Tony Blair claimed this week that the NHS is within sight of abolishing traditional waiting lists for operations. Many patients are now receiving treatment within the government’s 18 week treatment target, he said.
Yet for many thousands of those suffering an agonising wait for an operation, Blair’s words rang hollow.
“I’ve been waiting for almost a year for an operation to remove a blockage in one of my arteries,” Ann Davis, a retired teacher, told Socialist Worker.
“It took almost three months after my GP referred me before I could see a specialist. It then took three months before I could be booked in for a scan.
“Then it was a further three months before the results came back. Now I’m told I will have to wait another three months before I can be treated. Blair’s 18 week claim is a sick joke.”
The mood is growing among workers, campaigners and service users against the cuts in the NHS. This is feeding into the Saturday 3 March day of action to defend the NHS.
While Blair pointed to the NHS as part of his “legacy”, the growing crisis in the health service took a turn towards the ridiculous. Cash strapped hospitals have resorted to desperate measures in a bid to save money.
Epsom and St Helier University Hospitals NHS trust in south west London, which is battling a £7 million deficit, confirmed that “maintenance staff have removed some light bulbs from main corridors as part of our financial recovery plan”.
The Royal College of Nursing has lifted the lid on the scandal of recently qualified nurses having to work for free or below the minimum wage as a result of job shortages.
According to the Nursing Standard magazine, the County Durham and Darlington NHS trust are offering “honorary” contracts to some nurses. They come with an estimated hourly rate of just £2.60.
The government’s plans for the privatisation of the NHS are continuing.
Peter Coates, finance director at the department of health, said that as many as two thirds of NHS accounting and financing functions could be outsourced, with much of the work being done in India.
In many parts of the country there is growing resistance to the government’s programme of cuts and privatisation.
The trade union day of action for the health service on Saturday 3 March is gathering momentum.
Campaigners against the closure of Chase Farm district general hospital in Enfield, north London, are working flat out to build their demonstration on 3 March.
Councillor Kieran McGregor of the Save Chase Farm Hospital group told Socialist Worker, “Enfield is a multicultural area, with a large elderly population and many people who do not have access to a car.
“There are over 300,000 people here who depend on Chase Farm.They will be expected to travel for up to an hour across one of the busiest areas of the city to get to emergency and maternity wards at other hospitals.
“What we are seeing with this proposed closure is the beginnings of a two-tier health service. The middle classes, who have their own transport, will travel to the well equipped hospital nearby in Barnet.
“The poor will be expected to make their own way to the North Middlesex, which is in a run down state.
“Posters and leaflets for our demonstration are being distributed by toddlers’ groups, patients’ groups, mothers at the school gates and by the local pensioners’ action group. So far we’ve given out over 15,000 leaflets.
“One of our younger members has even set up a MySpace website for the campaign. She reports that we now have a lot of online contacts.
“The bosses of our local primary care trust (PCT) are paranoid about our campaigning.
“They have barred the GPs’ surgeries and health clinics from putting up posters or taking leaflets, while staff at the hospital have been gagged.
“But I think that the new boss of the PCT is going to join a long line of those who we have already seen off. Our campaign is going to win.”
In Wiltshire the battle against the closure of hospitals in Melksham and Trowbridge is causing outrage.
Last month over 350 attended a protest meeting in Devizes against the closure of the local hospital there.
Roger Davey is a senior shop steward from Swindon and Wiltshire health Unison. He told Socialist Worker that the anger against cuts was combined with opposition to a private treatment centre to be located in Devizes.
He said, “We have seen the biggest protests here since the beginning of the war with Iraq.
“I think our demonstration in Chippenham, where they are cutting ten medical beds, will be well supported by both public and staff.
“Our trust refuses to say how many staff are going to lose their jobs, but it seems clear to me that there are going to be compulsory redundancies. I think the union will have to develop a strategy that includes industrial action.”
There were also signs that the demonstration in Manchester on 3 March is gaining momentum.
The march will assemble in Albert Square, central Manchester, at 12.30pm. It has been called by the Manchester Community and Mental Health branch of Unison.
It has received the support of Unison’s regional health committee, Manchester PCT joint staff side committee, Amicus Merseyside, Manchester TUC, and Merseyside TUC.
The battle is on to ensure that all the protests are as effective as possible. It is also essential that pressure mounts on the leadership of the health service trade unions to call a national demonstration.
This can unite the campaigns across the country in a protest that can challenge the government.