The Socialist 4 December 2004
Private hands off public services
NHS not safe in Labour's hands
IT WAS 'black Wednesday' for the health service in Wales on 24 November. The New Labour-dominated Welsh Assembly government announced the effective closure of the paediatric neurosurgery unit at Swansea's Morriston hospital.
Rob Williams, Swansea Socialist Party
Despite huge anger by local people, including 17,000 signing a petition organised by a local paper, the children who need to use the brain surgery unit will have to transfer to Cardiff, where the service will be centralised.
The Wales BMA recently lashed out at the Assembly for presiding over the longest hospital waiting lists in Britain - over 300,000, one in 12 Welsh people are now on a waiting list. In Swansea, the figure is actually closer to one in five!
Health Minster Jane Hutt survived a 'no-confidence' motion in the Assembly this week but for working-class people, nothing is safe in the hands of New Labour.
The neurosurgery 'downgrade' is the latest in a whole raft of similar cuts over the last few years. Casualty units in Llanelli and Neath/ Port Talbot hospitals have been downgraded so the area's main A&E in Morriston now has an average waiting time of six hours. Earlier this year, some pensioners had to wait on trolleys for four days before a proper bed could be found!
Socialist Party members in Swansea have been fighting attempts to further downgrade the casualty unit at the city's other hospital, Singleton.
We also played a leading role in the campaign to stop the Neath/Port Talbot hospital having its maternity unit downgraded. Unfortunately, the number of births there will be almost halved by the cuts and mothers and babies could be put at risk by the new mantra of centralisation.
In New Labour's NHS, you can't expect your local hospital to have full services. However, for specialised services in particular, you might have to go to the other end of Wales or even into England.
Morriston's burns unit, which saved the lives of Port Talbot steelworkers after the 2001 blast furnace accident, is 'competing' with Bristol. Such relentless rationalisation from a government which has no qualms about spending £4 million a day in Iraq!
Some in New Labour hold up NHS 'successes' in England as proof that Welsh Labour has to follow a faster road to privatisation to find a cure to this disaster.
However, the reality for working-class people in England is the same queues, cuts and crises. Health provision should be on the basis of need not profit.
Through reversing the PFIs, PPs, foundation hospitals etc, alongside nationalising the huge pharmaceutical companies, the NHS could begin to be transformed from the milch-cow of the private sectors into a well-researched essential service.
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