SOME 230 people demonstrated in Hereford on Saturday against the impact of a PFI scheme on the Hereford Hospitals Trust. Over half the protesters were health workers. 'This is supposed to be Middle England,' one told Socialist Worker. 'But we are protesting because jobs and services are under threat due to privatisation.
'The fact that you have NHS protests happening in somewhere like Hereford shows how bad it has got.' 'The scheme here has national implications,' Steven Weeks, a national officer of the public sector UNISON union, told Socialist Worker.
'We are pressing the case against PFI and for public services at the TUC this week. The scheme here involves clinical staff being transferred to a private company. That is in breach of the assurances the government gave health workers when PFI came in.'
Sylvia Daniels, UNISON branch secretary at Hereford Hospitals NHS Trust, explained:
'Some 21 A grade nurses [the lowest grade] have been told they are at risk of redundancy. Other staff have been downgraded. Some 12 nurses at Kington Hospital face being handed to the private sector. Most people here are demonstrating in support of those who are directly affected. The whole PFI business has been a disaster. There are cuts to jobs and conditions for ground staff and others who are now employed by WS Atkins. Portering, catering and domestics are in the hands of Sodexho.' That is the company that makes money out of administering the government's degrading voucher scheme for asylum seekers.
'Beds are going too,' says staff nurse Toni Lane. 'The effects are horrendous.' Health workers from Birmingham and from Dudley, where there were ten months of strike action over PFI, were warmly received on the protest.
They are now organising with workers from Hereford to support the campaign, and to take the issue to the Brighton protest outside the Labour Party conference at the end of this month.