HEALTH service unions are organising a mass rally in central London involving patients and workers from all fields within the NHS to lobby the House of Lords as the Health and Social care Bill reaches its final crucial parliamentary stages.
On Wednesday 7th March the giant union Unite, with 100,000 members in the health service, is holding the lobby of MPs and peers in the Houses of Parliament on the afternoon of 7th March, with the message that the Bill’s proposals are ‘untried and untested’ and will have a negative impact on patients’ welfare.
Then in the evening of the same day – under the banner of the joint-union campaign All Together for the NHS campaign – nurses, midwives, doctors, physiotherapists, managers, paramedics, radiographers, cleaners, porters and other employees from across the health service will join with patients to fill Central Hall Westminster for a 6pm “Save our NHS” rally.
The Bill is hugely unpopular with NHS employees and patients, who have major concerns over the effect the draft legislation will have on healthcare by pushing through competition and markets on to the NHS, and allowing the private sector to take over delivering NHS services.
The All Together for the NHS campaign has called the rally over concerns that an NHS with a future based on competition will fragment the health service, worsen the care available to patients, and mean continued uncertainty for NHS employees, with the quality of training and their terms and conditions likely to suffer.
The pressure on the Secretary of State, Andrew Lansley, has been growing in recent weeks with more professional bodies joining the calls to amend significantly or withdraw the Bill completely.
The March rally is intended to add to that pressure by demonstrating the broad coalition of opposition to Bill.
TUC deputy general secretary Frances O'Grady said: “Some changes have been made to the Bill but not nearly enough. Only this week we have seen a private company taking over an NHS hospital for the first time, as Circle moves in to the Hinchingbrooke Hospital in Cambridgeshire. This will be the future the NHS has to look forward to if the Bill stays in its current form.
“Peers must listen to the concerns of the people that know the NHS best – the staff who work in it. Health workers fear the increased competition and the extension of markets will have a devastating impact on patient care, especially poorer people who will find themselves pushed to the back of ever-growing waiting lists.
“But it's not too late for peers to make a difference and we hope our rally in early March will provide the opportunity for NHS workers and patients to send a loud message across Parliament Square to convince the House of Lords that this Bill would be a disaster for the NHS.”
The lobby comes in the same week that the High Court will be hearing the Labour Party’s case that the risk register – what the NHS “reforms” will actually mean on the frontline in England – should be made public by health secretary Andrew Lansley.
Unite has accused Lansley “hiding” the risk register from public scrutiny because he fears that it will reveal how the Bill’s proposals will adversely affect patient care and is frightened of the public’s reaction.
Unite general secretary Len McCluskey said: “The Coalition’s Bill will destroy the NHS. It will place it in the hands of business and put profit before patient care. Those who can pay will go to the top of the queue. The poor will get what is left. And at a time of severe austerity, it saddles the NHS with a reorganisation bill of £4 billion.”
He added: “Health secretary Andrew Lansley is an isolated figure who has, uniquely, managed to unite the health professionals and experts in opposition to the demolition of the NHS in favour of private companies. The Bill should be scrapped immediately.
“Our NHS is our greatest national achievement. Only it ensures that access to health care is based on need, not wealth. It has cared for generations of working people, improving their health and their life chances. And it places fairness at the heart of our society. But this is all in desperate danger.”
The Bill is currently making its way through the House of Lords, expected to return to the House of Commons during the Easter period for final consideration. That means in a matter of weeks this will be law.
For more information about the lobby and attending on the day, go to www.unitetheunion.org/unite4ournhs