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Fighting mood at packed meeting to defend Whipps Cross Hospital
Waltham Forest Socialist Party
There was standing room only as over 100 people attended a packed public meeting on 19 August, called by Waltham Forest Unison Health branch to discuss the fear that Whipps Cross Hospital is being offered up for cuts, privatisation and closures.
The meeting was chaired by joint secretary of the Unison Health branch and Socialist Party member Len Hockey who outlined the debts that Barts Health Trust (covering Whipps Cross and several other hospitals in east London) is trying to claw back with these 'turnaround measures'.
Len also reported that Unison members at the hospital are ready for a fight, including with strike action if necessary, in defence of jobs and services.
He appealed for support from the community for this campaign and for supporters to help build for upcoming events including a protest at the hospital on 16 September and a demonstration from Whipps to the town square on 21 September.
Speakers included victimised Whipps Cross Unison activist Charlotte Monro, who had a disciplinary case initiated against her just a couple of weeks before the cuts were announced.
Charlotte outlined the effect that government cuts are already having on hospital services at Whipps.
Glenn Kelly, Bromley Unison, explained his experience of being victimised by his own employer and raised the need for the TUC to name the date for a 24-hour general strike against austerity.
Dr John Lister from London Health Emergency explained the poisonous role of PFI in the NHS. It is the £15 million a year PFI deal on the new London Hospital buildings that is the main factor behind Barts' current crisis.
Jim Fagan from We Are Waltham Forest, Saving Our NHS paid tribute to Charlotte and the branch's fighting stand and called for unity against the cuts.
The overwhelming message of the meeting was that the community in Waltham Forest and across east London is ready to back the hospital workforces in an almighty campaign against any cuts to our health services.
Where's our bailout?
If the Trust needs to make £77.5 million cuts this year as is threatened, then east London should be demanding a bailout similar to that which our neighbours in Canary Wharf and the city got.
Workers from Barts Hospital and the Royal London Hospital as well as community campaigners and doctors from Newham and Tower Hamlets brought their solidarity and thanked the Waltham Forest Unison Health Branch for being the first to make a stand.
Michael Wrack, nursing assistant at the Royal London, said: "I didn't choose to work at the London and Len and Charlotte didn't choose to work at Whipps, we chose to work for the NHS and we won't let one hospital be picked off."
Shortly after the financial situation was revealed, the Care Quality Commission published a report that criticised the care being provided at Whipps Cross.
It was pointed out at the meeting that this could be part of an attempt to soften up public opinion for savage cuts.
The meeting rejected the idea that individual staff are to blame for these failings. It was reiterated time and time again that while bad practise, where it does exist, should be stopped, the real issue is cuts over 30 years that have chipped away at the quality of care.
The mood of the meeting was that if Whipps Cross has failings, what we need is investment and improvement, not more cuts and privatisation.
Similarities were drawn with what happened at Stafford Hospital - while the people of Mid-Staffordshire were appalled at sub-standard care, they did not see closure as a solution and 50,000 of them marched in April.
Campaigners there are now raising the slogan 'shut down the town' to defend services, which Whipps campaigners might need to consider in the future.
Socialist Party member Nancy Taaffe spoke about the need for political representation for campaigns like the one developing in defence of hospital services at Whipps Cross.
She appealed for workers and campaigners to stand as part of the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition in the local elections in 2014 against all cuts and privatisation in the NHS.
At the end of the meeting everyone took away piles of leaflets for the protests in September and Unison petitions to get support for the campaign.
This version of this article was first posted on the Socialist Party website on 20 August 2013 and may vary slightly from the version subsequently printed in The Socialist.