Some 50 campaigners attended a national coordinating meeting of Keep Our NHS Public (KONP) last Saturday.
Each of those at the meeting represented a wider local campaign, trade union or other organisation. Most had built a KONP branch in their area, or represented a group that had affiliated to the national campaign.
John Lister from the Health Emergency group led off the meeting, setting out some of the challenges facing the NHS. He explained the role that KONP could play, helping activists from around the country share the material and tactics they need to defend the NHS.
“We’ve managed to keep together the anti-cuts campaigns and those fighting against privatisation,” he added.
The latest attacks came in the health secretary Patricia Hewitt’s recent white paper. “The white paper talks about ‘more health care closer to home’, it really means being treated in your living room by a close relative,” John said.
In the wide-ranging discussion that followed, speakers including doctors, health workers, pensioner activists and anti-cuts campaigners, spoke about the issues that mattered to them.
Issues included hospital closure programmes, bullying of NHS staff, privatisation schemes and attacks on services provided by primary care trusts (PCTs).
Everyone at the meeting agreed that local campaigning led by those facing attacks was vital. Martin, a health worker and member of the Unison union from Cambridge, said, “The local PCT has a deficit of £25 million. £4 million cuts had to be made in mental health.
“People were asking what Unison was going to do about it. Working alongside service users we held a series of lobbies and a meeting of 50-60 people. Then we had a 500-strong demonstration, which is very good over an issue like mental health.”
Many of those at the meeting argued that local campaigning had to be combined with a national focus to help galvanise local activists and to apply pressure to the government at a national level.
This call was taken up in the discussion over strategy. Some delegates were nervous about unions supporting such an action.
However Gill George, who sits on the Amicus union executive and has helped build a vibrant KONP group in Hackney, east London, said, “Unions are at some level responsive to members and I’m really proud of some of the things my union has done.
“Amicus has agreed to affiliate to KONP at a national level and I’m very optimistic it would back a national demonstration.”
The meeting agreed to hold a major national conference on 25 March, entitled SOS NHS, to hold a day of action in the run-up to the May council elections and to approach unions and other groups about a national demonstration, which could take place in June this year.
For more on the campaign, go to www.keepournhspublic.com