Around 1,000 people attended a rally and march through Huntingdon last Saturday to protest against attempts to impose drastic cuts on the local hospital. The government’s free market policies have left Huntingdon’s Hinchingbrooke hospital with debts of over £24 million.
The strategic health authority is now considering plans to claw back this money - including possible closure of the entire hospital.
Even by the government’s own standards, Hinchingbrooke performs a valuable service to the community. Its accident and emergency department is ranked among the ten best in the country.
As one nurse and Unison member said, “Health secretary Patricia Hewitt has held up Hinchingbrooke as a model to follow when she’s spoken at other hospitals.”
If, as widely anticipated, the accident and emergency unit is lost, patients and ambulance crews would be forced onto the highly congested A14 in order to reach neighbouring units in Cambridge or Peterborough. The accident-ridden A14 is one of the main sources of emergency cases at Hinchingbrooke.
Huntingdon is a rapidly expanding town with a population of over 20,000 and another 1,500 houses set to be built in the near future.
Michael Gough, who organised the protest on behalf of the Unison union, said that “the hospital should be upgraded rather than face closure or cuts”.
The march attracted protesters from across the trade union movement, as the banners on display clearly showed.
Many were carrying Unison, Socialist Worker and homemade placards, and there was energetic chanting of “Hands off Hinchingbrooke!” led by protesters from the Society of Radiographers.
As the march advanced up the busy road to the hospital, drivers going past were constantly honking their horns in support. The campaign to save Hinchingbrooke is also distributing 10,000 leaflets door to door, and a petition is being circulated.
One Hinchingbrooke nurse on the march said, “I can see consultants on the march, but not the managers who are helping to downsize the hospital until it becomes a hollow shell. If the accident and emergency goes, I can see people dying in the ambulance while stuck in a traffic jam on the A14.”
A local pensioner in his seventies carrying a placard with the slogan “Money for wards, not war” said, “They’ve looked after me very well at Hinchingbrooke for years now. If it wasn’t for this hospital I wouldn’t be around now to go on this protest.”
A former nurse at Hinchingbrooke, now working in a hospice, said, “I’m here today especially to support those who can’t be here—I’m only able to push one wheelchair on the march. People are proud to work at Hinchingbrooke, but they’re under enormous pressure now. There’s great community spirit still here, as the protest shows.”
A local pensioner in her eighties said, “The hospital is fantastic, they gave me the knee replacement that allows me to be on this march. I’ve been able to get 500 signatures for the petition in my own district. I’d walk anywhere to help save Hinchingbrooke.”
At the rally, Geoff Rees, the Unison regional health officer, received enthusiastic applause when he said, “We need to fight the system that subjects the NHS to the market, that hands it over to the lowest bidder. This might work for cornflakes, but it certainly doesn’t work for health care.”
A circle of defiance
Last Sunday saw up to 5,000 people attend the Hands Around the Hospitals protest against the threatened closure of Worthing and Southlands hospitals in West Sussex.
Demonstrators easily completed a circle of hands around each hospital. Campaigners from Worthing Keep Our NHS Public - including members of the GMB and Unison unions, and the Royal College of Nursing - leafleted for a public meeting.
This meeting will be addressed by left wing Labour leadership challenger John McDonnell MP and strikers from NHS Logistics. Activists are also planning an open meeting for all those who want to fight plans to cut £100 million in savings from local health trusts.
Lee Billingham chair, Worthing Keep Our NHS Public