Around 4,000 people marched through Barnstaple in Devon against plans to slash hospital services last Saturday.
To chants of “They cut, we bleed, it’s the NHS we need” and “Hands off our hospital”, people marched through the town and rallied in the park.
NHS bosses want to force through cuts to acute services at North Devon District Hospital, including maternity and stroke services. The protest was organised by the Save Our Hospital Services Devon.
Dave Clinch from the health campaign spoke to Socialist Worker. “We asked people to wear red because we’re saying this has to be a ‘red line’, not just for our hospital but for the whole NHS,” he said.
“We turned Barnstaple into a sea of red— the protest really showed the strength of feeling there is.”
Devon is one of three areas where NHS England’s boss Simon Stevens’ Success Regime is being piloted. The Success Regime claims that it is about improving patient care, but the real aim is to slash £440 million.
Dave explained, “The impact on patients would be catastrophic. The nearest hospital would be in Exeter—that’s 40 miles from Torrington, 50 miles from Barnstaple and 70 miles from Lynton.
“Anyone there is really under threat.”
The attacks are part of a much bigger assault that would see hospital departments and services axed across Britain.
They form the basis of the “Sustainability and Transformation Plans” (STPs).
An operational report by North Devon Healthcare NHS Trust said that the regime “presents 20 transformation opportunities which will be incorporated into the sustainability and transformation plans”.
The Tories claim the STPs are being drawn up for clinical reasons because “centralising” services improves care.
While it is true that some high-speciality areas are best provided in larger units, that’s not what drives the changes. The real motive is to cut spending, and this will slash many local services.
Dave said, “We’re not trying to play different hospitals off against one another or arguing that the services in them are inadequate.
“Our argument is we need care close to where people live. At present if someone has a stroke near Barnstaple, they come to the unit in Barnstaple and are stabilised before being moved. Without it, they’d have to travel long distances.”
Any decisions will have to be put out to consultation after January and would probably be implemented during the summer. But people in the areas are determined to resist their plans.
Local Tory MP Peter Heaton Jones spoke at Saturday’s rally, but a significant minority of people heckled him.
Heaton Jones argued that North Devon should be treated as an exception. “It is clear the last place we should be looking for cuts is in north Devon—our geographic circumstances, the deprivation we have here, the travelling times,” he said.
But Dave said, “As a Tory MP, he must take responsibility for what’s happening because they’re pushing through big attacks on the NHS.”
He added, “If they back off from plans here we will obviously take it as a victory, but that doesn’t justify cutting NHS services elsewhere.
“This has to be a united struggle for the whole NHS”.
West Yorkshire hospital bosses unanimously backed plans to shut the accident & emergency department at Huddersfield Royal Infirmary (HRI) last Thursday.
But health campaigners are determined to stop the closure. Hospital bosses want to “centralise” all acute services in Calderdale Royal Hospital in Halifax.
This will mean longer travel times for patients, potentially putting safety at risk. The Hands Off HRI Campaign was set to discuss the next steps as Socialist Worker went to press.