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Collective action

On the thirtieth anniversary of the Clegg report, Graham Clews looks back at why it caused such outrage, uniting physios and other NHS staff in protest and victory

Thirty years ago this month (27 March), thousands of physiotherapists descended on London to march on Whitehall, angered by a government-commissioned report that was dismissive of the profession.

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It was the first test of the CSP as a union, and the document that had produced such ire among the then solidly middle-class profession, was a report written by Sir Hugh Clegg – one of a series designed to address public sector pay.

Personally commissioned by the then prime minister, James Callaghan, the remit of Professor Clegg’s Report on Professions Supplementary to Medicine, was to recommend rates of pay.

Despite an inflation rate that touched 20 per cent in 1980 it was not Clegg’s salary rates that provoked physiotherapists’ anger. The trouble was, as CSP chief executive Phil Gray explains, that amid the pay scales, Prof Clegg’s report was scathing in its description of physiotherapy and the other professions it studied.

CSP’s fury

The report concluded that the professions allied to medicine: did not always need to apply knowledge; seldom specialised; did not need managerial skills; and were seldom involved in planning.

In 1980 Phil Gray was the CSP’s first industrial relations officer. A network of stewards had been set up just 18 months earlier, but once the Society’s furious industrial relations committee had met, immediately after Clegg’s publication, the nascent network swung into action.

The Society of Radiographers had invited the CSP to join them on a protest march to Westminster, but it was due to take place in just a fortnight.

There were no emails or mobile telephones, so posters were printed, letters sent out, and Phil Gray and other senior CSP figures toured the country explaining the situation to members.

Stewards were asked to mobilise members for the march in London, but as Phil Gray says: ‘We had no idea how people would respond to it.’

The response, less than three weeks after Clegg’s publication, was astonishing.

At least two special trains were commissioned, scores of coaches were hired, and hundreds of physios made their own way to London to demonstrate their anger.

Around 6,000 people took part in the protest march, at least half of whom were physios.

Bill Gilchrist was regional steward for Scotland in 1980, and he took his place on one of three busloads of physios who travelled south from Scotland.

It was a gruelling overnight journey, but by using a contact at the Royal Free Hospital in Hampstead, north London, Bill Gilchrist ensured his Glaswegian colleagues could at least take a shower and eat a hot breakfast before a day’s protesting.

The marchers were asked to wear uniforms and instructed not to shout slogans, or chant.

‘I think the idea was to maintain an air of dignity’, says Bill Gilchrist.

‘A constable who was overseeing the march told me it was the most powerful march he’d seen because we were so quiet. He said he’d never seen anything like it.’

While many physios marched in London, usually with their managers’ blessing, rotas were arranged among the rest of the profession to ensure physio appointments were kept.

‘I’m proud to say the whole thing was carried out without any patient being inconvenienced,’ says Bill Gilchrist.

Widespread support

Former chair of Council Claire Strickland was a junior physio at what was then the London Hospital in 1980.She remembers being given time off by managers to travel across town to join the march. ‘Because we were in London it was easy for us to go, but we were not sure how much support there was,’ she says.

‘When we arrived it was amazing. There were coaches arriving from the rest of the country, and thousands of people. We thought it would only be physios from London who would come. In fact, we wondered if anyone would come at all.’

And the protests weren’t only in London.

Pauline Betteridge, a senior physiotherapist at Pinderfields Hospital in Wakefield at the time, was unable to travel south, but she and other colleagues stood outside their hospital, in uniform, in protest.

Joyce Williams, then CSP vice-chair, addressed the crowds at the rally, held at Central Hall, in Westminster, ‘I just stood up and said that I was proud to be a physiotherapist and that this report was not acceptable,’ she says. ‘Never in my life have I had such applause.’ Health minister Gerard Vaughan took the astonishing step of leaving a budget debate in Parliament as he, too, wanted to speak to the rally.

He told his audience he was ‘as concerned as you are’ over Clegg’s report, and within a couple of months the government officially withdrew the Clegg recommendations. Physiotherapists and their colleagues in other professions had won.

Phil Gray says the protest’s momentum spurred the CSP to lobby for an independent pay review body, which was set up in 1983, and still exists almost 30 years later.

The Clegg protests may have been three decades ago, but Ann Green, now chair of CSP Council, remembers travelling to London in 1980 as a newly-qualified junior physio to express her anger.

She says there was a recognition that there was a need for collective action that is still relevant.‘At the time we were facing a challenge to our professional identity, and we achieved success by standing together,’ she says.

‘It’s a difficult time for us now, with the recession, and cuts across the board, and standing together and making the case for physiotherapy still has resonance today.’

Professor Clegg’s report was the fourth in a series from the Standing Commission on Pay Comparability. Set up by the outgoing Labour Government in 1979, by the time the report on professions supplementary to medicine was published, Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative administration was in power.

The report covered what would now be called allied health professionals, including: radiographers, dietitians, speech therapists, occupational therapists and chiropodists as well as physios.

The Clegg report employed a system of what it called ‘factor analysis’,that involved management consultants grading jobs according to skills and responsibilities involved.

In its submission to the Clegg report, the CSP argued that physiotherapists’ salaries should be linked to medical and dental pay grades.


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Graham Clews

Issue date

17 March 2010

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