There was only a brief moment to rejoice at the departure of hated Tory health secretary Andrew Lansley.
Then Jeremy Hunt was appointed as his replacement—and the mood among health workers and patients quickly turned to outrage.
Hunt has already been exposed as having intervened to encourage the private takeover of hospitals in his constituency by Virgin Care earlier this year.
He asked NHS Surrey bosses to reassure him that the contracts would be speedily signed. Virgin Care took its time though, and got the kind of deal it wanted—one that will allow it to attack workers’ terms and conditions.
Hunt shouldn’t have got a job at all after the disgusting role he played in the Murdoch debacle. His arrival on the scene marks a continuation of the Tory agenda of privatising the NHS—and slashing jobs and services to prepare the ground for it.
The rate of department closures by NHS trusts across London is accelerating. In response, health campaigners have organised three demonstrations across the city this Saturday—expected to mobilise thousands (see below).
In Kingston local residents are angry that the children’s ward at the hospital is under threat of closure. Richard Donnelly, secretary of Kingston trades council and a GMB union activist, told Socialist Worker, “The in-patient paediatrics ward cares for children with chronic illnesses.
“So you’ll have parents who visit regularly, often daily, who may have other children they need to pick up from school and take with them and so on.”
And it’s not just in Kingston. Around 1,000 people came to a fun day to save St Helier hospital in south west London last week. The hospital’s maternity and A&E units face the axe as part of a closures programme across NHS South West London.
This comes as the “Better Services Better Value” review proposes cuts of £321 million across four hospitals in the region. The review has departments at Croydon hospital, Mayday hospital and Kingston hospital as well as St Helier in its sights for closure.
Richard went on, “The review is misleading about the travel distances to alternative hospitals. Both the Liberal Democrats and the Tories were involved in a local campaign around the hospital in the election period.
“There’s even a photo of Eric Pickles holding a banner that says Kingston Hospital Safe With Us.”
In Kingston the hospital Unison branch is building the 20 October TUC demonstration, linking the hospital campaign with the wider movement against austerity.
Around 300 workers crammed into a joint union meeting at North Bristol NHS Trust to discuss how to stop a bosses’ pay cartel. The meeting took place on Thursday of last week.
Bosses have banded together propose regional pay, breaking from a national pay agreement. Gwyneth, who works at a hospital in the region, is a Unite member on the stewards committee that organised the meeting.
She told Socialist Worker, “The room was full of workers who don’t normally come to union meetings—there was a real buzz. People are angry.”
The bosses’ cartel covers 20 NHS trusts across south west England. It represents the beginnings of a major attack that could then be rolled out across the country. It is the testing ground for the Tories’ plans to drive through a fundamental attack on pay across the public sector.
Chris Brown, chair of the South West pay consortium, admitted last week that bosses at other English NHS trusts are discussing forming their own pay cartels.
These moves should set off alarm bells for trade unionists everywhere. Gwyneth continued, “One porter explained how they used to have three managers but now they’ve got 22.”
She talked about the next steps in the campaign. “Linking this attack to privatisation touched a nerve—health workers have always fought for the service they provide.”
Workers held protests, lobbies, meetings and street stalls in Bournemouth, Dorset, Exeter and Somerset over the past week.
Ealing, Saturday 15 September
Assemble at Southall Park from 10am. The march will leave at 11am and will travel past Ealing Hospital, to Ealing Common. Feeder march assembling at Acton Park from 11am.
The march will leave at 12 noon and will travel along The Vale and Acton High Street to Ealing Common. Both will rally at Ealing Common from 1pm for speeches and live music.
Brent, Saturday 15 September
Assemble 12 noon at the Harlesden Jubilee Clock, marching via Stonebridge Hub at 1pm for rally at Central Middlesex Hospital at 1.30pm.
If you are unable to march, go straight to Central Middlesex Hospital where there will be a reception committee for the march.
Woolwich, Saturday 15 September
Assemble General Gordon Square, Woolwich, 1pm.
Hammersmith, Saturday 6 October
March from Shepherds Bush to Charing Cross hospital. Go to www.saveourhospitals.net