Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/articles/12839
Stroud demo against private sharks killing the NHS
Chris Moore, Gloucestershire Socialist Party
To the chants of: 'We're sick of Con-Dem lies, they said they wouldn't privatise'; 'Whose NHS? Our NHS'; 'Join the union, join the fight, support the public sector strike'; 500 people marched through Stroud in Gloucestershire on Saturday 24 September demanding a publicly owned NHS.
Private health companies like Care UK, Bondcare Medical Services, Assura Medical and many more are circling the NHS like sharks smelling blood, as the Con-Dem government attempts to rip our health service apart.
The management of NHS Gloucestershire is facing rising opposition from staff and the public across the county to their plans to transfer 4,000 staff, nine community hospitals and many services to a Social Enterprise Trust (SET) or Community Interest Company (CIC).
It is claimed that £1 shares will mean more staff involvement, that profits will be reinvested and that services won't change.
But a few days ago the flagship social enterprise, Central Surrey Health, set up in 2006 and a Big Society award winner in 2010, had to compete for the first time against other bidders for service contracts.
Health visiting, eight community hospitals, prison healthcare and other services worth £90 million a year will now be run by the private company Assura Medical.
Our NHS is also under threat of destruction from the Health and Social Care Bill, which removes all barriers to privatisation. It ends the Health Secretary's legal duty to deliver comprehensive care to patients.
Chilvers McCrea has just stopped providing GP services in Southend because it's not making enough money.
Care UK and Assura Medical have the largest number of contracts to run large health centres. But Assura is selling off its primary care business to Virgin Healthcare because it failed to produce enough profit. Our NHS has never been more at risk and exposed.
The demonstration was addressed by Stroud's former Labour MP, opposing 'social enterprise', but it was his government that championed the policy.
Patricia Hewitt when Health Secretary in 2006 said social enterprises had 'the ability to create wealth and employment and could play a greater role in future delivery of public services.'
Labour also encouraged the private sector to run Independent Treatment Centres, brought in Private Finance Initiatives that mean we're paying £50 billion for £11 billion worth of buildings and set up Foundation Trusts that will suck in private patients and funding.
Stroud Against Cuts has also launched a legal action to hold up NHS services transferring to a CIC on 1st October.
This can give more time to organise an effective campaign involving trade unions and anti-cuts groups. NHS staff in Gloucestershire have never been balloted about the transfer.
When Unison in eastern region faced a similar situation they organised protests and campaigned to force a ballot which rejected SET.
In Shropshire, Telford and Wrekin and South Bedfordshire, health trade unions successfully campaigned against SET.
A national demonstration and coordinated industrial action to defend the NHS is long overdue. A determined campaign, including a 24-hour public sector strike, is desperately needed to stop the private sharks killing our NHS and public services.
This version of this article was first posted on the Socialist Party website on 26 September 2011 and may vary slightly from the version subsequently printed in The Socialist.