HEALTH workers from Exeter joined colleagues from across the region to take part in a march over the weekend in protest at plans to introduce regional pay.
Organised transport set off from the Royal Devon & Exeter Hospital on Saturday morning for the rally aimed at heaping pressure on the 19 remaining NHS trusts that have joined what unions have dubbed a 'pay cartel'.
In total 1,400 NHS staff attended and 14 different unions were represented. The crowd included midwives, nurses and other NHS workers who united to call on the trusts to follow the example of the Royal Bournemouth and Christchurch Trust in withdrawing from the consortium.
It came just days before the health minister wrote to the trusts telling them to withdraw from the consortium and re-join national negotiations – a move that Exeter MP Ben Bradshaw described as an "overall victory" for the campaigners.
The trusts are looking at breaking away from the national terms and conditions set for the NHS as they battle to make savings.
Critics fear it could lead to a reduction of 15 per cent in pay and terms and conditions for NHS staff and it has left morale at the RD&E at an all-time low.
In the days leading up to the rally Unison held a series of rallies urging board members to reconsider their involvement including one at the RD&E and another at the Devon Partnership headquarters in Dryden Road, Exeter.
This culminated in the We Are One NHS protest march in Bristol. Speakers at the event included Tom Sandford, director of the Royal College of Nursing, and Jon Skewes, of the National College of Midwives.
After the protest a spokesperson for the joint unions, including Unison, Unite and the GMB, said: "This is crunch time for the rest of the 19 boards. We expect them to do the right thing and listen to the concerns raised on Saturday.
"If they fail to see the merits of a national set of terms and conditions, they could do irreparable damage to staff, patient services and economy of the South West."
Many of the protesters were armed with flags, banners and whistles and among the slogans carried on banners were "Public service, not private profit", "Health cuts no way", and "Don't squeeze the NHS to death".
Midwife Peggy Woodward was among those to join the protest. She said: "I joined the march because I am worried about regional pay being brought in for NHS workers.
"These proposals are reducing staff morale and destabilising the future of our health service."
The consortium says trusts are working together to see how they can ensure pay is "affordable" across the region.