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31 January 2018

NHS we're ready to fight

Heroic health workers and valiant community campaigns have already proven that when we fight, we can win. The ideas and work of the Socialist Party have been a key component in this struggle.

But it's not just about ideas. Socialist Party members have been on the front line of the fightback, turning ideas into action. Help us beat the Tory and Blairite NHS wreckers. Join the Socialists.

Kids' heart surgery saved by mass campaign

Steve Score, chair, Save Glenfield Children's Heart Centre campaign and Leicester East Socialist Party

Campaigners in Leicester have decisively proved we can win battles in the war to save the NHS. In December, NHS England announced a dramatic climbdown from its plan to end congenital heart surgery at two of its three threatened regional centres - Glenfield Hospital and the Royal Brompton in London.

Just one week after the closure announcement was meant to happen, Glenfield hit the headlines when staff spectacularly saved the life of a baby born with her heart outside her chest. But outside the headlines these hospitals save children's lives every day, including that of my own son.

Without building a mass campaign, this u-turn would not have happened. Save Glenfield Children's Heart Centre had persuasive arguments and massive support from across the East Midlands, but mobilising that support was crucial.

We built an active campaign that united patients and families, NHS staff, trade unions and the community.

We held demonstrations of up to 2,000 people a time, mass meetings and lobbies. 130,000 signed a petition (online and paper) and 7,500 engaged in NHS England's complex online consultation. We organised a series of public meetings across the region to go through these arguments in detail.

We even held a day of action in 25 schools. Pupils turned up wearing red, held assemblies, sent their support and made placards for a demonstration.

From the start campaigners were focussed on the issue of saving the heart centre. But they also understood it was part of the overall struggle to save the NHS.

We affiliated to Health Campaigns Together and sent two busfulls of people to the mass NHS demo last year. Many of us will be taking part in protests on 3 February and beyond. United we can win!

Staff work overtime to prevent collapse

ZoŽ Brunswick, BMA doctors' union activist and Manchester Socialist Party

The last few years have seen multiple attacks against medical students and junior doctors.

There was the forced implementation of an unsafe and unfair new contract. The threat of forced "conscription" into the NHS for doctors who train in the UK. And the opening up of more medical school places with no extra funding where placements are already overstretched.

All of these political moves have contributed to low morale among medical students. This year saw over 2,000 fewer applicants to medicine than in 2014, according to Ucas figures. More students than ever are considering alternate career pathways.

Moreover, the current NHS crisis is impacting our learning. Doctors often have no time to teach us, as they are busy trying to support a system that is understaffed and underfunded.

In fact, medical students in some parts of the country have been drafted in - on an unpaid basis - to help hospitals that are struggling. While some may argue this is a good learning opportunity, there is potential for students to be asked to do things outside their competency, thus putting patients in danger.

The NHS is being propped up through the goodwill of staff and students, who are working overtime to ensure it doesn't collapse. We need to build a mass movement to end the government's attacks and save our NHS.

Strike beats back bully privatisers

Len Hockey, secretary, Unite Barts Health Trust union branch and Waltham Forest Socialist Party

In 2016, mainly female migrant workers, including agency workers, providing services like portering and cleaning, were about to be transferred to privatiser Serco. They had for years subsisted on minimum rates of pay and with the threat of joblessness hanging over them daily.

Members of Unite the Union in Bart's NHS Health Trust in east London staged a protest at the trust AGM in Stratford. This was the culmination of a summer of activity in the four hospitals, including the Royal London, which saw big increases in members and representatives of the union.

A joined-up approach between the branch and the national union, influenced by the previous successful industrial action by Whipps Cross Hospital workers, had yielded 700 new members.

It put the issue of the long-happening abuse of ancillary workers firmly on the agenda. The trust was now being called to account. With confidence, consciousness and combativity up, we achieved the London Living Wage as a minimum for all staff.

And following 24 days of strike action across four big east London hospitals in the summer of 2017, we won a 1% basic pay increase, a one-off payment - and, crucially, permanent contracts for many of the former precarious workers.

The vitality and vigour of this historic strike movement inspired all who attended picket lines and demonstrations. It fundamentally gave the lie to fainthearts at the summits of the trade union movement that workers won't fight when a determined lead is given.

Nurses cannot 'watch and wait' - build for strikes

Beth Webster, nurse, Cardiff West Socialist Party

Chronic underfunding and staff shortages have brought the NHS to its knees this winter.

40,000 nurse posts are unfilled. Coupled with the 1% pay cap and harshening Tory-imposed austerity, increasing numbers of nurses are using food banks; are even faced with homelessness.

On the wards, nurses bear the brunt of the crisis and are unable to give safe care, frequently working 13-hour shifts without breaks.

Pressured by nurses' growing anger, the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) issued an indicative ballot for industrial action last year. 78% of respondents were prepared to take strike action.

Following a 'Summer of Protest' headed by RCN members, Chancellor Philip Hammond alluded in the November budget to lifting the pay cap.

It was hinted that any pay increases would be linked to productivity, increasing anger among a profession keeping the NHS afloat with unpaid overtime and suffering deteriorating working conditions.

As with the police officers and prison guards, pay increases would likely come out of the existing NHS budget and be below inflation - pay cuts in real terms.

The RCN has adopted a 'watch and wait' approach until the NHS Pay Review Body reports in the spring. But the members don't have the luxury of watching and waiting. And the public cannot watch and wait while their NHS is privatised and dismantled.

Public sector workers can defeat the pay cap. We must pressurise our unions to unite behind a serious strategy for coordinated industrial action. The working class must again lay claim to our health service and fight for it!

Doctors ready to fight - unions must lead

Jackie Grunsell, GP, Lancashire Socialist Party

As a GP for 16 years I've felt privileged to be working in general practice.

I see patients during the highs and lows of their lives. The trust patients have in GPs develops through a relationship built over years and a unique continuity of care.

However, things have dramatically changed since I started the job and I now see more and more GPs demoralised and leaving the profession.

The shortage of GPs and underfunding is making the workload for those left almost intolerable. The ability to provide safe care for patients is now questionable.

Many of the services GPs traditionally provided have been contracted out to private providers. Simultaneously, GPs are dealing with the fallout of cuts to secondary care, being told we have to do more to keep people out of hospital.

People are waiting longer for appointments while wait times for the services we refer them to are through the roof.

In recent union indicative ballots GPs have shown a willingness to take action over issues like pension cuts and lack of resources. The crisis facing the NHS means doctors' unions urgently have to join with other health unions to build for action to safeguard our health service.

A&E cutters tied up by community pressure

Mike Forster, chair, Hands Off HRI campaign (personal capacity) and Huddersfield Socialist Party

We are now entering the third year of our vibrant and increasingly militant campaign, launched in 2016 to stop the closure of our A&E and the downgrading of our hospital.

These insane plans would result in unnecessary illness and deaths. Ordinary people remain incensed and bewildered that so-called health professionals in senior management can try and pass this off as somehow improving healthcare for our area.

However, it has galvanised the most effective community campaign the town has ever seen, sustained by people who have never been active before.

The campaign has a high profile in every local area, attending fetes, galas and festivals with our stalls, merchandise, leaflets and collection buckets. We hold weekly campaign stalls in Huddersfield and maintain a sophisticated structure of committees and area groups which have kept up our momentum.

Marches to save the A&E have attracted thousands. As well as a legal challenge which will shortly go to judicial review, the whole case has been referred to the secretary of state for an independent review.

This year we are supporting the day of action on the NHS on 3 February with a huge protest at Huddersfield Royal Infirmary. Later in February we take our petitions to the Department of Health and will be meeting Jeremy Corbyn to discuss the campaign.

The campaign is pressing all parties, but especially Labour, to commit to a plan which can provide proper public funding for the NHS. We are already mobilising for the 70th anniversary of the NHS demonstration in London on 7 July, and will be holding our own birthday party in the town square on 5 July.

We have resolved that there will be no let-up or going back until we have saved the NHS from the privateers, spivs and Tory and Blairite cutters who are trying to take away the jewel of our welfare state.

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