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From The Socialist newspaper, 3 January 2018

NHS in annual winter crisis as Branson creams off 1bn

Health workers marching on the demo for the NHS, 4.3.17, photo Mary Finch

Health workers marching on the demo for the NHS, 4.3.17, photo Mary Finch   (Click to enlarge)

Claire Laker-Mansfield, Hackney Socialist Party

The NHS winter crisis has become an established part of the calendar, both predictable and predicted. In January last year, the Red Cross went so far as to call it a "humanitarian crisis." Indications are that this winter could prove just as difficult.

One in five patients had to wait over four hours in A&E treatment in the third week of December. This compares to one in twelve in the same week in 2013, according to the NHS and Royal College of Emergency Medicine data.

When you learn that Britain now has third-lowest number of hospital beds and doctors per person in the EU, this is hardly surprising.

Just ask any one of the dedicated workers on the front line. They will tell you our NHS is understaffed and underfunded, health workers are overworked and underpaid, and private sector vultures are making colossal profits while treating staff and patients like rubbish.

Parasitic

One of these parasitic private companies is none other than Richard Branson's Virgin. Last year it picked up a record 1 billion worth of NHS contracts - despite paying no corporation tax in the UK.

And it wasn't alone. In 2017 privateers won 69% of NHS contracts put out to tender, says the NHS Support Federation.

Yet last year also gave us the huge demonstration for the NHS in March, which Socialist Party members played a key role in organising. This showed the enormous potential there is to build a mass movement.

And the bold strike action of health workers - like outsourced porters and domestics in Barts NHS Trust - indicated what we could achieve if health workers were to strike back together.

That's why the step taken by Royal College of Nursing - traditionally a 'no-strike' union - of organising an indicative ballot for industrial action against the pay cap was significant. With hospital porters in Devon and Exeter NHS trust currently preparing to strike against the imposition of twelve-hour shifts, it's clear there is a mood for action among broad sections of health workers.

It is incumbent on the tops of the trade unions to offer a lead to workers and campaigners. As a starting point, this should include mobilising a huge national demonstration.

It should include organising for coordinated strike action to end years of real-terms pay cuts in the NHS and society as a whole. It should mean waging a serious fight to make 2018 the year we save our health service from the ravages of cuts and privatisation.

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The coronavirus crisis has laid bare the class character of society in numerous ways. It is making clear to many that it is the working class that keeps society running, not the CEOs of major corporations.

The results of austerity have been graphically demonstrated as public services strain to cope with the crisis.

The government has now ripped up its 'austerity' mantra and turned to policies that not long ago were denounced as socialist. But after the corona crisis, it will try to make the working class pay for it, by trying to claw back what has been given.

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