by Caroline Colebrook
HUNDREDS of nurses from all over England rallied in Westminster last Thursday to tell their MPs of their concerns about the impact of NHS deficits on patient services and nursing jobs.
They were joined by nurses, midwives, porters, cleaners, occupational therapists, cooks and administrative staff in an event organised by the Royal College of Nursing and the giant public sector union Unison to protest at the effect of the closures on patient care and staff morale.
They also attended a rally on the impact of NHS deficits at Westminster Central Hall.
RCN General Secretary Dr Beverly Malone, spoke at the event and expressed her concern about the impact of NHS deficits on patient care and nursing jobs, saying: “Today we can defend our patients by lobbying our politicians. Today, we have an opportunity to make our case and offer our solutions. Today we have the chance to say with a voice that is dignified as well as determined, professional as well as passionate: keep nurses working and keep patients safe.
“We recognise that massive sums have been invested and huge strides have been made in improving the NHS in recent years. We also believe that we’ve come too far and achieved too much to sacrifice it because of deficits.
“That’s why the RCN is saying this is not the time to leave trusts to sink or swim, this is the time for support and solutions, this is the time to put high quality patient care back at the top of the health agenda, this is the time to work together to tackle the deficits crisis.”
The protest came as the health unions prepared for crisis talks with Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt next week – in a bid to slow down the Government’s damaging reforms.
Arriving at the House of Commons in an open top bus, health workers first lobbied outside the building, before attending a meeting with MPs inside.
“We want to show MPs the faces behind the figures,” said Unison head of health Karen Jennings.
“Last week’s local election results sent a clear message that the public are not happy with the direction the Government is taking. It’s time to listen and stop the constant revolution destabilising our NHS, stop featherbedding the private sector and keep the NHS working.”
Speakers at the meeting included Karen Jennings, TUC deputy general secretary Frances O’Grady, and Labour MP and former health secretary Frank Dobson.
The Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Woolwich is typical of hospitals facing a debt crisis and having to make cuts that will have a “devastating impact” on patient care.
The trust has already drawn up an £11 million savings plan and is waiting to hear from a new regional health authority whether it will be forced to make a further £6.4 million cuts.
The Government says that hospitals must break even by the end of March next year and it seems the Queen Elizabeth will still be £6.4 million in debt by then.
The trust’s total budget if £140 million but £15 million a year of this has to be paid into the PFI scheme that rebuilt the hospital.
The trust is seeking to become a foundation hospital but local campaigners are opposing this.
Frances Hook of Keep Our NHS said that the trend towards foundation trusts is evidence of the NHS becoming a corporate machine.
“The Government rhetoric is that foundation status will give communities more control over their hospital.
“In reality foundation hospitals will be given unlimited powers to enter into joint ventures with the private sector.
“The drive for profit will erode patient care and create competition between hospitals.”
Meanwhile an investigation by Hospital Doctor magazine revealed that NHS managers are offering “bribes” to general practitioners to persuade them to send patients to a private treatment centre instead of local NHS hospitals.
The investigation uncovered unorthodox payments of £30 for every patient sent to the private sector Greater Manchester surgical centre, run by the South African operator Netcare.