Thousands of protesters joined three marches last Saturday in three small Shropshire towns to save hospitals.
Faced with debts of £36 million, health managers have announced plans to shut popular community hospitals in Bridgnorth, Ludlow and Whitchurch.
Over 4,000 people gathered in the grounds of Bridgnorth castle to hear speeches before beginning what many believe to be the biggest march in the town’s history. The town has a population of 11,891.
Whitchurch (population 8,067) also saw the biggest rally in its history as 2,000 demonstrated. A similar protest was held in Ludlow.
New Labour claims that it has pumped money into the NHS. But increased spending has been eaten up by the private companies that both Labour and, before 1997, the Tories have allowed to take over huge chunks of the health service.
What was once one of the cheapest health systems in the world has seen spiralling costs as additional bureaucracy has been brought in to administer financial systems borrowed from the corporate world.
Late last year, health secretary Patricia Hewitt decided that the deficits, which are a fraction of the NHS’s total budget, should be made good by the end of the financial year.
Because the shortfall is concentrated in certain areas, the financial problems have been massively magnified.
Often the worst examples are in rural areas, such as the parts of Shropshire where protesters marched last Saturday. Here there are few of the economies of scale possible in hospitals located in big cities.
The resulting budget cuts often translate into the closure of much loved local hospitals, and increased travel for patients, often elderly people who struggle to cope with poor public transport.
Demonstrations have erupted across the country as local campaigns have fought against attempts to cut back services. Often, as in Shropshire, these campaigns are seized on by opportunistic Tory councillors or MPs.
But the market introduced by the Tories and continued under New Labour is the root cause of the problem.
And under their new leader, David Cameron the fundamental consensus between the Tories and New Labour has never been more clear.
The involvement of trade unions and those on the left, including members of Respect, can transform these battles into a fight against the neo-liberal policies eating away at the NHS.
The Keep our NHS public campaign, whose website is www.keepourNHSpublic.com, is attempting to link local campaigns like those in Shropshire, together arming them with the resources they need to fight off the privateers and New Labour.