NHS campaigners across London are in a buoyant mood as they prepare for a major demonstration in May against the government’s health service “reforms”.
Prime minister David Cameron and his health secretary Andrew Lansley are still reeling from a stream of attacks on their health bill.
And last week around 40 activists met to plan the next phase of their assault.
“It was a brilliant meeting. Full of life and lots of people committed to making the protest a success,” said Jordan, an occupational therapist and Unison union rep at Hackney’s Homerton hospital.
“Trade unionists from my part of east London agreed to distribute 10,000 postcards for the demo that my union branch is sponsoring. By this weekend we’d already given out 2,000 of them.
“I think people are excited because they sense that the government is weak and their plans are really unpopular. Action now could defeat them.”
Jim Fagan, a health campaigner and retired nurse from Waltham Forest, echoed that feeling. “People from every part of London took away boxes of the 100,000 postcards that have been produced.
“There were dozens of stalls in shopping centres last weekend, and there’ll be more this weekend. A head of steam is building up behind this protest.”
Jim contrasts the situation today with a few months ago.
“Back then, a group of NHS campaigners got together. There was a feeling that we’d have an uphill struggle to explain the Tories’ plans to the public.
“That’s all changed now.
“The meeting last week had lots of new faces and students at it. They’ve helped transform the campaign in recent months.”
The urgency of the protest was highlighted this week as bosses at the hospital where the march is due to assemble announced hundreds of job losses.
Directors at UCH hospital in central London said government plans for the NHS would likely mean a reduction in the number of patients they will be given to treat. Around 360 posts are to go, including many “frontline” jobs.
Cuts have also recently been announced at the nearby Royal Free Hospital, while similar job losses are expected at the Whittington hospital a few miles away.
Health bosses elsewhere are announcing cuts almost on a daily basis as they battle to meet the Tories’ £20 billion “efficiency savings” target.
NHS waiting times have reached their highest level for three years in England.
In February, nearly 15 percent of hospital in-patients waited more than 18 weeks for treatment, the highest level since 2008, according to a report by the King’s Fund.
The proportion of patients waiting more than four hours in A&E was at its highest level for five years.
Yet 18 out of 26 NHS finance directors questioned said they were uncertain they can meet the government’s “savings” target.
Many admitted that they plan to assault the terms and conditions of thousands of health service workers. In addition to the three-year pay freeze already implemented, they now want to end annual incremental pay increases.
It is vital that health service unions throw their weight behind the growing campaign to defend the NHS.
Our health service not for sale—March to save the NHS, Tuesday 17 May, 5.30pm, University College Hospital, Gower Street, London WC1. March to the Department of Health, Whitehall.
Called by London Keep Our NHS Public and backed by the Unite union. Health workers should wear their uniforms.