Beth Webster, nurse, Cardiff West Socialist Party
Up to 250,000 people descended on London to defend the NHS on 4 March. This was an overwhelming show of solidarity for healthcare workers across the UK, struggling daily under the weight of staff shortages and underfunding.
The situation in Wales is no less critical than in England, despite Welsh Labour’s insistence that health and social care over the border are well-resourced and adequately staffed.
These claims seem particularly incredible to nurses routinely working 13 hour shifts without time to go to the toilet, let alone take their allotted breaks; to newly qualified nurses placed in charge of acute medical and surgical wards with only ‘bank’ or agency staff for support; to nurses hanging drips from curtain rails because there aren’t enough drip stands.
Frontline staff and patients have been beleaguered for far too long. Successive governments have blamed everyone but themselves for the crisis.
They say patients are at fault for unnecessarily using A&E departments and ‘bed blocking’. They say doctors are at fault for not providing non-emergency services 24/7. Nurses are regularly vilified by the right-wing media, most notably during the Mid Staffordshire scandal.
The contempt in which nurses are held by the government is evident in the 1% pay-rise cap, the scrapping of the student bursary, and the consistent failure to address the chronic nurse shortage.
Nurses are angry and we are ready for action.
Leadership is lacking to say the least. The leadership of Unison, the largest health union, reluctantly and belatedly endorsed the march – yet conspicuously failed to call solidarity action with the junior doctors’ strike. The Royal College of Nursing’s only recent ‘action’ has been to set up a petition to end the 1% nurse pay cap.
But all nurses are leaders; we lead change on the wards every day. We should help lead the fight for the NHS.
When healthcare workers take action, we are accused of leaving patients vulnerable, of putting lives at risk. But we must remember that the government’s programme of austerity and privatisation is endangering lives.
It is time to take mass action.
We need coordinated campaigns around local services, linked up with national action. We need to call on the health unions and Trade Union Congress to ballot for strike action and occupations.
We need to mobilise the wider working class in defence of our NHS and against austerity, building for a 24-hour general strike as a next stop in defending our services.
We need to join the Socialist Party, which is ready to fight for a properly funded, democratically run NHS, with patients and workers the priority. On no account should the momentum of the 4 March protest be allowed to dissipate.