The campaign to defend the NHS from devastating cuts is hotting up across Britain, writes Dave Sewell
A monster demonstration in south east London has shown the scale of opposition to the Tories’ attacks on the NHS.
Organisers say up to 15,000 joined the march through Lewisham last Saturday against the planned closure of the local A&E and other services.
It included health workers, patients and their families and completely encircled Lewisham hospital.
A nearby NHS trust owes private companies huge debts following a Private Finance Initiative (PFI). Medical secretary Pam said the planned cuts would be “disastrous” and “the worst thing that could happen to the borough.
“Lewisham needs a general hospital with all the facilities,” she said. “It isn’t fair that PFI companies can take advantage of hospitals and put them in debt.”
A&E nurse Kathy added, “People will turn up here with life-threatening illnesses, and we’ll have to turn them away. The extra time it takes to get to another hospital could be enough to save someone’s life.”
The campaign reached every part of the working class in Lewisham. Craggs, who organises a local brownies pack, said her 7-10 year old charges “know exactly what’s happening and are absolutely disgusted by it”.
But health workers at hospital are at the heart of the campaign. More than 100 of them met after the demonstration to discuss further action.
A&E nurse Dan said that the demonstration had been “phenomenal”. “Our job is hard, and to see that level of public support was just emotionally overwhelming. Now we’re calling on all patients and supporters to do everything they can in the public consultation on the cuts.”
A public meeting was also set to take place on Wednesday of this week. Hundreds had to be turned away from the last one, when 800 packed into the main venue and two overflow rooms.
South London isn’t the only place where hospitals are drowning in PFI debts. As many as 20 other NHS trusts could face similar cuts because of debts. Others are under pressure to slash services to make up the Tories’ aim of £20 billion “savings” to the NHS budget.
And since the Health Act opened up the NHS to deeper privatisation, private firms are looking to take over services. Attacks on health workers’ pay and conditions are seen as an easy way to make those services more profitable.
Health workers and others are planning protests elsewhere. They were set to march through Bolton against massive job cuts this Saturday (see below). More were set to protest in Bristol against the alliance of NHS trusts that is trying to break from national pay bargaining.
Other demonstrations in the north west of England on Saturday of next week will challenge planned closures in Wigan, Lancaster and across Greater Manchester.
And across the Pennines in Dewsbury, Pontefract and Wakefield hundreds of workers have struck against cuts at Mid Yorkshire NHS.
Lewisham showed the potential to build widespread resistance to the Tories’ attacks. That resistance has the power to take back the NHS.
Health trust employers in south west England formed a consortium to smash NHS workers’ Agenda for Change terms and conditions earlier this year.
A campaign against the pay cartel has forced one employer—Royal Bournemouth and Christchurch Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust—to back down.
But there are still 19 to go. Salena Williams, a nurse at Bristol Royal Infirmary, told Socialist Worker, “We’ve had no pay increase for three years and attacks on our pensions. But this is an attack on the whole NHS now’s the time to fight.”
• Oppose the South West Pay Cartel: protest Saturday 1 December, 11am, College Green, Bristol, BS1
Greater Manchester NHS has announced 500 redundancies at Bolton hospital. These job cuts include at least 93 nurses, 50 midwives, 20 doctors, 193 ward clerks and medical secretaries, 93 therapists and 20 building maintenance staff.
Bolton hospital management wants to sack another 1,675 nursing and medical staff and reemploy them on contracts with lower pay and worse conditions.
The health cuts are part of Greater Manchester NHS “Healthier Together” review. This claims that having fewer regional “super hospitals” instead of local hospitals will improve services.
In Greater Manchester this means losing A&Es from Bolton, Wigan, Bury, Trafford, Tameside and North Manchester.
Unison rep Karen Reissmann told Socialist Worker, “If the Bolton cuts happen they can say the hospital isn’t fit to use and it’ll be easier to close it.”
Over 14,000 have signed the petition against the cuts in a month and around 800 people have come to campaign meetings.
Healthier Together are holding public consultations in Rochdale, 3 December, 6pm and in Wigan, 4 December, 6pm
• Save Bolton A&E rally to defend Bolton’s health services, Saturday 1st December 12.30 to 13.30 pm, Cheadle Square, Bolton (behind the Town Hall)
Over 100 strikers at Dewsbury, Pontefract and Wakefield Pinderfields hospitals packed into Wakefield town hall for a rally on Thursday of last week.
Medical secretaries, admin staff and clerical workers voted unanimously to continue their campaign of industrial action and to escalate if necessary.
The rally took place on the final day of a three-day strike against the cuts. Strikers are members of the Unison union and overwhelmingly women. Their bosses at the Mid Yorkshire Hospitals NHS trust are threatening pay cuts of up to £2,700 a year for more than 200 workers.
Around 500 workers joined the strike, which followed a one-day strike earlier in November. This time the minority of admin workers in the Unite union also joined the strike.
Over 250 hospital workers have joined the Mid Yorks Unison branch since the beginning of the dispute in May. Over £40 million a year goes to repay the trust’s PFI debt.
• Send messages of support to firstname.lastname@example.org. Send donations to Mid Yorks Unison c/o Trade Union Office, Pinderfields Hospital, Aberford Road, Wakefield WF1 4DG. Make cheques payable to Mid Yorks UNISON 20671