Hospital worker cheered for grilling minister

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An angry hospital worker was cheered on as she questioned Health Secretary Andy Burnham over high numbers of managers in the NHS.

Margaret Roberts, of the Trafford Health Trust, ambushed Mr Burnham ahead of the Unison health workers conference in Brighton yesterday, asking the Health Secretary how he had the "front" to say he had the best interests of the union's members at heart.

She was then offered the chance to ask a question inside the conference and taking to the microphone she said: "I've listened to what he's said today and I have to say it's nothing I haven't heard before.

"We've been told there will be less managers in the health service..."

At this point Ms Roberts's microphone was cut as she was urged to ask a question rather than make a statement.

She was cheered loudly as she carried on: "The questions are, what are you going to do about reducing the number of managers in the health service which has grown phenomenally over the last few years, with massive pay increases?

"Low staffing levels have become the norm in the health service because we can't recruit as a result of the uncertainty over whether people are going to have a job in 12 months' time.

"We are firefighting day in, day out trying to deal with problems..."

Her microphone was cut again and there were loud calls of "Let her speak" and "We want to hear her".

She carried on, asking what assurances Mr Burnham could give that there would be fewer managers should Labour win another term and about a cap on pay rises for chief executives.

Delegates applauded loudly and gave Ms Roberts a standing ovation.

Figures released at the end of last month showed the number of managers working in the NHS rose by 12% in one year.

In 2009, the NHS employed 44,660 managers and senior managers - up 12% on 2008 and 84% on 1999.

Mr Burnham said: "We are doing the very best we can for the NHS, that is why we need to address these decisions carefully.

"We will not help ourselves if the decisions made are not seen as being fair to everybody because that will cause a sense of disruption in the system and we won't get people embracing and working together.

"You can't say that the NHS doesn't need good management. It does need good management.

"Health trusts and PCTs are one of the most complex organisations that we have."

He said a target of 30% had been set for a "reduction of management costs" and added: "It's precisely because we want to protect people on the front line that we have made a commitment of that level."