One day general strike to defend the NHS

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IN the last two months the trade union movement and NHS professional organisations have been forced to take serious notice of the deepening crisis in the NHS.

So far the NHS has been subjected to the government’s PFI plans under which business groups have made hundreds of millions in profits from negotiating and renegotiating loans to build hospitals to be leased to the NHS.

Labour started off with the PFI, and then moved on to Foundation Trusts – where hospitals are freed from NHS central control and ownership, and are free to make what deals they like with the banks and the private medical companies.

From there, Blair moved to bring the private sector right into the centre of the NHS, where they were given block contracts to do 15 per cent of NHS work at a remarkable rate of profit for the private company.

Labour then proceeded to give the primary care trusts 75 per cent of the NHS budget to purchase care from hospitals and particularly from the Independent Sector Treatment Centres, which international private health companies were recruited by Blair to set up.

While the ISTCs (privateers) are given block contracts, the NHS trusts are being put on ‘payment by results’, with every item of work priced, and told that those that cannot survive the new market mechanisms deserve to go under.

Sir Ian Carruthers, the new NHS chief, has conceded this week that a number of District General Hospitals ‘may have to close’. This is where we are, on the brink of the destruction of an entire system of general hospitals, to be replaced by ‘care in the community’, by largely private companies.

NHS trusts are now £1 billion in the red, and jobs are going by the thousands every month, along with beds, wards, operating theatres and entire hospitals.

The BMA revealed on Wednesday that next year 21,000 junior doctors will be chasing 9,500 training posts because of Blair’s ‘Modernising Medical Careers Initiative’. 11,500 junior doctors will be made redundant, joining thousands of nurses, Asian doctors, and ancillary workers who are losing their NHS jobs.

It is only in the last couple of months that the Labour movement and the NHS professional trade unions have grasped that the NHS is being abolished.

In May, the UNISON conference saw its leader Prentis, forced by the critical situation, to tell delegates that if any section of workers took action to fight cuts and redundancies they would have the backing of the union.

A few days later the Health Minister Hewitt was booed and jeered at the RCN nurses’ national conference.

Then last week both the leaders of the TGWU and Amicus, Woodley and Simpson, condemned the privatising Foundation hospitals and the massive debts that the NHS trusts were being lumbered with, as did the GMB at its Congress.

On Tuesday June 7 the chairman of the BMA consultants committee Dr Paul Miller, told his conference: ‘Care is suffering, jobs are disappearing, patients and staff are paying the price. If a patient gets worse instead of better with treatment, then it’s time to figure out whether the diagnosis or the treatment is wrong. Something is going very badly wrong with these health policies. It is time to call a halt.’

GPs leader Doctor Hamish Meldrum said yesterday in his speech to the GPs conference, that any interference with the agreement on pensions would not only be seen as reneging on the new GP contract ‘but is likely to cause the profession to question any further cooperation with key government policies.

‘Not only that, I have to warn the government, all governments, because this is a UK-wide issue, that we will use every economic, legal and political weapon at our disposal to defend the new contract pension agreement.’

He warned: ‘Governments, with family doctors as mere bystanders, you’ve little chance. If we’re against you – none at all.’ It is clear that it is now recognised across the movement that the NHS is in very great danger. Now is the time for the TUC and NHS professional trade unions to call a one day general strike to tell the government ‘Stop NHS privatisation or we will bring you down!’