Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/418/4758
NHS feature: Bring the campaigns together
EVERY WEEK the socialist receives reports of campaigns to stop the closure or privatisation of NHS facilities, usually threatened because of financial 'deficits'. Yet the government boasts that spending on the NHS has increased.
But the truth is that Labour has never been prepared to spend enough to repair the damage the Tories did to the NHS. And they have made the situation worse by opening up the NHS to profiteering by the private sector much more blatantly than the Tories ever did.
The reintroduction of the internal market has had the effect of hospitals being paid according to how busy they are, based on average hospital costs. But if your hospital isn't average - it builds up a 'deficit'.
Private-sector bidders are being sought for NHS contracts worth £3 billion - including taking over new NHS hospitals built under the expensive (but highly profitable) PFI scheme. And the rules to stop private companies poaching NHS stuff are being relaxed.
The reorganisation of the primary care trusts - the 'purchasers' in the internal market - threatens services like district nursing, family planning and much of the health service which currently takes place outside hospitals. Health Minister Patricia Hewitt had to apologise for the way this is being rushed through but she will undoubtedly want to come back later to push through privatisations of these services.
All this points to the urgent need to co-ordinate the campaigns, to build for a national demonstration and national strike action to defend the NHS.
Socialist Party says:
- End privatisation. Bring all health care into one nationally planned and properly financed, publicly owned service which is free at the point of use.
- Nationalise the pharmaceutical industry, the pharmacy chains and medical supply industry and integrate them into a democratically controlled NHS.
- Abandon the Private Finance Initiative (PFI). No more profiteering by building companies and banks.
- Fund new hospital building programmes with public money, using direct labour.
- A minimum of £8 an hour and a 35-hour week for all health workers.
- Fight all cuts in the NHS. No to redundancies.
- Unite the many campaigns already in existence to defend the NHS. For a national demonstration to build support for industrial action.
"Our NHS is not for sale"
THE ROOM we'd booked for our 'Save our NHS' meeting in Huddersfield was only just big enough as over 120 people crammed in. They had come out on a bitter winter night to show their opposition to proposals to dramatically reduce NHS provision to the population of Huddersfield within their own town.
Midwife and RCM steward, Carolyn Saville, gave clear examples of how women and babies would be put at risk if plans went ahead. She was angry at the way midwives have been treated by trust bosses who have no medical qualifications.
Barbara Farrand, local pensioner and activist, had collected over 2,300 signatures and had the audience in stitches with a poem by a member of the hospitals staff, condemning the 'management'.
Adrian O'Malley told how Wakefield UNISON had campaigned to fight the closure of their maternity unit and are now facing more privatisation, cuts and centralising of services in their area. Finally, local GP Jackie Grunsell argued that this is not a 'done deal' if people get organised and fight to save services.
Many in the meeting spoke of how they'd raised money for the Special Care Baby Unit and Breast Cancer Care services in the past, and were not prepared to see them taken away. They were angry at what they saw as a lack of action by local politicians.
41 ambulance station staff and paramedics had signed a declaration stating "We are opposed to any such move as we feel the level of cover of emergency service at the moment is inadequate, and would be further stretched, resulting in even more reduced levels of cover in rural areas".
Volunteers came forward to be on the campaign's organising committee and every one took away supplies of petition sheets and leaflets for their own areas. The local press gave good coverage to the meeting as well as increasing the pressure on councillors to organise a referendum on the issue.
Most importantly people left the meeting feeling we can win. The message to the trust board is: "It's our NHS, and it's not for sale!"
The meeting voted unanimously to organise a demonstration on Saturday 10 December, which will start at Huddersfield Royal Infirmary at 11am, and march to the town centre for a rally.
Marching to save frontline services
LAST SATURDAY, 26 November, around 100 people braved the cold to demonstrate against cuts in NHS services across Lincolnshire. Local Primary Care Trusts across the county have been trying to plug an £8 million budget deficit by closing hospital wards and cutting frontline services.
Demonstrations have already been held in Grantham and Skegness and the unions now propose a series of days of action to push for funding to be available for local health services. One campaigner told me: "We marched last week against the closure of Scarborough Ward in Skegness. It's unbelievable what they're trying to do".
Socialist Party members have been campaigning on the issue all summer and were at the demonstration, petitioning, selling papers and handing out leaflets pointing out the need for a proper socialist programme for the NHS, renationalised under democratic workers' control and with proper funding and decent pay.
The local right-wing press carried a front-page article about hospital cleanliness without mentioning how privatisation and market forces was driving down standards in pursuit of profit. Job cuts, poorer services and increased infection are all symptoms of this neo-liberal economic disease.
Health service cuts affect everybody. The unions need to make this demonstration the start of a mass campaign involving health workers, other unions, local activists and local people.
Health bosses attack 'Cinderella services'
NURSES, HEALTH professionals, patients and the Socialist Party have launched a campaign to prevent ward closures at Westmorland General Hospital in Kendal.
Andrew Billson-Page, hospital worker and Kendal Socialist Party
After years of cuts in services, Morecambe Bay Primary Care Trust chiefs still put financial pragmatism before patients and plan to axe an elderly ward - and the only mental health ward in the area.
The closures would mean patients travelling to Lancaster or Barrow to receive treatment - this angers many local people who fought hard for many years to gain local access for mental health services. Unfortunately the health bosses prefer to centralise all psychiatric services in a run-down, inadequate Victorian asylum in Lancaster.
Many local people are furious that the unglamorous but vital "Cinderella" services such as elderly care and mental health have been targeted. One man, whose relatives had been patients in the affected wards, praised the service his family had received and said hospital managers should be ashamed of the proposals and should resign.
Our campaign - named "NHS SOS" - has gained a lot of support already and continues to gain momentum. The Socialist Party's new branch in Lancaster/Kendal has been instrumental in gaining several hundred signatures and is considering organising a public demonstration in January. Petitions have been sent to every GP surgery in the area in addition to circulating throughout the hospital.
NHS SOS has called a public meeting in Kendal on 6 December where we will put forward both our objections and our proposals for the NHS's future.
- SOS campaign meeting - Tues 6 December, 7pm, Shakespeare Centre, Highgate, Kendal
- Socialist Party public meeting - "Campaigning for a new workers' party", Wednesday 14 December, 7.30pm, Old Fleece pub (upstairs), Kendal town centre.
In The Socialist 1 December 2005: