Saturday, September 22, 2012

Save our NHS hospitals

by New Worker correspondent

THOUSANDS of people in Sussex and London took to the streets in three separate protests at drastic plans to cut local hospital services, which are already well overloaded and failing cope after previous cuts.
 In north-west London, between one and two thousand people took part in a double march, beginning from Southall Park and Acton Park to converge at Ealing Common, against plans to cut four of the nine Accident and Emergency (A&E) units in the area.
 MPs and councillors joined nurses, patients, relatives and many others to defend the threatened A&E units at Charing Cross, Ealing, Hammersmith and Central Middlesex hospitals.
 NHS bosses claim bigger hospitals would improve patient care but it would mean patients, some on the brink of life or death, suffering longer ambulance journeys to bring them to the remaining A&E unites, which would be unable to cope with the extra workload.
 Patients who were not life-or-death emergencies would face very long and painful waits for treatment.
 Labour MPs Steve Pound and Virendra Sharma and Julian Bell, who is the leader of Ealing Council, joined in the march at Southall Park.
 Steve Pound, the MP for Ealing North, said: "It's quite frankly a matter of life and death. It's not a matter of lifestyle choice; it's not a matter of preference or some sort of consumer choice 'We go to this hospital or that hospital'. It's no hospital or this hospital."
 Sharma, who represents Ealing Southall, said: "The threat of Ealing Hospital (A&E) closure is a threat to the local people, people's access to the services and the threat to their lives. That's why I am supporting the march today".
 Meanwhile in south London several hundred people gathered in General Gordon Square in Woolwich to protest at the threat of privatisation to the three hospitals of South London Healthcare Trust – which has been put into administration.
 The Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Woolwich, the Queen Mary in Sidcup and the Princess Royal in Orpington are now being offered to companies like Virgin and Serco.
 The bankruptcy has been caused in large part by Private Finance Initiative deals. The Trust was created in 2009 with two hospitals, the Princess Royal and the Queen Elizabeth having huge PFI debts. The PFI debts last 30 years (finishing in 2032).
 Total costs of the two hospitals were £210 million; in 10 years £535 million has already been paid; the final bill will be £2.5 billion. Servicing the debt takes 14 per cent of the trust’s current income.
 Since being put into administration two wards at Queen Mary have been closed. The gynaecological ward of 28 beds is one of them; it has been reduced to 10 beds and put in with the men’s surgical ward – which is now a mixed surgical ward. And the Elderly Medical ward has been closed.
 The march from Woolwich to Charlton Park was supported by local Labour MP Clive Efford and trade unions including Unite, Unison, GMB, PCS, RMT and NUT as well as the Greenwich and Bexley Trades Council.
 Clive Efford told the crowd assembled in Woolwich before the march that the Coalition’s Act passed earlier this year would allow for private health companies to sue the DoH if they thought they were not being given enough opportunity to make profits out of providing healthcare, under European Union laws on commercial competition.
 Several union speakers warned that the new Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, was a close ally of Rupert Murdoch and part of a group of right-wing MPs who have called for the NHS to be dismantled as “a 60-year socialist experiment that failed”.
 In Sussex thousands of people marched against plans to cut health services in Eastbourne and Hastings.
 They are opposed to proposals from East Sussex Healthcare NHS Trust, which runs Eastbourne District General Hospital and Conquest Hospital in St Leonards, to centralise stroke care, emergency orthopaedics and emergency surgery at a single hospital.
 Demonstrators marched along Eastbourne seafront on Saturday morning. Speakers included the town’s MP, Stephen Lloyd and Lewes MP Norman Baker.

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