Trade unions have received the benefit of over £52 million of NHS cash over the last three years to fund their work, the Telegraph can reveal.
The taxpayers’ money has been spent on “facility time” – the wages paid to public servants while they take time out from their normal duties to carry out trade union activities, which can include handing out leaflets or planning strike action.
According to the Department for Health and Social Care, around £11 million was spent on facility time across the NHS in England in 2019-20, around £25.5 million in 2020-21 and around £15.7 million in 2021-22.
The Government has previously pledged to limit the amount of public money spent on union activities, with a cap on facility time forming part of a 16-point plan to “take on” the unions drawn up by Grant Shapps last year when he was serving as Transport Secretary.
The issue of facility time has attracted more controversy in recent months because of the increase in industrial unrest.
To date, more than 57,000 operations and appointments have been cancelled in England as a result of walkouts by nurses, while this week ambulance services will be hit by another round of strike action beginning on Monday.
Critics argue facility time diverts money from frontline services at a time when trade unions have been calling for more NHS funding.
‘Fund political campaigning’
The Conservatives have also taken umbrage at the practice because many of the unions benefiting from facility time are financial backers of the Labour Party.
For example, the biggest NHS unions include Unite, Unison and GMB. During Sir Keir Starmer’s leadership of the party the three unions have donated £3,663,481, £3,530,000 and £3,236,747 to Labour respectively.
A Conservative source said: “The Health Secretary [Steve Barclay] recognises the value of working with trade unions but is also determined to crack down on public money being used to fund political campaigning and instead make sure the NHS budget benefits patients.
“That’s why he will be working to see whether we can reduce this bill and instead spend this money on the NHS frontline.”