Protesters furious at plans to transfer vital NHS services have pitched up more than 50 tents outside Staffordshire hospital in the West Midlands.
Mid Staffordshire NHS Trust is earmarked to be scrapped in November.
Health bosses hoped that the Mid Staffs deaths scandal would enable them to downgrade the hospital and drive through privatisation.
Julian Porter has been involved in the campaign to save Stafford Hospital from the start. He told Socialist Worker, “They thought it would be easy to go for Stafford. But they didn’t count on people making a stand and fighting for their hospital.”
Local people and former patients began the camp two weeks ago and numbers have swelled to around 150.
Bosses’ proposals would mean they would have to travel 17 miles to get to the nearest hospital.
The University Hospital Staffordshire is taking over most services in Stafford, including all acute services.
Children’s, maternity, critical care, and emergency services will be moved to Wolverhampton, Stoke and Walsall hospitals. But they are all bursting at the seams already.
Campaigners argue that this is an attack on the NHS as a whole.
“They are going for the smaller, district general hospitals first,” said Julian. “They’re trying to pick them off.”
Mid Staffs was placed in administration in April last year and some 50,000 people marched through Stafford in protest.
Health bosses and Tories alike claim that the reason for the move is that the trust is “financially unsustainable”.
But Julian argues, “It’s going to cost £220 million to move us to the other hospitals. The money is there.
“And University Hospital Staffordshire is a Private Finance Initiative hospital with a £40 million deficit and now they are taking on our debt too. It’s one big con.”
The protest camp has caught the imagination of other health campaigners around the country.
Activists and health workers from Save Lewisham Hospital and the Charing Cross hospital campaign in London have visited. As have activists from Manchester and Bolton.
The campaign is growing daily as more and more people come to show support.
Protesters plan to camp out indefinitely and have been visited by health workers at the hospital who have brought down food.
“People have had enough,” said Julian. “The NHS is the last bastion the Tories want to smash.
“They are dismantling it in front of our very eyes and trying to call it something else. Suddenly your eyes are open and you’re taking on the establishment.”
Reballots have opened the way to bigger struggle