National demonstration needed now!

Tom Baldwin, Bristol
Fight for our NHS, photo Senan

Fight for our NHS, photo Senan   (Click to enlarge: opens in new window)

When the National Health Service (NHS) was founded in 1948 it transformed the lives of millions of working class people. A publicly owned health service meant you no longer had to pay to see a doctor. Now the Tories want to turn the clock back on the NHS in England by more than 60 years. But it is our NHS, not theirs to sell off.

They’ve had to dress their plans in the friendly clothes of family doctors controlling spending, but their Health and Social Care Act is a full frontal attack on the NHS.

Opinion polls show a majority opposed to the act, as are trade unions and professional bodies representing NHS staff. Yet still the government pushes ahead, providing more opportunities for their millionaire backers to profit at the expense of the millions who rely on the NHS.

If the Act is implemented the NHS will be broken up. Instead of a national organisation it will be more like McDonald’s – a brand name used by many different franchises.

Services will be commissioned from ‘any willing provider’ opening the door for private firms to act like vultures gorging on the health service. The private health industry has given the Tories £8.3 million since 2001, now they’re being repaid handsomely, and out of our pockets.

For these companies profit comes first, before care. Privatisation of hospital cleaning shows us what we can expect; the number of cleaners employed in the NHS has been cut in half since privatisation began in 1983. If the government cared about improving the health service they’d be going in the opposite direction.

Private Finance Initiative (PFI) schemes, widely expanded by previous Labour governments, mean hospitals are built by private companies and leased back by the taxpayer at many times the actual cost. Renationalising these contracts would save the NHS billions.

A founder of the NHS, Nye Bevan, said it would survive as long as people were willing to fight for it. By that reckoning it’s certainly not dead yet. The government may have got their ‘death warrant’ through parliament but that doesn’t mean they will be able to implement it. The poll tax was law a full three years before a mass campaign made it unworkable.

The NHS still has a pulse but it’s in a critical condition and needs an urgent response to save it. Health workers and campaigners are taking action. The Bristol and District Anti-Cuts Alliance is organising a demonstration on 5 May in defence of our NHS.

Initiatives like this are just a start of what is needed. The majority of the public who oppose the act need to be shown it can still be fought and the health trade unions need to translate their opposition into action.

A massive national demonstration on a weekend must be called and built for as soon as possible to kick-start a mass campaign to kill the Tories’ plans before they kill our NHS.