Last week, the Calderdale and Greater Huddersfield NHS Trust announced a public 'consultation' on the future of Accident and Emergency provision in the area. They have put forward five proposals, most of which will see either Huddersfield or Calderdale A&E closed, although one of the more 'radical' ideas is to shut them both!
The Trust favours the closure of Calderdale A&E but is now obliged to engage in a four month consultation. Experienced activists know from other campaigns that the Trust will use every trick and argument in the book to get its way and only mass, united and determined resistance will stop it. It is therefore crucial that such a campaign is built now.
The combined population of the Calderdale and Huddersfield area is 750,000 and there is absolutely no way one A&E department can service everyone without tragedies along the way. This will be a matter of life and death for many critically ill patients.
Anticipating the announcement, activists from 38 degrees, Unison, Keep Our NHS Public, Save Our Services and Socialist Party members have been mobilising to defeat these disgraceful proposals. Several meetings were held at the beginning of the year and an outline plan put in place in anticipation of last week's announcement.
At least we weren't taken by surprise, and were able to get straight out on the streets. In reality Socialist Party members have been out since the beginning of the year and we had already collected over 600 names in opposition even before it went public.
Last Saturday six of us hit the streets with two stalls, assisted by volunteers from 38 Degrees. Even then, we could not cope with the wave of public interest and anger. Despite having eight petition boards, we were still swamped and could not keep up with the punters coming to the stall, sometimes three deep. People took away petitions to get filled in; they took away bundles of leaflets to spread the word and our sign-up sheet of willing activists soon swelled. We sold out of copies of the Socialist and collected £50 in donations.
A public meeting has been called for Saturday 29 March to launch the campaign with speakers from the community and wider labour movement; already 500 flyers have gone out and email groups are buzzing - this will be a huge gathering which will shake the Trust's apparent complacency about their ideas.
While running the stalls, people were telling us of a demo taking place to save the A&E in two weeks' time which had been organised on Facebook. Twenty minutes later the organiser of the group, a student from the local college, came to join us in handing out leaflets.
Anger and activity is literally springing up from below everywhere. The main task facing the campaign will be to coordinate and organise this anger into one huge movement, but it will be without any doubt one of the biggest protest movements in Halifax since the days of the poll tax. Even the local Labour MP approached us to ask if we could work together on the campaign and agrees that only thousands on the streets can defeat the plan.
A parallel campaign is developing in Huddersfield and we will ensure that the two groups work together to stop any potential disunity. There is a feeling that things have now gone too far and people are saying in their hundreds that they want to get involved. To follow the campaign, log onto http://www.unisonyh-action.org.uk/calderdale_campaign
This version of this article was first posted on the Socialist Party website on 3 March 2014 and may vary slightly from the version subsequently printed in The Socialist.