Thousands of campaigners calling on the government to put a halt to the creeping privatisation of the NHS marched through London on Saturday (18th May) bringing local campaign groups together for the first time.
However, the numbers were a far cry from the reported 20,000 that marched through Lewisham in January ago against plans to close and sell off parts of Lewisham Hospital to help bail out two South London hospitals on the brink of bankruptcy due to PFI.
While local campaigns to save Lewisham, Whittington and Ealing hospitals have proved popular, speakers at the rally outside Downing Street called for a move towards a national campaign to challenge the government behind the cuts and closures.
Andy Slaughter, the MP for Hammersmith, and Julian Bell, leader of Ealing Council, both cited reports (one of them here) of rising death rates following A&E closures.
Last week Ealing Council applied for a judicial review into the decision to close four A&Es in West London.
Bell said: “If they close these A&Es that is the biggest experiment in the history of the NHS. It will cost lives. It won’t just impact on Ealing and Hammersmith, but also on Brent. That’s the equivalent to a city the size of Leeds without an A&E.”
Dr Louise Irvine, who has helped lead the campaign to save Lewisham Hospital, described the combination of cuts, closures, privatisation and PFI debt as ‘the perfect storm’ and truly terrifying’ and said that many services are already starting to break down.
Jeremy Corbyn, MP for Islington North, described the private financing of the NHS as ‘leeches on our services’.
Bonnie Craven, a campaigner from SW London, said the government claims that the cuts will improve healthcare as well as save money are lies and that if the NHS was affordable after World war II it is affordable now.
She said: “I’ve been to the meetings where the presentations have been made. They are giving us medical reasons as to why they are taking our hospitals from us. The senior clinicians who attended these meetings say they are lying about the evidence they are presenting. Look at the people who are giving us this misinformation. They are shareholders in private healthcare providers. It’s in their interest to steal our services from us. This process is illegitimate.”
A paramedic called Dixie told the crowd that the privatisation of the ambulance service is already well under way with paramedics being denigrated as justification. Meanwhile, she said, the private ambulances were not being regulated.
She said: “Our chief executive … seems to think the problem [with the ambulance service] is the crews. It’s our fault they are not running very well and the reason is because we don’t work hard enough. We don’t work long enough. We earn too much money and, oh my god, in a 12-hour shift we want the right to have half an hour to eat our meal,” to which a sarcastic protester shouted: “how dare you”.
One speaker, 82-year-old Shirley Murgragh, also lambasted the BBC for its poor coverage of the implications of the Health and Social Care Act that came into force in April singling out Radio 4 in particular.
She said: “There’s been a huge bias and they do not ask the people from our end of the spectrum when they interview people. The BBC is in breach of its public service duty to inform.”
The HSCA forces the newly created Clinical Commissioning Groups to put health service contracts out to tender rather than just sticking with an NHS provider even if they believe it offers a better service.
Some cash-strapped CCG boards have expressed fears they may then be taken to court by private healthcare providers if they don’t award contracts to the cheapest bidder rather than to the best provider costing them thousands in expensive legal costs.
For videos of all the speeches from the day click here