Save Our NHS
Eric Leach reviews a packed Town Hall meeting
Last night (9 June, 2011) around 100 people joined in common cause to help save the NHS. The meeting, organised by Ealing Trades Union Council, attracted young and old, Socialists, Greens, LibDems, Trades Unionists, Labour Party members, Ealing Hospital staff, able bodied and disabled citizens. Not one of the 40 Ealing Labour Partly Councillors attended the meeting. No Tory Councillors attended but probably this was no surprise!
The star speaker for me was Dr John Lister from Oxford who tore into Lansley’s plans to destroy our 63 year old universal healthcare system and completely exposed David Cameron’s recent five NHS future promises as lies. His opening point was, I think, the rotten core of the whole healthcare proposals. This Government wants to remove from the Laws of England the duty of the Secretary of State to provide a universal healthcare service.
Katy Clark MP, a passionate firebrand supporter of saving our NHS, also spoke out against the attempted privatisation of the NHS and expressed her disappointment that many of her Labour colleagues in the House of Commons were silent on the issue.
Dr Lister emphasised that because Strategic Health Authorities were to be abolished there would in effect be no regional strategies with regards to setting priorities and consistent overall approaches. Also the idea that GPs would run, and be happy to run, the ‘new’ NHS was just not the case. At best only one third of all English GPs had ever expressed support for the proposed changes. As close as Hounslow, GPs are having to send their referral recommendations to a US company - United Health - whose Referral Management Team decide to accept or reject the referral.
He pointed out that waiting times and going up and a record number of beds are being cut. It’s true that the previous government allowed 5% of NHS spending to be in the private sector. But there’s no clear evidence that this spend was particularly productive. Look at the nightmare of the Private Finance Initiative (PFI) in hospital building. £11 billion borrowed and spent on building and £64 billion of PFI bills to be paid by hospitals for up to the next 35 years. West Middlesex Hospital is having to cut costs in order to be able to pay off its PFI debts.
As for Cameron recently stating that the healthcare regular Monitor would act as both integrator and regulator - this is just an impossibility.
An Ealing Hospital worker stated baldly that two Wards had closed recently at the hospital and a third was heading in the same direction. Quite often the hospital would be inundated with patients and they would rush to re-open beds and hire temporary staff. The net result would be a very poor standard of care. ‘People will die’ he warned and you could hear a pin drop at that point in the hall.
A Mental Health worker agonised over how the disabled and the elderly – probably the most vulnerable members of society – would be tragically harmed by the massive changes being proposed not only in healthcare but in housing and disability benefit cuts.
A remarkable feature of the meeting was the solidarity being shown by a variety of Unions based outside healthcare, especially in education. Many comments were made about the seeming reluctance of the larger Unions (Unite and Unison) to get actively involved in this fight. There was clear Union anger about the lack of leadership being shown by the Labour Party in Parliament and throughout England. However progress was seemingly being made with these Unions and a General Strike in England later this year is on the cards. Did I detect the re-emergence of Socialism in England in the Town Hall last night? I think I did.
10th June 2011
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