Tag Archives: NHS

Anger over NHS crisis provokes yet another mass demonstration

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The national NHS demonstration that took place over the last few days was a collective scream at the Government not to tamper any further with the UK healthcare system. This winter has seen the worst crisis in living memory stretch NHS resources to the absolute limit; NHS Trusts nationwide have been absolutely clear that although there is always a peak of admissions in winter months, years of lack of funding and chronic resource issues have combined to create the perfect storm of a full-blown NHS crisis. While the Government (as previous Conservative Governments did before it) like to paint the NHS as a black hole which will swallow up endless amounts of taxpayers money – the fact remains that the bleeding of NHS finances to the private sector, and the burden of PFI contracts established under previous Governments, have all put the punitive approach of the Tory administration into very sharp relief. Let’s be clear – the Tories want increasing private involvement in the NHS, while a huge majority of the UK population (whether they be Leavers or Remainers) want not only privatisation to stop, but for it to be significantly reversed.

People instinctively know that privatisation of healthcare is a bad idea – they only have to look at the system across the Atlantic and compare it to European healthcare systems to draw a very stark comparison. European voters generally want little to do with a significant profit motive in healthcare (what they get, however, is debatable) and, more importantly, they want their healthcare systems to care for everybody – not just a moneyed few. And contrary to the Government’s propaganda – in terms of value for money, the NHS is extremely efficient. But in terms of funding, it is well down the European league in terms of amounts spent per capita on health and on social care.

And let us not forget that the crisis in social care is as big as it is in the NHS, and stems mainly from the same forces at play – private healthcare companies and corporations bleeding money from the system – and the taxpayer. As with the NHS, the Government wants more private money introduced into the social care system – companies which certainly do not benefit patients – often charging exorbitant amounts for “care” while delivering a deplorable service – but they do benefit the profit margins of a large number of private providers; who while hurt over the collapse of TTIP, are no doubt salivating over the kind of trade deal the Tory Government may potentially make with Trump’s US administration. US healthcare giants have not taken their eye off the prize of the UK’s still largely state-provided NHS – and will lobby for a deal that will give them maximum access to UK patients on a private basis.

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It’s been going on a while – there have been many NHS demonstrations over the years. This picture was taken around 2005.

Trades unions have been warning for many years about the slow privatisation of the NHS and innumerable demonstrations have been held to try to stave off the surreptitious takeover of Britain’s last great symbol of socialism and cooperative endeavour. However, the fact remains that neither healthcare nor social care are safe in the hands of the Tories. The Labour Party, meanwhile, shackled by its not-so-distant past of supporting private initiatives such as PFI in health, must now be absolutely clear that it has moved to a position of absolute commitment to a publicly-funded and distributed NHS – free of the grasping hands of the private providers. Whatever trade unionists and socialists say about Brexit – it is an opportunity – either for a future Labour Government to ensure private involvement in the NHS is once-and-for-all brought to an end, thereby releasing much-needed funds that could be used exactly where they are needed. Or, it is an opportunity for a Tory Government – through a lucrative trade deal with America that includes healthcare, to allow US health corporations to strip what is left of a state-run service, like vultures picking over a wounded animal. Only the determination of NHS campaigners will ensure the first scenario is the one that wins out – and Aneurin Bevan’s famous comment one that can be translated to reality. The recent demonstration proved that there are still enough of those “folks” to demand that their health future – and the health future of their children, is untouched by the dirty hand of profit. The Tories are on the back-foot over the NHS – now is the time to seize the initiative and demand that their “reforms” are either halted or reversed; the country simply cannot afford another winter health crisis before creeping privatisation is revealed to be a cruel and bare-faced political lie based merely on no more than profit – the greatest political lie of the last 40 years.

A big show of support for socialist healthcare – a poor show of silence by the corporate media

It’s not every year that the first day of a party conference is met by 60,000 activists, marching in opposition to a single political issue. But, as the famously astute (yet famously ineffectual) Chancellor Nigel Lawson drily observed – “The NHS is the closest thing that the English have to a religion”.

On Sunday 29th September, thousands of NHS worshippers (including two coach-loads from York & District TUC) brought central Manchester to a stand-still. Hordes of trade unionists, health workers, students and activists converged on the city, to protest the Tories’ dismantling by stealth of the greatest of all British institutions; the NHS. A blatant privatisation in all but name – an Orwellian “reform” offering patient “choice” and “efficiency” (always truly terrifying words when uttered from Conservative lips) – this was always going to be an issue that would bring people on to the streets.

And bring people out it certainly did. With a line of tightly-packed union contingents close to a mile long, it took more than half an hour before the march could even set off. The range of campaigners was unusually broad; apart from the predicted mass of branded union flags arranged in traditional block formation, there were young teens with cardboard placards and personalised slogans daubed in red paint; hunt saboteurs with black flags on which were sleek red foxes, and an incessantly loud (and very blue) contingent of students from Manchester University – proudly reclaiming a colour that, for far too long, has been associated with a political ideology that most students don’t particularly like very much.

There was an element of celebration – a celebration that after 60 years, one of the few remaining achievements of post-War socialism has still not been truly broken, because the people just refuse to let go of it. As the students put it on one of their placards – “Private Health Service – it just sounds crap.” Indeed it does. But there was also a sense of urgency; a feeling that the oiled-up wheels are already well in motion, that the US “healthcare” giants are already circling like vultures looking for a pick of the Health Service buck – and that, despite the overwhelming opposition of a huge majority of the electorate, the Government are quite prepared to press ahead with their “reforms” without so much as a blink – no matter what 60,000 lefties marching on a Sunday afternoon might think. In York, which has this last week seen the announcement of the closure of a mental health unit, we are only just beginning to see the effects of this push for “choice” and “efficiency” – because there is sure to be a great deal more of it coming our way. 

What was more baffling – and if you think about it, also a little disturbing – was the shameful lack of media coverage of such a massive demonstration. This was probably the largest Manchester has ever seen, and although it was adequately covered by the local press, the lack of a national media presence was noticeable – and surprising. Considering some of the “trouble” at TUC demos in the past, most notably March 26th 2011, a big media presence was fully expected. Yet the reality was quite different – BBC News uttered a few cursory remarks about a “peaceful protest” before swiftly moving back to its headline report on the shut-down of the US Government. There was barely a mention in the mainstream Left-wing press – including The Guardian – let alone the gutter tabloids, who for the last few weeks have been far more occupied with the issue of whether a late Marxist academic “hated Britain” or not.

Some activist groups, infuriated by the BBC’s almost non-existent coverage, have flooded the BBC with complaints and – somewhat predictably – received the same carbon-copy response – “The event was covered – during all news slots”. Well – yes, that’s true. But they didn’t report the six-foot high ring of steel protecting the precious elite from the wrath of NHS workers and their families – hardly unexpected, of course, that only the Tory Party conference would need that sort of extra protection from “breaches of security”. In one of the most ironic events of the day, BBC correspondent Norman Smith tweeted that he had been “prevented” from filming the demo from inside the Tories’ Fort Knox compound – by, as it turned out – G4S. Ironic, because if the Tories ever did get round to privatising our police force, this company – an outfit that has in the past seemed to specialise in “losing” prisoners on a disturbingly regular basis – would probably be right at the front of the queue. But shocking in that the BBC didn’t even see fit to report the blatant censorship of one of their own.

What a comparison this all was to the huge TUC demo in March a few years ago, when we saw a swathe of rampaging anarchists running through Oxford Street attacking the Ritz, high street banks and other symbols of indifferent affluence – in the midst of a crippling austerity imposed on ordinary people. Violence, it appears, seems to be the only news that certain elements of the corporate media are only really interested in these days. In adopting this tendency, they are playing a dangerous game. The overwhelming majority of ordinary people in this country are peaceful and law-abiding – and realise only too well that extreme violence and disorder on the streets is counter-productive – haven’t we lost enough civil rights over the last 20 years on the back of perceived ideas about terrorism and “threats of disorder” to know that we shouldn’t give the Government further excuse to take even more? Yet it seems that, if there is no “disorder” on TUC marches these days – then the major media are just not interested.

But what is true is that 60,000 ordinary people – who are representative of a great deal more than that – can’t be ignored – and nor should they be, least of all by the professional arbiters of journalism, whose ideas of a free press are supposed to underpin the very principles of our democracy. The advance of instant and independent media – and the lightning spread of ideas – makes any ignorance on the part of the corporate media redundant, because it is they who are becoming redundant. Those who oppose the sell-off of our National Health Service, whether the corporate media report on them or not, are not going to go away – and the electorate, who already think that the Government is not being honest on this issue – let alone right and responsible, are equally furious. That is something that both the Government and the corporate media will just have to come to terms with, and preferably sooner rather than later.

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PRESS RELEASE

19th September 2013: For immediate release.

YORK Trades Union Council (YTUC) are sending coaches carrying York citizens to Manchester to tell David Cameron and the Conservative Party conference that the people of York do not want their NHS privatised.

The North West Regional TUC has called a demonstration and has invited unions, trades councils and NHS campaign groups from across England to march on the conference to ensure the message is heard loud and clear.

York TUC Secretary Krzysztof Rockwell said “Since CCG boards took over responsibility for commissioning healthcare services across England six months ago, dozens of doctors have quit them citing workload pressures. This leaves healthcare choices increasingly in private hands. With more NHS staff being transferred into the private sector each day, it’s a race to the bottom for both employment terms and conditions, and patient care. One in 10 GP surgeries are now run by private companies, pushing NHS patients to the back of the queue.”

Tickets are still being sold for the coaches which will head to Manchester in 10 days’ time on 29th September. For further information see http://www.yorktuc.org.uk or contact info@yorktuc.org.uk.

ENDS.