Health service privatisation can be beaten is the message that campaigners in north London want to send out after beating an attempt to build a polyclinic in Camden, which could have been privately-run.
Last week Camden Primary Care Trust (PCT), which has led the way in handing doctors’ surgeries over to the private sector, was forced to scrap plans to open a super-sized clinic inside the area’s main hospital.
The plan to close local surgeries and push them into the new clinic faced massive opposition from local campaigners.
When it became clear that the PCT had invited firms, including Virgin Healthcare, to consider running the clinic opposition grew still further.
Candy Udwin, chair of the Camden Keep Our NHS Public group, told Socialist Worker, “In the past, Camden has been used as a guinea pig for NHS privatisation and people here have grown sick of it.
“US firm UnitedHealth was allowed to grab three of our local surgeries earlier this year, without patients even being informed.
“Now we have shown that if you protest hard enough, you can beat the government, the health authorities and the private firms.”
Candy says that the Keep Our NHS Public group will carry on its campaigning against threats to privatise the health service.
Camden PCT says that it wants to “fully consult” local people before making major changes to services, but already their fine sounding words have revealed sinister intentions.
The Trust contacted retired health lecturer Elizabeth Paul recently to ask her if she would like to join a sounding panel of local residents.
After she agreed, they asked her if she was a member of the Keep Our NHS Public or any other “pressure group”.
When Elizabeth replied that she was, the Trust told that she was not eligible to be on the panel, as “pressure groups” would be consulted separately.
Lack of consultation with service users has led to anger elsewhere in north London, where a patients’ revolt has forced a retreat on the privatisation of a local health clinic in Tottenham.
Haringey PCT has been forced to suspend plans to put the running of the Laurels Healthy Living Centre out to tender following a 50-strong protest meeting and representations to the councils’ health scrutiny committee.
This is despite the PCT having already advertised the surgery for sale.
Through petitions and posters, campaigners won hundreds of local residents and local councillors to the anti-privatisation cause. As in Camden, the Trust had earmarked the centre for a polyclinic, but will now be forced to carry out a full consultation.
Simon Hester of the Laurels Action Group said, “This climbdown proves that protests pay. We will be lobbying the next Trust board meeting to demand that it completely abandons its privatisation plans.”
The scale of opposition to health service privatisation is alarming both the government and the many private firms who had hoped to enter the market.
Worried that they may been seen to be giving too many advantages to outside contractors, many PCTs are now refusing to offer them the generous guarantee incomes they had come to expect.
And apparently there is one positive effect of the credit crisis —many lenders are shying away from investing in privatised NHS services, because they fear they may not see a return on their money.
Campaigners across Britain should seize this opportunity to put the brakes on health service privatisation and drive out the “Sicko” firms that want to profit from the NHS.