[First published on our website: 29 November 2006]
On Wednesday 29 November 150 health workers and campaigners from local groups across the southeast gathered outside a Brighton hotel to demonstrate against job losses, cuts and closures in the NHS. People from campaigns in Worthing, Hastings, Eastbourne, Crawley, Chichester, Brighton and Haywards Heath rallied together to form the first united demonstration of its kind to protest collectively against New Labour's neo-liberal mis-management of our National Health Service.
The South East SHA (Strategic Health Authority) is the unelected public body that chooses how to spend the region's health budget. They were inside the Brighton Metropole Hotel for the day, along with 500 managers and market consultants, deciding how to close our hospitals and divert NHS money to private companies.
Josephina, a welfare rights caseworker who walked out of the conference to join the demonstration, said: "They were speaking in a smug and insulated world of their own, telling us lies and rubbish about 'patient choice' and the need to involve private companies in health provision. We all know what they really mean: cuts to our health service and privatisation of the NHS."
Over the past months anger has been growing across Surrey, Sussex and Kent with thousands attending meetings and rallies all over the region at concerns to close hospitals and wards and downgrade services. Local Socialist Party members called for the need for regional co-ordination when we intervened in these early demonstrations and was part of the main thrust our own successful Keep Our NHS Public march, also in Brighton. At the end of October campaigners and Socialist Party members from across the three counties met and the united 29 November demonstration outside the SHA conference was planned.
An organiser from the Brighton Keep Our NHS Public group said: "This is part of the first steps in bringing together all the groups across the region who are against the market reforms that are ruining our NHS. What is happening locally is part of a wider plan to decimate the National Health Service. Therefore, the need to link up all of the local campaigns, right up to a national level if possible, is crucial in building a strong, united and confident voice that can successfully defend our publically-owned NHS."
The demonstration proved to the campaigners themselves that the unity of their cause against those inside the SHA conference was a sign of strength, and confidence grew as hundreds of passing cars and vans honked their horns in support.
Leaflets publicising the recent success of action taken by staff at Whipps Cross Hospital were handed out to health workers at the demonstration who were inspired by the brave fight that their colleagues had fought. Campaign for a New Workers' Party leaflets were also well received by politicised campaigners desperately seeking an alternative to the same old prescription of privatisation and cuts offered by the main parties.
In these developing stages, as the NHS campaign grows, the Socialist Party must play this important role in uniting people and workers from all local campaigns, and to build the confidence in their movement to save the NHS.