Health trade unionists across Britain have been preparing for this Saturday’s London demonstration for the NHS. Most will have been organising meetings and leafleting hospitals.
Activists from the Oxford health Unison union have also enlisted the help of Hollywood.
More than 100 health workers last week packed into one of the city’s main cinemas to see Michael Moore’s latest film, Sicko, which is a powerful attack on private healthcare corporations in the US.
The film highlights the plight of the millions of US citizens who have no healthcare cover.
But perhaps more shockingly, it shows how even those who have paid thousands often find that their policies are worthless when they need medical attention.
Tracy Ellicot, who works for the NHS in health promotion, told Socialist Worker, “The film is shocking and an excellent way of raising awareness of the threat of privatisation to the NHS.
“It clearly shows why healthcare provision in Britain is much better than it is in the US, but elements of the US system are creeping into the NHS.
“Lots of health workers in Britain are despondent about the way the service has been decimated in recent years. When you couple that with this year’s appalling pay rise – which was a real terms pay cut – and you get some real demoralisation.
“We decided that we could use the film to bring people together and to let people know that there was something they could do to fight the cuts.
Steve Parkinson, who works as an administrator on a renal ward at the Churchill hospital in Oxford, agrees. He says that the scale of privatisation in the NHS means that the US model of healthcare is not as far away from Britain as Michael Moore might have thought.
Steve said, “The NHS is facing a death by a thousand cuts. In every area you can find private clinics that are profiting by stealing NHS patients.
“There are queues down the high street for NHS dentists, because so many are refusing to see patients who are exempt from paying fees.
“And you can also find new hospital buildings financed by PFI (Private Finance Initiative), which locks hospital trusts into 25-year contractual arrangements with private firms and bleeds the health service dry.
“Everything is determined by money. Down the road at the John Radcliffe hospital bosses have told staff that there must be cuts, not because the trust is in deficit, but because bosses want to make a £7 million profit this year.
“Some of the ways in which private firms are moving in are more difficult to spot. For those of us who work in admin, the outsourcing of paperwork to Third World countries is a big issue.
“Hospital bureaucrats don’t care if there are quality control issues, as long as it cuts labour costs.”
Some who went to see the film were disappointed that the filmmaker did not look at the problems that face public sector health provision in Europe.
“There is a scene where Michael Moore is talking to a pharmacist in Britain about how much a particular drug will cost if prescribed in Britain,” says Tracy. “Moore stands aghast as he is told that all drugs are available on a prescription that costs just £6.85.
“That is true for most medicines. But there are an increasing number of drugs and treatments that are being restricted – as they are deemed too expensive.
“I was told that my son could not have an operation to remove his adenoids, which would have greatly improved his breathing and sleeping.
“My health authority said that they no longer regarded that procedure as effective. But when I did some research, I found many other primary care trusts that are performing it.
“The more I looked into it, the more I found a whole range of procedures that my trust said they would no longer carry out.”
Whatever their reservations, everyone who spoke to Socialist Worker enjoyed the celebration of resistance that runs through the film – and in particular, the way Tony Benn linked the fight for a decent NHS with the fight for a more democratic society.
“I think that the main message of Sicko is that you have to fight to defend what you’ve got,” says Steve. “The fact that we had nearly 100 of our members here tonight, and that we will be leafleting the public all week, shows that we can use the film to expose the danger that the NHS is in.”
Tracy agreed, saying, “I loved the scenes of people in France taking to the streets to defend their welfare state – that’s what we need to do here. After the film, quite a few signed up for our coaches to the demo.”
NHS Together demonstration to celebrate the NHS – Saturday 3 November, assemble 11am Temple Place, Victoria Embankment