Events in Haywards Heath show the fantastic potential for defending the NHS – and the dangers of letting Tories make the running.
Around 14,000 people demonstrated yesterday against plans to slash local health services in West Sussex. The immediate impetus behind the demo was a proposal to downgrade the A&E Unit and the Maternity Unit at the Princess Royal Hospital in Haywards Heath. There are plans to ‘restructure’ from three District General Hospitals down to just one, to cover the whole county.
Cuts masquerading as restructuring are happening across England. They were triggered first by the fake financial crisis engineered by Hewitt, and are now given ‘respectability’ by Brown’s pal Darzi. Lord Darzi plans to axe District General Hospitals and Health Centres in London, and get away with it in a fog of rhetoric about world class healthcare.
The size of yesterday’s demonstration will give heart to all of us who are campaigning to defend the NHS. It shows that, on the ground, ordinary people don’t believe the lies coming from the Government and NHS bosses that cuts are good for patients. Who wants their nearest A&E Unit an hour’s drive away?
The problem is that there seems to be no significant trade union presence in the campaign, and no trade union participation in the demo. The campaign is dominated by local Tory MPs, who queued up to speak at yesterday’s rally. A leading spokesman for the campaign is one Nicholas Soames MP. Remember him? Churchill’s grandson, Old Etonian, stock broker, Defence Minister in Thatcher’s government… He’s not on our side.
Tories may defend local hospitals, from a purely opportunist perspective – but they have no commitment to defending the NHS as a whole. They are just as much in favour of privatisation as Labour. They too want the market to be dominant in health provision. We want to defend a public NHS. They don’t.
You can see an example of this in a small Shropshire town, Ludlow. Last year almost half the town’s population marched against the closure of the local hospital. The local Tories, in particular Philip Dunne MP, were at the heart of the campaign. They are now supporting a Government initiative to build a new hospital under a DoH pilot scheme. The Government is giving £30 million to fund the hospital which would be a ‘not for profit’ outside the NHS – just like BUPA.
So the Tory MP emerges as a local hero – but an NHS hospital closes, and is replaced by non-NHS provision. Schemes like this fragment health provision and, potentially, attack the terms and conditions of health workers. This is no solution to the crisis in the NHS.
We need to provide an alternative perspective. The trade union movement is campaigning for the protection of the NHS as a whole. We can’t let the Tories make the running. We have to show that it is possible to resist the Government across the full front of their assault, not just hospital by hospital. The Tory approach is a recipe for divide and rule.
This is what makes the November 3rd demonstration in London called by NHS Together so important. We know that people will demonstrate. They have shown that in towns and cities across the country. But it is up to us to make sure that people know about the demonstration, and to ensure that transport is organised. It seems that some of the trade unions organising November 3rd started to de-prioritise it when they thought a General Election was in the offing. It is now our job over the next three weeks to make sure we mobilise our members and the people in our communities to make this the largest ever demonstration in defence of the NHS.
Defend the NHS
November 3rd, 11am: Assemble at Temple Place, Victoria Embankment, London
The Amicus website gives details and regional contact information for transport: Amicus November 3rd details
Report on yesterday’s Haywards Heath demonstration: Support PRH News