Tower Hamlets NHS campaigners launch fightback against privatisation and fragmentation

Cllr Rachel Saunders, Tower Hamlets health spokeswoman, addresses residents concerned about the future of the NHS.

Cllr Rachel Saunders, Labour’s health spokeswoman, addresses residents concerned about the future of the NHS.

CAMPAIGNERS in Tower Hamlets painted a gloomy picture of the national health service as they launched their campaign to protect the borough’s health service from the government’s cuts and reorganisation plans last night (Wednesday).

With Barts Health, which includes the Royal London, Whipps Cross and Newham hospitals, laden with the biggest PFI repayment plan in the country – to be repaid over 42 years – and the fragmentation and privatisation of its services, residents and health professionals fear potential closures and a decline in healthcare provision.

Dr Jackie Applebee, chair of Tower Hamlets GP Forum, said the top three floors of the new hospital have not even been fitted out due to a lack of money – explaining why they are not lit at night – and that there are now 40 fewer beds than in the old hospital.

She said: “[Last September] as GPs we were told not to send patients to the Royal London for days at a time because it was full. The government can’t admit what they are doing and they will never admit they are privatising it.”

Organisers of Tower Hamlets Keep Our NHS Public said they hope to build on the public support for Lewisham Hospital’s battle against forced closures and will hold a second meeting in March (see below) weeks before the Health and Social Care Act comes into force.

The meeting at the Jagonari Women’s Centre, In Whitechapel, was heard from an array of health care workers who reeled off examples of the detrimental effects government policy and private companies are already having on the health service.

Gill George, from UNITE’S health executive, cited SERCOs running of Cornwall’s out-of-hours service where call handlers were instructed to trick the computer system’s timer, while they sought advice on whether the call merited dispatching an ambulance, to meet its agreed target of dealing with calls in three minutes.

Paramedic, Kath Jennings, questioned whether ‘the London Ambulance Service is being set-up to fail’ by the government closing A&E departments and then setting impossible targets.

She said with fewer A&E departments journey times to hospital are taking longer. On arrival, patients are refused admission and kept in corridors by overloaded departments, or even sent to other hospitals, to ensure the four hour target is met. Meanwhile ambulance crews are kept out of service and patients’ treatment delayed. When paramedics are eventually freed-up they are expected to reach their next call within eight minutes which, she said, could be two boroughs away.

Mental healthcare worker Abdirashid Hirad from Tower Hamlets MIND described the devastating effects cuts are having on people with mental health issues. He cited examples of people selling sex after having their benefits cut and revealed that a freelance doctor who told a patient that ‘he was not fit to wear a soldiers uniform’ and days later, after carrying out a Work Capability Assessment on him for ATOS, telling him he was fit for work.

After summarising the gloom, Cameron Stocks, a medical student at the Royal London hospital, said things were only going to get worse and called on people to mobilise against the government.

He said: “The Health and Social Care Act hasn’t come into affect yet, so we have no idea what the NHS will look like [when it does in April]. [But] Hospitals will be able to make 50 per cent of their profit from private patients. A&E will have the right to to turn you away and have even been told they have to. There was already a 20 per cent rise in people waiting more than four hours [to be seen] last year. The worst is yet to come.

“We can’t wait until 2015 [for the next election]. We need to get onto the streets because everything important about this country they are taking away”

* The next Tower Hamlets Keep Our NHS Public meeting will be held on 18 March, at Oxford House, in Derbyshire Street, Bethnal Green, E2 6HG

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