On Saturday 10th July, around
200 trade unionists, local residents, and health campaigners took to the
streets in opposition to plans to franchise the management of Hinchingbrooke
Hospital in Huntingdon to the private sector. Protestors received support along
the route of the march through the centre of Huntingdon chanting, “Hands Off
Hinchingbrooke; Defend the NHS”.
Local campaigners and trade unionists were
joined on the march by large groups from Cambridge Trades Council, Peterborough
Trades Council, and also from the “Save Our Whittington” campaign. Whittington
hospital in Islington, north London, is facing the closure of its Accident
& Emergency and department and maternity ward as part of a “modernisation”
scheme. As with the Royal Mail, we see how freely the term “modernisation” is
used as a euphemism for job cuts and attacks on public services. Jeremy Corbyn,
Labour MP for Islington North, along with Islington Trades Council and other
local campaigners, have been organising in protest against the closures since
December 2009, and their display of solidarity at the Hinchingbrooke
demonstration was very much appreciated.
The Huntingdon rally was addressed by local and national activists with each
sending a message to the Con-Dem government and the companies bidding to
run the hospital. Speakers included Dr. John Lister of Health Emergency,
Professor Wendy Savage of KONP, Rich Moth of the Defend Whittington Hospital
Campaign, Martin Booth of UNISON Cambridge Health, and Jerry Hicks,
candidate for the General Secretary of Unite.
In closing the rally, Steve Sweeney, Secretary of Huntingdon and St. Neots
Trades Council said, “’The message that we are sending to the vultures of the
private sector is clear. Pack your bags and get out of town, you are not
welcome here or in any other NHS hospital across the country. This is a
political choice. This is about the systematic break-up of the NHS. The Tories
opposed the setting up of the NHS in 1948 and, despite what they say, they
continue to oppose it now. We are not going to stand by while they hand over
our NHS to their friends in big business”.
Just days after the demonstration, the
Con-Dem coalition announced their plans for “reforms” (i.e. counter-reforms) of
the NHS, which seek to open up the NHS to yet more privatisation. The Con-Dem
plans aim to take control of hospitals out of central control by replacing NHS
primary care trusts with “consortiums of GPs”. The claim is that this will lead
to a reduction in “bureaucracy” and “inefficient” management, but in reality
this is just an attempt to open up the NHS to private management companies,
since GPs will not have the time to see patients and manage large budgets. A
similar scheme was tried by the Tory government of the 1990’s, but failed
because local doctors found it too bureaucratic.
As with the recent plans to “reform”
schools and prisons, this latest chapter in the Cameron-Clegg vision of a “Big
Society” is just another case of privatisation. If Cameron and Clegg really
wanted to create a “bigger, better society” with a more “efficient” and less
“bureaucratic” NHS, then they should transfer power to workers, trade unions,
and democratically elected national representatives. Nurses, health-care
assistants, and doctors know far more about how to run hospitals than any
management company ever could. The real bureaucracy is the private managers and
consultants that the government wastes billions on every year.
The Hands Off Hinchingbrooke campaign
will be holding regular stalls across the locality and will be lobbying
the Strategic Health Authority and Department of Health. A public meeting is
scheduled for September.