Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/424/4959
Fight cuts and closures
THREE THOUSAND angry local people marched through the normally quiet streets of Kendal in Cumbria on 21 January, protesting at cutbacks in the local hospital. Every week there seem to be new local protest demonstrations, in small country towns and large cities, against NHS cuts and closures.
But New Labour health secretary Patricia Hewitt has given warning that the crisis in our health service could get worse. Amazingly, she accused cash-strapped NHS Trusts of operating a "handout culture!" Hewitt claims this is what led to many of them going into the red by a total expected to reach nearly £1 billion by the end of the financial year in March.
Hewitt says these Trusts must make 'financial management' a higher priority than health care. Government ministers have never made it clearer - they want the NHS to be run more and more like a business.
Many hospitals are already cutting jobs, freezing staff vacancies, closing wards and postponing operations along with other cutbacks to try to lessen their huge deficits.
Many of the problems are caused by such government policies as payment by results. After April the government will force the NHS to extend its payment-by-results system. Previously, any hospital could predict reasonably accurately how many patients they'd expect to treat and guarantee most of the income they needed.
Now patients are told that they can choose where they are treated from a number of local NHS trusts and hospitals can lose income if they don't attract enough patients from the resulting free-for-all.
Other changes mean that if a hospital spends more than calculated for a particular non-emergency operation, it could lose money on every patient treated. So, as a result, many patients' 'choice' could be severely limited - by huge cuts and closures.
New Labour's health policies consist mainly of cost-cutting measures and privatisations of many parts of the service. No wonder local 'Save the NHS' campaigns are mushrooming - people want their NHS back! We say these protest campaigns need to be co-ordinated nationwide.
Local protests attract thousands of local people; just imagine the effect of a national demonstration against cuts and privatisation within the NHS! Such a protest could also inspire health workers to take industrial action to defend jobs and services. It could be the start of a real fightback against New Labour's 'devil take the hindmost' free market policies.
In The Socialist 26 January 2006: