Health campaigners held a “howl of protest” as Tory plans to axe hundreds of hospital departments and services were published.
Around 70 people joined the protest against the Sustainability and Transformation Plans (STPs) outside Downing Street on 23 December. The Tories’ scheme divides England into 44 “footprints”, which must slash £22 billion between them.
Cathy Augustine is a health campaigner from Oxford who helped organise the protest. “We felt it was important to highlight that this is a significant day in the struggle to defend the NHS,” she told Socialist Worker.
Hundreds also joined similar “howls of protest” in Grantham, Leeds and Liverpool on the same evening. The Tories claim that “centralising” and “consolidating” services into larger clinical hubs will improve patient care.
But a closer look at the footprint for Buckinghamshire, Oxfordshire and Berkshire West shows what the STPs would mean for patient care.
It would replace nine hospitals with four unspecified “hubs”.
While some procedures, such as heart surgery, are best done in large hubs, the Tories’ plan is for wholesale cuts.
The plan includes a dramatic downgrade of the Horton General Hospital in Banbury. All the acute inpatient services at the hospital, including maternity, the children’s ward, trauma and accident and emergency, would be axed.
Those services would be centralised at the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford. This would force all those with a serious condition, who need a consultant, to travel some 28 miles in order to be admitted.
This increase in travel time would have a serious impact on patient care.
The STPs aim to shift the burden onto primary and community care, which is based outside of hospital.
But the Tories have already decimated social care budgets.
This means there aren’t enough social care packages, which are agreed between hospitals and local authorities, to discharge patients safely and at the appropriate time.
The real aim is to slash £200 million across the Buckinghamshire, Oxfordshire and Berkshire West footprint by 2020.
But resistance to the STPs is growing and health campaigners are now building for a national demonstration in defence of the NHS planned for 4 March. It is being organised by Health Campaigns Together, with backing from the People’s Assembly and the Unite union.
In Oxfordshire health campaigners are building on their latest action with “howls” across more areas on 28 January.
Cathy said, “We fully support the national demonstration and see our activity as being additional—and part of the build up to 4 March.
“In the meantime we’re working with Keep Our NHS Public, Labour Party members and 38 Degrees to continue local action.”
Councils can reject Tories’ NHS plot—if grassroots activists force them to
Growing opposition from local authorities is becoming a major roadblock to implementing the Tories’ Sustainability and Transformation Plans (STPs).
Councils have to sign off on the local plans before they are approved.
North Devon County Council became the latest local authority to come out against the STPs in the run up to Christmas.
The Tory-run local authority passed two motions calling for the process to be halted.
But this was only possible because of a powerful local health campaign that’s mobilised thousands on demonstrations across the area.
As Dave Clinch from the Devon Save Our Hospital Services campaign told Socialist Worker, “We’re very pleased with the result, but for us this is still part of an ongoing struggle.”
Devon has already been hit by NHS boss Simon Steven’s Success Regime.
Its “A Case for Change” report means that accident and emergency, children’s, maternity and stroke services could be removed from North Devon District Hospital.
The plans, which are a threat to patients, have now been incorporated into the local STP.
“The distances people will be forced to travel will mean people are going to die as a consequence of these plans,” said Dave.
Dave explained how they forced a Tory council to oppose their own government’s plans.
“We put pressure on the town and parish councils, then district councils and then pressed the county council’s health and well-being scrutiny committee,” he said.
But Dave emphasised that this lobbying was only successful because of the street mobilisations, “The key thing was that we put lots of people on the streets and held public meetings in towns and villages across Devon.
“This all built up the atmosphere.”
Hammersmith and Fulham and Ealing Labour-run councils in west London have already come out against the STP plans.
Opposition has included a 600-strong meeting in Hammersmith Town Hall organised by the council.
Around 40 joined a lobby of the inner north east London health and well-being scrutiny committee on Tuesday 13 December.
Now that the STPs have been published, they will have to go out to public consultation.
The growth in local groups even before they were published shows the potential to stop them.
NHS crisis on New Year’s Eve
Ambulance workers in London were forced to record emergency calls using a pen and paper after “technical issues” on New Year’s Eve.
Staff at London Ambulance Service were forced to do this for five hours on one of the busiest nights of the year.
Ambulance services are already overstretched.
Poverty pay and rocketing workloads have pushed ambulance workers out of the NHS—and bosses’ are now increasingly relying on private ambulances.
This is one reason why Health Campaigns Together have called a national demonstration in defence of the NHS on 4 March.