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NHS in crisis:
Hewitt 'isolated from real world'
THE NATIONAL Health Service is still by far the biggest political issue in most areas of the country. Patricia Hewitt's foolish comment that the NHS was having its best ever year is treated with derision.
Jackie Grunsell, a GP and Socialist Party member who is standing in the council elections in Huddersfield for the Save Huddersfield NHS campaign told the socialist: "That remark shows that she's completely isolated from the real world.
"I haven't met anyone who works in the health service, or anyone who uses it, who would agree with her. At the UNISON health conference, people were angry but they were laughing at her stupid comments."
NHS worker Andrew Billson-Page, standing in South Lakeland council for the Save Westmorland Hospital group, also said that nursing staff mostly saw her remarks as a bad joke.
Socialists have been pointing out that the extra money that Hewitt claims has been ploughed into the NHS had largely been eaten up by privatisation schemes like the PFI, by measures designed to increase competition between hospitals such as payment by results and other measures of market madness.
Protecting majorities or defending NHS?
LOCAL PEOPLE in Lanarkshire, Scotland, demonstrated on 22 April at Monklands Hospital in Airdrie. Even Blair's defence secretary John Reid - a local Westminster MP - was there, hypocritically protesting at policies of the New Labour Scottish Executive!
People fear that proposed changes are downgrading vital health resources and causing disparity between local areas. Lanarkshire has three hospitals, two are PFI at Wishaw and Hairmyres (East Kilbride) and one NHS hospital at Monklands.
The local health board's preferred option is to close Monklands' A&E unit and turn it into a planned surgery hospital. The board's alternative option is to downgrade Hairmyres.
Our broad-based pressure group, Lanarkshire Health United, created by North Lanarkshire Trades Council, has fought for the status quo plus. During the consultation period we consistently won the arguments at public meetings across Lanarkshire.
With only two A&E units, life would undoubtedly be less precious as ambulance staff search desperately for spare capacity in Lanarkshire, with surrounding health authorities unable or unwilling to take surplus emergencies. Our group's tactics included occupying the Health Board's HQ. This won us a full meeting with the Board where we argued for our alternative document.
Now the consultation period is over, we plan to bombard the six Lanarkshire Labour Members of the Scottish Parliament (MSPs) with letters, lobby them at their surgeries and the Holyrood Parliament in Edinburgh. We warn them that their political careers are in jeopardy as local elections approach in 2007. Scotland's First Minister, Jack McConnell is MSP for Motherwell and Wishaw. Health Minister Andy Kerr is MSP for East Kilbride.
The Labour Party have allowed North and South Lanarkshire Labour MSPs and district councillors to play the blinkered game of competing with each other, like ferrets in a sack, to protect their own particular patches. They are more interested in protecting their majorities than in maintaining and improving people's health provision.
Unison health conference
Workers demand action
AT UNISON'S health conference, UNISON president Christine Wilde tried to make sure Patricia Hewitt was heard without interruption (though delegates asked why was she invited to conference anyway?). Her statements were greeted with laughter, jeering and amazement, showing the conference's enormous anger at cuts in services, privatisation of the NHS and job losses around the country.
Gary Freeman, Southern Derbyshire healthcare UNISON, personal capacity
During the conference's first day, delegate after delegate spoke about their local issues and calls for industrial action received a good response. A motion from Eastern regional health committee saying that attacks on the NHS could only be stopped by "concerted national action" was passed.
Such is the pressure building up on the Sectional Group Executive (SGE), that they supported the resolution. SGE chair Dave Godson had spoken earlier saying Blair had managed to do what 18 years of Tory underfunding had failed to do - to break up our NHS. Again reflecting the pressure, he said UNISON was embarking on a local industrial strategy.
Earlier UNISON general secretary Dave Prentis said that there was a line in the sand whichever government was in power - opposition to privatisation and marketisation of our health service. UNISON would support members who feel they have no other alternative but to take industrial action to defend jobs and services.
But delegates said more was needed. Socialist Party (SP) member Roger Davey from Swindon and Wiltshire talked of the threat to close four community hospitals in his area with around 300 redundancies. He reported on intimidation of staff threatened with disciplinary action if they attended demonstrations - he said UNISON had to do more.
One delegate said she never thought she'd say this but "this government is forcing the NHS to look at industrial action."
Brian Loader, another SP member from NHS Logistics, reported on the outsourcing of his organisation to DHL/Novation and called for the unions to call a national demonstration that could have hundreds of thousands of people on it.
Karen Jennings, UNISON's national head of health, who had earlier talked of "the vultures hovering over the NHS", complimented Brian for his excellent work fighting privatisation.
Adrian O'Malley from Wakefield and Pontefract hospitals (another SP member), speaking shortly after Hewitt's speech, likened her to Mrs Thatcher's twin sister.
As we go to press, Wakefield and Pontefract hospitals' emergency motion calling for 'a national day of action against the cuts', has been accepted for debate. SP members will be striving for the motion to be timetabled as soon as possible.
When delegates ask why has it taken so long for the SGE even to reflect any of this mood, we need to explain that their links to Labour, as well as the officials being largely divorced from the membership, will hold our union back.
Now the pressure from the union members is so great that it has had to be reflected, if weakly, in calls for action by the leadership.
By Tuesday morning, 41 copies of the socialist have been sold and £425 fighting fund has been raised including surplus expenses donated by Socialist Party members. Thanks to Hannah from Durham and Leah from Newcastle for helping with our sales.
Doctors' protest at betrayal
Hundreds of doctors from non-EU countries protested outside the health department on 21 April. They feel betrayed by a sudden change in immigration rules which may leave many of them jobless. Thousands may be forced to leave the country without completing their training, even though they were encouraged to come to the UK in the first place.
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Coronavirus crisis - Finance appeal
The coronavirus crisis has laid bare the class character of society in numerous ways. It is making clear to many that it is the working class that keeps society running, not the CEOs of major corporations.
The results of austerity have been graphically demonstrated as public services strain to cope with the crisis.
The government has now ripped up its 'austerity' mantra and turned to policies that not long ago were denounced as socialist. But after the corona crisis, it will try to make the working class pay for it, by trying to claw back what has been given.
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In The Socialist 27 April 2006:
Socialist Party NHS campaign
Socialist Party election campaign
1926 General Strike
Environment: Nuclear power
Campaign for a New Workers Party
Socialist Party workplace news
International socialist news and analysis