There is hardly an area of Britain that is not suffering the prospect of savage cuts to local health provision. In towns and cities there are protest rallies, marches and campaign meetings to save local hospitals and facilities.
Meanwhile workers in hospitals and primary care trusts fear for their jobs and the services that they provide.
The need to provide a national focus for this anger and bring workers together with local campaigners could not be greater.
That is why Saturday 3 March’s trade union day of action for the health service is so important.
The number of local and regional protests planned for 3 March is growing.
Already the TUC’s NHS Together campaign website (details below) lists 22 events outside the London area. Campaigners in London are also planning action in many parts of the city.
A sign of the strength of feeling over health cuts could be seen in Waltham Forest, north east London, last Saturday where up to 2,000 people joined a demonstration against the downgrading of Whipps Cross hospital.
Gillian Muir from the Waltham Forest Carers Association joined the march.
She told Socialist Worker, “They want to move many services provided at Whipps to the new Queen’s hospital miles away in Romford.
“But they cannot tell us how older people, like the ones I represent, will be able to get there. I’m angry at the health authority making these proposals but I’m more angry at the government and I feel betrayed by it.
“Now they are telling us that maybe they won’t move everything at Whipps but instead they will downgrade King George’s hospital down the road in Redbridge.
“That is no answer, it will just put more pressure on the hospitals that remain.”
Activists in Redbridge were also on the march and are starting to plan their own protest on 3 March – at which they hope to be joined by campaigners from Whipps Cross.
There were delegations on the demonstration from all the health unions at Whipps Cross.
Those who spoke to Socialist Worker painted a picture of low morale and fear about the future.
Jim Cummins, a senior staff nurse who has worked at the hospital for almost 20 years, said, “We have suffered 256 redundancies over the last year and now we are down to just 550 beds.
“There were over 1,000 when I started.”
Jim was among many who felt that the union leaders were not doing enough to focus the anger over health cuts.
He said, “The NHS is in the process of being asset-stripped and our leaders are sitting on their hands.
“It’s great that we’ve got 2,000 on the streets of Waltham Forest today but what we really need is 200,000 people on the streets of Westminister.
“I think that our union leaders are way too close to the Labour Party and that is why we are not getting the action that we need.
“Personally, I’ve had it with Labour. I was a member but not anymore.”
The pressure is now on to make sure that the regional actions that have been called by the NHS Together campaign are made into the kind of protests that can begin to reflect the growing anger.
But there is a feeling of frustration among activists that the leadership of the NHS Together campaign are dragging their feet when it comes to building for the protests.
Many areas are still awaiting confirmation of their activities.
With just three weeks to go until the day of action, some major cities still have no leaflets or posters to publicise their events.
“We have planned a protest at the Lymington hospital in Hampshire but so far we have been given no details for the march,” said Bobby Noyes, chair of Southampton Health branch of Unison.
“As a result we have no leaflets or posters. Yet I know lots of angry health workers at the Lymington who want to start building now.
“We have an opportunity to make this a really great day but we are going to have to fight our regional union leaders to make it live up to the potential.”
Dave Hughes, the president of Birmingham TUC, is among those who are organising for the protest in the Midlands.
He reports that, despite difficulties with publicity, there is a strong mood of support for the rally in Victoria Square, in Birmingham.
Dave said, “All the Unison branches in the region have been mailed by the regional office. They have been told to put on coaches and that the region will help pay for them.
“As a result, I think we will have lots of workers from the public sector at our protest.
“But the battle is on to ensure that everyone gets to hear about the rally and that we get the biggest possible turnout.”
Privatisation is at the root of the crisis
Up to 90 percent of workers at the Hillingdon Primary Care Trust in north west London could be slashed due to the privatisation of the NHS.
“I want to get rid of everything, outsource it,” trust boss Anthony Sumara told the Health Service Journal.
The “outsourcing” will mean that NHS workers – including district nurses, health visitors and community health visitors – will find themselves working for private companies.
“Our worst fears are coming true,” said Alex Nunns of the Keep Our NHS Public campaign group and author of a new pamphlet on privatisation in the NHS. “What is happening at Hillingdon is a major escalation of privatisation.
“It’s part of the government’s plan to turn the NHS into a giant health insurance company.
“This new privatisation will mean that in Hillingdon private companies are buying health services for the NHS and selling them too – and now they are getting control of the budget.
“The ultimate goal for a private company is to make profits for its shareholders. It certainly isn’t the wellbeing of the patients or the staff.
“The government is trying to disguise what is going on. It knows that most people don’t want their health service privatised so it uses language and terms that most people, including many health professionals, don’t understand.
“That is why Keep Our NHS Public has produced a pamphlet that explains what is happening.
“We wanted to alert people to the fact that there are dozens of schemes, which form a plan to get rid of the NHS. It will be turned into nothing but a logo.
“Health campaigners will find the pamphlet particularly useful because it shows that privatisation is at the root of the funding crisis in the NHS.
“If your MP says that the local hospital is closing because of poor accounting or management, it is important to know how the internal market in healthcare has been the basis of the funding crisis and how the present government’s policies have made matters worse.”
The “Patchwork Privatisation” Of Our Health Service: A Users’ Guide is available from Keep Our NHS Public, c/o NHS Support Federation, Community Base, 113 Queen’s Road, Brighton BN1 3XG. Price £1 or ten for £5. Cheques payable to Keep Our NHS Public
Resisting the cuts
- Liverpool – Merseyside TUC is planning a torchlit procession in defence of the NHS on Thursday 22 February.
“We want to highlight the assault on the health service that is taking place and help publicise the protest we are supporting in Manchester on 3 March,” said Alec McFadden, the president of Merseyside trades council.
The protest will assemble at the Royal Liverpool University Hospital at 5.30pm for a march.
- Banbury – A threatened walk-out by 50 cleaners and housekeepers at the Horton Hospital in Banbury, Oxfordshire forced bosses to back down on their plans to cut workers’ tea breaks.
“We were told we were no longer entitled to a tea break,” one worker told the Banbury Today newspaper.
“If we wanted a drink, we could have one but only if we carried on working. We decided to contact the union and put in a grievance.”
For information about protests and activity on 3 March go to www.tuc.org.uk/nhstogether/Dayofaction.cfm?theme=nhstogether
For details of the Manchester mental health strike go to ‘They want to sell us crap healthcare’