Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/454/5444
Opposition forces Trusts to retreat
"PEOPLE POW-ER stalls closure plans" ran the headline in the Western Daily Press. They were announcing the news that West Wiltshire and Kennet & North Wiltshire PCTs were deferring decisions to close hospitals or curtail services in Chippenham, Trowbridge, Warminster, Devizes, Marlborough and Melksham.
The timing of this decision is supposed to be solely as a result of the imminent setting up of a new countywide PCT, which may wish to review recommendations that these busy units should be mothballed, on top of recent closures in Bradford on Avon, Westbury and Malmesbury.
It is clear, however, that the outgoing PCT bosses were profoundly shaken by the depth of opposition to their butchery and belatedly realised that they have completely lost the propaganda war.
Significantly, the campaign to defend West Wilts' hospitals has been led locally by health workers, UNISON members in particular. Working skilfully with community activists, hospital user groups and the wider public, they have organised a series of demonstrations throughout the county where a fighting strategy has been debated and industrial action considered.
Socialist Party member and Senior UNISON shop steward Roger Davey, speaking in a personal capacity, commented after the announcement: "We have knocked them back and now have a valuable breathing space.
"This eleventh-hour postponement, whatever the PCTs' real intentions, gives us an opportunity to strengthen and deepen our campaign, make firmer links with co-campaigners in Gloucestershire, Somerset, Devon and Cornwall and put further pressure on the health union leaders to play their role in taking the necessary steps to prepare for the next round."
The new PCT bosses take over on 1 October. It would be worth coming equipped with tin helmets and blood pressure pills!
Anger growing in south-west
FURY IS escalating across the South-west at the slash and burn policies being pursued by health trusts and PCTs as they seek to do New Labour's budget bidding.
Robin Clapp, Bristol
400 jobs face the axe in Cornwall where the trust's response to a £31 million deficit is to consider closing Hayle's St Michael hospital, the A&E department in Penzance and wards and services at the Royal Cornwall hospital in Truro. Hundreds of staff are presently preparing to ballot for strike action as a consequence.
These blows ignited an unprecedented march of 27,000 in Hayle called by a town councillor. The trust's spokesperson, displaying all the subtlety of Marie Antoinette, retorted that the public "need to understand the reality behind the situation much more clearly."
In Plymouth too, the explosive situation prompted eleven health unions to lead 2,000 people through the city on 9 May after the announcement of 400 job losses and 60 bed removals at Derriford hospital. Seventy staff are within days of receiving redundancy notices.
There has been a relentless assault in Gloucestershire and big protests in Cheltenham and Stroud as midwifery and mental health services are scrapped. 5,000 Foresters met up in Meeting Field in June to commit themselves to a battle to the end to protect their community hospital, paid for by the sweat of Forest of Dean miners many years ago.
Now another £9.6 million savings are to be made in day-care services for mentally ill patients. Here too, local UNISON reps warn that industrial action is inevitable.
Fresh community campaigns spring up daily as rural communities are singled out. Many protesters are new to struggle and though very determined, need to see a viable strategy for victory.
The Tories, long shunned even here after their serial offences of the 1980s and 1990s, are suddenly and hypocritically lamenting the passing of Nye Bevan's dream and pledging their allegiance to the battle. Liberals too enjoy the novelty of speaking to workers through megaphones. Only New Labour bigwigs are absent from this struggle against privatisation, PFI and redundancies.
Not since the momentous anti-poll tax demonstrations of 1989-1991 have so many people taken to the streets of the Southwest, determined to defend their community hospitals.
Time is not limitless, but as the shire counties show they're not a soft touch after all, swift lessons must be learned. To win we have to weld the anger of the community campaigns to the power of the health workers.
There is growing frustration at the trade unions' apparent unwillingness so far to co-ordinate the struggles and call for a national demonstration and strike action across the NHS. But a clear response to the attacks must start with the linking up of campaigns across the region, the calling of a national demonstration by the health unions and determined commitment to industrial action where provoked.
AROUND 400 people, mainly health service workers, marched and rallied in Sheffield on 9 September against the proposed closure of a ward in Sheffield Children's Hospital and other attacks on the NHS.
At the Socialist Party meeting after the rally Jon Smith, the GMB branch secretary at the hospital who had organised the campaign joined the Socialist Party which, he said, had given so much support to the campaign to defend the NHS.
TRADE UNION members at Wakefield, Pontefract and Dewsbury hospitals are being balloted for an overtime ban and work to rule against the threat of compulsory redundancies. About 100 workers lobbied Mid Yorkshire NHS Trust as the 'turnaround exercise' being carried out by management aims to cut pay bills by 10% and could threaten jobs.
Now the union is organising a first response to these attacks after a consultative ballot suggested 96% support for an overtime ban.
More in a future issue
BIRMINGHAM SOCIALIST Party held a stall in Rubery, on the city's border with Worcestershire. We protested at cuts in services at the Alexandra hospital in Redditch (the Alex) and job cuts at Birmingham hospitals
We had people queuing to sign our petition. Retired workers from the NHS bemoaned the 'reforms' of the Tory and New Labour governments. Student nurses wondered whether there will be any jobs at the end of their training. Young men stopped to sign the petition, including school age youths who had been born at the Alex.
Wherever we campaign on the NHS we meet health workers and student nurses and doctors. Everyone wants to know what's being done about a national demonstration or campaign to defend the NHS.
We handed out leaflets for a protest at the Alex on 5 October. We sold 42 papers and raised £47 fighting fund.
SOUTHPORT AND Ormskirk Hospital Trust are directing NHS cuts at wheelchair users. From 1 October, wheelchair users who are able to get in and out of a car will be banned from using the ambulance service to take them to and from hospital appointments!
This uncaring ruling will be applied whether or not the patients have access to a car. In an unconvincing attempt to justify this measure the Trust claims to have uncovered abuse of the ambulance system by wheelchair users who are not entitled to use it! The policy has been condemned by NHS unions and patients' groups alike.
No to cuts and 'mothballing'
HAMMERSMITH NHS Trust and the Strategic Health Authority in West London no longer discuss detailed plans for the future of local services in meetings open to the public. Now they discuss behind closed doors, due they say to 'commercial confidentiality'.
Commercial concerns dominate every decision. In the London Evening Standard (29 August) we learned of the 'mothballing' of the "flagship" Ravenscourt Park Hospital, purchased for £14 million of public money only five years ago.
'Mothballing?' Is it an accident that, last year, the government proposed to hand the Ravenscourt back to private sector interests? Will the money-grubbers who sold it to the Trust at our expense now have it handed back to them, to make another fortune out of the sick and elderly?
People are queuing at the Socialist Party's street stall to sign our petition of protest on threats to the local Charing Cross Hospital, to read our leaflets and the socialist for information. Last year we presented a petition of 750 signatures and have twice as many again for when a bigger protest is intended.
Our campaign representatives support the demands for campaigns to come together with the unions to call a national demonstration and march against privatisations, cuts in services, and to defend the thousands of skilled health jobs which are being lost.
Berlin healthworkers need support
14,000 health workers at the Charité university teaching hospital in Berlin are striking for a wage contract. Management are refusing to agree a contract despite 26 rounds of talks.
This action, only days before regional elections, is taking place against a background of cuts and threatened privatisation.
Union spokesperson Carston Becker is on the WASG (an anti-cuts party) list of candidates in the Berlin elections.
Health workers should urgently send messages of support to: firstname.lastname@example.org
In The Socialist 14 September 2006:
Socialist Party NHS campaign
Socialist Party campaigns
Socialist Party workplace news and analysis
International socialist news and analysis