Sunday, 3 February 2008

Don't just celebrate the NHS - Fight to save it!

[First published on our national website by Liz Cowell, a district nurse: November 2007]

OVER 7,000 people took to London's streets on 3 November for the long-awaited trade union-called national NHS demonstration. While billed as a 'celebration of the NHS', many on the march were commiserating at its ongoing destruction at the hands of the Labour government.

As one nurse said: "I'm here to protest at privatisation." Another nurse who has worked for 45 years said: "Remember how lucky we are to have the NHS; some countries can't afford money for health care and other countries such as America, charge you for your health".

The march and rally, described as "flat" (by a PCS member) and "great" (by a Unison union official) brought many NHS staff and members of the public together chanting "PFI, no way, NHS here to stay".

The Trafalgar Square rally had speakers including Joe Harris, National Pensioners Convention general secretary, highlighting that he sees "good staff, trying hard, they are overworked and underpaid - and still 40% of older people leave hospital malnourished".

Another speaker explained that when he was born the NHS was there, when he went to Glastonbury and got an abscess the NHS was there, when he wanted to give up smoking using nicotine replacement - the NHS was there. He hoped it would still be there when he died.
Many speakers reiterated the principles upon which the NHS was founded, with a Unison Scotland speaker recounting how rich and poor are treated alike, poverty is not a disability and wealth is not an advantage.

Dave Prentis, Unison general secretary, claimed that his union only supports MPs who stand up for the NHS. Well, if Alan Johnson, the man planning to bring in US health insurers to help Primary Care Trusts commission services is "someone we can do business with", Mr Prentis appears somewhat misguided.

Nonetheless, a physiotherapist in the NHS described how, while tired of reforms, staff commitment had reduced waiting times and brought about improvements. But these are the very staff the government expects to take a below-inflation rate pay increase - in effect a pay cut.

The question on many people's lips was: "Will this make any difference?" There were no solutions offered from the platform but many videos of individuals saying how they loved the NHS. One union official said that hopefully this will be the last one (march/demo). Personally I hope it's just the start of many more, but not just marches but more serious, sustained action.

Around 280 copies of the socialist were sold on the demonstration. The meeting after the rally organised by the Socialist Party had 70 attendees with many new faces and many more unable to get into the venue.

At the meeting, there was unanimous backing for breaking the union-Labour Party link, for co-ordinated campaigning and for a new workers' party to properly represent workers and public alike. That's because, as a hospital porter said on the march: "There's plenty of money around but it's just in the wrong hands".