Socialist Worker

Health workers: this is a fight to save the NHS

Issue No. 2281

Members of the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy picket at St Thomas’ Hospital, London (Pic: http://www.guysmallman.com/Guy Smallman )

Members of the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy picket at St Thomas’ Hospital, London (Pic: Guy Smallman)


Over 400,000 health workers took part in the strike—many of them for the first time.

Esther Simpson is a lab worker and Unite member at St Thomas’ hospital in London. “I joined the public sector straight out of university when I was 21. This is the first time we’ve been on strike.

“I’ve never known lab workers to be this angry. Working in the labs under Margaret Thatcher I remember we were scared, but we were never as angry as we are now.”

Clive Scott is a Unison steward and operating department practitioner in Lancaster. He said, “I feel optimistic—this is just the start. I haven’t been on strike for 30 years.

“We’ve had a lot of support from workers not on strike. There’s longer action needed and people will be more confident to do that after today.”

Site

At the Royal Preston hospital there were two picket lines of 80 and 40 workers. Debbie Turner, a local Unison branch officer, told Socialist Worker that over 200 people had joined the union in the last four weeks.

Up to 100 people were on the picket lines at Colchester General hospital in Essex.

The government and sections of the media have tried to demonise strikers for having an impact. Some 6,000 routine operations were delayed.

But health workers have made sure that they are able to provide emergency cover. Unison recommended the same level of services as are provided on Christmas Day.

In many towns 999 calls were put through direct to the picket lines, which allows workers rather than management to decide what counts as an emergency call.

But the cuts to the NHS do real damage to health services.

James, a mental health nurse picketing the Glenfield hospital in Leicester, told Socialist Worker, “We’ve seen cuts over the last six years—long before they started talking about recession. There’s been ward closures and bed losses, bed management problems and services being cut.” That’s why it’s no surprise that many patients supported the action.

Support

Paul, a Unison member who works in the St Thomas’ hospital’s finance department, said, “Everyone who’s come through here has been very supportive.

“People have come up and said ‘well done, we support you’.”

Patients holding a “Patients Support Strikers” banner came to support pickets at the Royal London hospital.

Andrew Garforth is a physiotherapist who works there. “We work in a physically demanding job,” he told Socialist Worker.

“We have to lift people up out of bed who aren’t able to move themselves. Imagine a 68 year old physio trying to lift up a 22 stone injured rugby player.”

It was the first strike by the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy in over 30 years. The Society of Radiographers and the Society of Chiropodists and Podiatrists also joined the strike.

Picket lines brought together specialists, nurses, office and maintenance staff.

Steve, a maintenance supervisor at St Ann’s hospital in Haringey, north London, said, “I’ve paid into the pension scheme for 30 years. It’s only right I strike to defend it.

“If the government doesn’t give in we should have another strike.”


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