That’s the headline in yesterday’s ‘London Lite’, one of the free sheets distributed in London. The article is about NHS cuts in Enfield. These particular cuts have been on the cards for a while, but now have the seal of approval from the Secretary of State for Health.
The report is that Chase Farm Hospital will lose its A&E department in a decision said to mark ‘the beginning of sweeping cuts to health services’. Alan Johnson has supported proposals to replace it with an ‘urgent care centre’ that will not be open at night. The hospital’s maternity unit will be downgraded, losing its consultants and being replaced with a midwife-led unit.
These cuts are of course completely consistent with Darzi’s (and Labour’s) plans for London as a whole. Beneath the rhetoric of ‘better healthcare for Londoners’ lies a very nasty reality of cuts and closures.
It’s been harder than many of us would have liked to build campaigns like Keep Our NHS Public. The challenge has been that most members of the public just haven’t believed what we’re saying. Those of us with the time and the inclination to wade through many hundreds of pages of waffle in the ‘consultation’ exercises know fine well that the agenda is one of privatisation, fragmentation and reduced access to healthcare. Persuading people that this is real has been difficult.
This is set to change. If you pitch up to your A&E in the middle of the night and find it’s closed, will you believe that reassuring little mantra of ‘better healthcare’? If you’re a woman giving birth, facing a medical emergency, being ferried across London looking for a maternity unit that still has doctors, worried that you or your baby will die – will you believe that this is ‘better healthcare’? Of course not.
The challenge for Labour is that rolling out their plans for the NHS means closing real NHS services for real people – in London and across England. Real people have an uncomfortable habit of getting organised and fighting back once they see for themselves what’s happening. That’s how we smashed Maggie Thatcher’s poll tax. We need to build the same fight now to defend the NHS.