MORE THAN 1,000 National Health Service workers and their supporters, last Wednesday, 1st November, travelled to Westminster to lobby their MPs to demand a stop to the cutting and gradual privatisation of the NHS.
The event was organised by NHS together – an umbrella movement including health service unions, patient groups, pensioner groups and hundreds of local campaigns who have come together to defend their hospitals and other NHS services.
This was the biggest lobby against NHS cuts since Labour came to power in 1997 and it included nurses, doctors, laboratory workers, health visitors, care assistants. In many cases their colleagues were working overtime to allow them to take the message to Parliament that the NHS is now not safe in anyone’s hands. For many it was the first time they had taken part in any political activity.
As the lobby proceeded a rally took place in the nearby Methodist Central Hall, where Dave Prentis, general secretary of the public sector union Unison described the event as “historic and defining”.
He said that the Government’s “market madness” means a “national crisis in the NHS is unfolding before our eyes.”
Prentis drew a huge cheer from the hall when he said that the “dedicated NHS workers who have delivered so much … deserve more than failed privatisation.”
An open-top bus, decked out in the NHS Together colours, toured the capital, drawing waves and hoots of support from passers-by and motorists, while frontline health workers – many in uniform – waited in the cold November sunshine to tell MPs of their concerns.
Maddie Nettleship, a nurse specialist from Gateshead, said the lobby offered an opportunity to “show the opposition of NHS workers to privatisation of the NHS and the cuts that go with that.
“I’m seeing colleagues very, very stressed, working with staff shortages and therefore not able to deliver the standard of care that people deserve.” general protest
And Mike Smith of South Durham, a worker in health service finance, explained that he had made the journey in order to make “a general protest about the way things are going in the NHS.
“People have not been replaced in a lot of departments and the work’s falling on those who are left, causing a lot of stress.”
Ian Macalear, a primary care mental health practitioner and member of Leeds Community Health branch, said that he was “hoping to alert MPs to our concerns about privatisation and the break-up of the NHS; that’s why I’ve come down today.”
Senior health care support worker Dave Anstein from Salisbury Health branch, stated simply that he wanted to “get someone to listen to us for a change, instead of not listening and doing what they want.”
Stephen Campion of the Hospital Consultants and Specialists Association told the rally that NHS workers had had “enough of waking up on a Monday morning to find out the Government’s latest policy on the NHS”.
And he caught the mood of the campaign perfectly when he told the rally that the Government needed to “stop, look and listen”.
Paramedic and Unison member Andrea Shields insisted that “the NHS is about treating people – not number crunching.”
And she had a message for politicians: “If you look after the NHS, we will be able to look after you.”
John Wood, a consultant orthopaedic surgeon, who left his clinics in Lewisham, south-east London, to protest, said: “This Labour government is tearing it [the NHS] down.”
MPs from all parties made their way to the Methodist Central Hall to meet groups from their constituencies.
On the same day as the lobby a YouGov opinion poll, commissioned by the TUC, showed that voters are very concerned about the current direction of the NHS.
While 63 per cent say their own recent experience of the NHS is either “good” or “very good”, this does not translate into a recognition that the NHS has improved, with half (52 per cent) saying that the NHS has got “much worse” or “a little worse”.
Voters are also not impressed by the pace or the direction of NHS reform. Instead they want Government to work with NHS staff.