THE just published survey of the NHS, carried out for the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) trade union, found that 90 per cent of those surveyed had no idea of the scale of the cuts that are to be carried out in the NHS in the next three years.
This is an indication of the scale of the revolutionary shock wave that will sweep through society when the cuts begin.
NHS workers in England have been told that there will have to be £20 billion of cuts over the next four years.
90 per cent of those surveyed were opposed to any cuts. They said that spending on the NHS should be either increased or maintained at current levels.
Yesterday the RCN issued its own warning that it is not possible to make the savings required without harming patient care.
RCN Chief Executive & General Secretary Dr Peter Carter said: ‘We cannot be clearer – making slash and burn cuts to save budgets will damage patient care and risk reversing many of the improvements made in recent years. Making financial ends meet must never come ahead of patient care.’
The RCN is correctly demanding the highest quality of care for patients, safe staffing levels, time to train, support for specialist nurses and sustained investment in services, staff and facilities.
However, Carter is certain that major ‘slash and burn cuts’ in NHS staffing levels which will have ‘disastrous’ consequences are to be made after the election.
His warning came on the eve of the RCN’s four-day annual conference.
More than 4,000 nurses are gathering in Bournemouth which is expected to be dominated by the projected NHS cuts.
They will be told that the deficits crisis in 2005-06 – when the RCN estimates that at least 22,000 NHS posts went, was to save £1.3bn.
‘We were talking about £1.3bn then’ says Carter. ‘So logic says if they take the same approach, the numbers of jobs going could be much greater . . .’
A cut of £5bn a year will see up to 90,000 nursing posts abolished in the first year.
The RCN has received support from the doctors’ union, the British Medical Association, for its stand against the health cuts.
Dr Paul Flynn, deputy chairman of the BMA’s consultants committee, said: ‘It is inescapable that there will have to be some cut-backs in services.’
What the BMA and the RCN state is correct. The point however is not just to be right about the cuts but to stop them and to successfully defend the Welfare State.
Already, unions such as Unison, the major health and public sector union, and the PCS civil servants trade union have announced that they will fight the cuts and take united action to do so.
This position must be taken up by the RCN conference. It must decide to take the lead in organising the establishment of a public sector alliance of TUC and non TUC trade unions to fight and stop all NHS cuts and closures.
Defence of the health service must be the central task of this alliance.
This must mean setting up councils of action in all areas to mobilise entire communities behind the trade unions to occupy hospitals to stop them being shut down, and to fight all attempts at mass NHS and Welfare State sackings.
The trade unions and the councils of action must be prepared to mobilise for a general strike to bring down the next government, whether it be Labour, Tory, or a coalition or national government, the moment it starts to ‘slash and burn’ the NHS.
This is the way forward.
Trade union leaders who refuse to support this policy must be made to resign and make way for those who will.
Such an alliance must be prepared to bring down capitalist ‘cuts governments’ and bring in a workers government that will defend health, and education, and expand, not contract, the NHS and the Welfare State.