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From The Socialist newspaper, 24 August 2016

Save our NHS!

Stop cuts and privatisation

photo Paul Mattsson

photo Paul Mattsson   (Click to enlarge)

ZoŽ Brunswick, medical student, Manchester

The founding of the NHS almost 70 years ago is one of the greatest achievements of the British working class. Determined that they would not go back to the pre-war years of poverty, illness and hunger, ordinary people voted in a Labour government on its most radical, socialist programme yet.

Driven by the anger and determination of the working class, this Labour government oversaw the birth of one the world's first national health services.

But today the NHS is in crisis. Beginning under the Margaret Thatcher governments of the 1980s, the NHS has been hit by decades of worsening privatisation and attacks. Now, even the mainstream media can no longer hide the continuous, vicious cuts that this government is making to our health service.

Ward and hospital closures - in particular of A&E departments - are becoming a more common occurrence.

The past few months in Greater Manchester alone have seen the decision to downgrade six out of ten large hospitals, close Chorley A&E and shut down two wards at Stepping Hill.

Not only has this put hundreds of jobs at stake, but patients in critical conditions will now have to travel further to receive the urgent care they need.

NHS staff have also been under brutal attack, with NHS-wide pay freezes and the battle over the new junior doctor contract, which threatens more hours for lower pay and impacts particularly on women.

Bursaries

Perhaps most shockingly, the government has now decided to scrap the NHS bursary for nursing and allied health professional students. Student nurses are seen as nursing staff. They are even included in the staffing numbers in order to ensure there is a 'safe' level of staff per patient.

With the scrapping of the bursary, student nurses will now be paying to work. The media has already reported that some student nurses rely on food banks to survive while training and now this issue is set to become much worse.

We will see a decrease in the number of student nurses, further exacerbating the already severe staffing shortage throughout the NHS.

This can also be seen among doctors - in some areas there are reported rota gaps of five or six doctors in each department. These gaps are either left, putting patients in danger, or filled by expensive locum doctors, exacerbating chronic financial problems.

Labelled by the Tory government as "over budget," the NHS is actually chronically underfunded and understaffed. Out of all 27 EU countries, only Slovenia, Romania and Poland have fewer doctors per head than the UK. With medical school applications falling this is unlikely to change.

These vicious cuts to the NHS are part of this government's plan to sell off the NHS to private companies. Already, four community hospitals in North Kent have been sold off to Virgin Care, part of Richard Branson's multi-billion pound network of private companies.

This is particularly worrying as not only do private companies pay their workers a pittance, but they also cut corners to make profit, putting patients in danger. Hospitals with private cleaning firms are linked with higher rates of infection, including MRSA.

It is clear that we must take action now to defend our NHS, but what can be done?

Workers' action

The junior doctors have proven the effectiveness of a clear programme of industrial action. The series of strikes earlier this year shook the government and forced them to make some concessions on the new contract.

Consciousness among doctors about their potential strength when organised rose hugely during the dispute, with many coming to recognise that they were striking not only to defend their own jobs, but for the sake of the entire NHS.

Some doctors are now adamant that they will not accept a new contract until the NHS is properly funded. Doctors decisively rejected the latest contract offer with a majority of 58% and the fight must continue. The BMA doctors' union has now announced plans for a new round of action.

Unite the Union's July conference voted to: "Call on other health unions and the TUC to coordinate widespread joint industrial action of health and other workers under attack, as the junior doctors have been, recognising an injury to one is an injury to all".

Unite also agreed to call on the TUC to organise a national demonstration in defence of the NHS, to be followed by a 24-hour general strike. Members of health unions now need to put pressure on their leadership to follow through with this strategy.

A mass demonstration co-ordinated by the TUC, linked with a series of national NHS strikes is the best way forward to end privatisation and save our NHS.


See also:

Organise against secretive NHS cuts plans

and

The threat of private health insurance

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In The Socialist 24 August 2016:


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