Saturday 24 November, defying cold driving rain, up to 10,000 residents and staff marched to defend Lewisham Accident and Emergency (A&E) and linked arms around it., photo Socialist Party

Saturday 24 November, defying cold driving rain, up to 10,000 residents and staff marched to defend Lewisham Accident and Emergency (A&E) and linked arms around it., photo Socialist Party   (Click to enlarge: opens in new window)

Mass action to save our NHS

Roger Shrives, Lewisham Socialist Party

Disgracefully the chief executive of the Health Federation, Mike Farrar, has declared that the public must accept ‘the closure of many hospital units and live healthier lives if they want the NHS to survive’!

But the 2013 ‘State of the Nation’ poll found huge support for the NHS and 72% agreed that: “we must do everything we can to maintain it”. Never before has this support been so needed. The Con-Dems’ attacks so far include 5,000 nurses’ jobs axed, a 4% cut in the money hospitals will receive for treatment in 2013 and plans for hospital closures.

But both health workers and the public reject this. The strike by Unison members in the Mid-Yorkshire Hospital Trust against ‘down-banding’ pay cuts is an inspiring example. Branch secretary Adrian O’Malley pointed out that: “workers will support action to defend the NHS when a lead is given. We’ve recruited 200 new union members which shows what can be done”.

A massive campaign in Lewisham, south London, is fighting threats to the local hospital. After a very successful protest march in November, another demonstration is planned for 26 January.

Maternity services at risk

Health axe-man Matthew Kershaw recommended to Tory health secretary Jeremy Hunt that the South London Healthcare NHS Trust should be broken up. Some services, he said, would carry on under new administration, others would perish. He asked Hunt to order the closure of Lewisham hospital’s A&E department, used by 125,000 people a year.

Kershaw added an extra insult in his report by insisting that Lewisham’s maternity unit should become a midwife-led ‘birthing unit’ ie one with no obstetricians or paediatricians. This is fine if there are likely to be no complications in labour. But more than half of the 4,400 pregnant women who use Lewisham hospital are classed as at ‘high risk’ of complications.

And as with the A&E closure, neighbouring hospitals will come under increasing pressure. Both Kings College and Queen Elizabeth hospitals have recently been diverting ambulances carrying women on the verge of giving birth because local cutbacks mean they cannot cope.

The cuts measures would lose the hospital £195 million by 2015-16. All in order to safeguard the huge investments and profits of the private PFI firms whose greed caused the Trust’s bankruptcy in the first place.

With a battle bus touring the region, door-to-door leafleting and leaflets aimed at fans of local football teams, the community campaign has done good work.

Staff at Lewisham hospital and other units facing attacks want to get involved – even when their own union leaderships try to hold them back.

Socialist Party members are encouraging nurses and other NHS workers to press hard within their union branches for a workplace ballot for industrial action. Health workers would be widely supported if they went on strike to save our local hospital and the beleaguered NHS.

Demonstrate Saturday 26 January, 12 noon, Lewisham roundabout, near railway station

The Socialist Party demands on the NHS include:

  • No cuts, closures or job losses in the NHS
  • End privatisation. Scrap PFI and refuse to pay back the ‘debt’
  • Nationalise the pharmaceutical companies under democratic control and integrate them into the NHS
  • For mass action to defend the NHS, including a 24-hour general strike