Thousands of people are making their way to London to demonstrate for the NHS, to say no to cuts, closures and privatisation. This march brings together NHS users and workers who want to resist the government’s constant erosion of services, funds and morale within the NHS.
This winter has been the hardest ever for the NHS. The Red Cross declared a ‘humanitarian crisis’. Right-wing politicians and private healthcare providers would be happy to see it fail. As NHS users and health workers, we can’t afford to let that happen.
NHS services are being sold off and run down. Since the Health and Social Care Act in 2012, over £30bn worth of contracts have been put on the market. Of those awarded, over 60% have been won by non-NHS bodies. Often the contracts have ended in failure. In Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, an £800m contract for older people’s services collapsed after just eight months, leaving hospital Trusts to pick up the bill.
Hospitals are being closed while Trusts haemorrhage money to pay expensive mortgages and compete within a false internal market. So-called Sustainability and Transformation Plants (STPs) are the latest mechanism for driving cuts and privatisation: Trusts are put under pressure to manipulate their accounts or lose out on crucial funding. Local councils in London, and beyond, have voted against these proposals, on the back of strong grassroots campaigns, but the government is pushing to see them implemented before summer 2017. If we don’t resist now, we could see 1 in 6 A&E departments close before the end of the year.
The NHS is being made to look like it is failing while its staff try desperately to do the best job they can for their patients. This winter, there have been too many stories of people dying on hospital trollies, like in Worcestershire Hospital this January. Meanwhile, in Oxford, a kidney ready for a transplant had to be thrown away because there were no beds available for the operation. The patient died soon after. This January waiting times in A&Es in England were the worst since records began.
The pressure on staff has become unbearable. The number of junior doctors choosing to apply for specialist training has fallen to an all time low. The rates of mental illness among staff are sky rocketing. This has trickled through to those once inspired to train as nurses or doctors, following cuts to bursaries and uncertainties about jobs in the future,
The financial pressures are being masked by racism. The Immigration Act 2014 introduced charging for hospital inpatient and outpatient care based on patients’ country of origin and resident status. Some hospitals now check patients’ passports before offering free NHS care.
The NHS wants health staff to be quiet while they are blamed for the governments’ systematic demise of the NHS: not kind enough, not healthy enough, encouraged to act as border guards.
When we fight for our NHS, we’re not just fighting for a return to 1948. We’re living longer, a and that’s a good thing! There are medical treatments available now that we could not have dreamed of when the NHS was founded. We need to demand a health service that can meet our new needs. A truly universal health service could provide the highest quality care without a post-code lottery and it could provide treatments and social care for all who are in need.
Our NHS could be run democratically by the people who provide and receive care, instead of by top-down managers with no understanding of the pressures they create.
We are on this march today two put two fingers up to the government and its privatisation of the NHS: we deserve decent healthcare and we will turn no one away!