in an attempt to resolve their dispute.

“We wish to reassure the public that if further strikes go ahead, we have plans in place to cover absences, particularly in the most vulnerable areas such as safeguarding and primary birth visits.

“Of the 116 Health Visitors employed by the council, 58 are members of Unite. Whilst 45 of the 58 Unite members voted for industrial action, on average only 12 Health Visitors per day have taken industrial action. The vast majority of our valued workforce have continued to work as normal and are providing care for Lincolnshire’s families.”