Student nurses join GPs and junior doctors in demanding action to defend the NHS


THE determined drive by the Tory government to cut the pay and conditions of every NHS worker, as a prelude to the ultimate aim of privatising the health service and handing it over to the profit hungry health companies, has run into a brick wall of resistance across the board.

Over the weekend, it emerged that two thirds of GPs want the BMA to call an emergency conference in January to discuss calling industrial action against government funding cuts that has plunged the NHS into a financial crisis – a crisis the Tories intend to resolve through hospital closures and flinging the door open to the private healthcare vultures.

Alongside the GPs it was announced at the weekend that trainee nurses and midwives are planning a programme of mass action over government plans to make student nurses and midwives pay for their own training.

In his Autumn Statement last month Osborne announced that student nurses will, for the first time, have to pay the full student tuition fees of £9,000 a year, replacing the existing NHS bursary which covered their living costs while in training.

Student nurses will start their careers at least £51,000 in debt to the Student Loans Company which will be demanding immediate repayment on any loan as soon as they graduate. Student nurses have to work on hospital wards for 50% of their time in training so they don’t even have the option that most students are forced into of taking part-time jobs just to stay alive.

On top of this, many students take up nursing after already having completed one degree course meaning that they already have huge debts to the loan company, meaning that they could face a combined debt of around £100,000.

Osborne’s plan will inevitably lead to a situation where nursing student numbers will plummet at a time when the NHS is already suffering from an acute shortage of nurses. The response of student nurses and midwives has been to organise a campaign with a march on parliament due to take place on the 9th January, deliberately timed to coincide with the fight by junior doctors – a fight that forced the Tory Health Minister, Jeremy Hunt, into a massive retreat over the issue of imposing new contracts in the face of the threat of strike action.

In January the ongoing negotiations between the BMA and the government over these new contracts is due to be completed with junior doctors determined to implement strike action if the Tories refuse to back down completely.

Their determined struggle has inspired nurses, midwives and GPs to take up the call for industrial action to defend not just their own pay and conditions but the very existence of the NHS itself. As the organiser of the student nurses campaign, Danielle Tiplady, said: ‘It doesn’t just affect students, it affects the whole country because if you don’t have nurses, then who is going to look after people?’

Precisely. A free NHS is the most precious gain made by the working class and it is a gain that the Tories are determined to smash in their effort to prop up a bankrupt British capitalist system by ending all spending on it and using the billions ‘saved’ to keep its system from collapse.

The determination of junior doctors to take strike action to defeat the would-be dictator Hunt exposed the weakness of the Tories and showed the overwhelming support of workers and the great mass of the population for a fight to defend the NHS.

But the defence of the NHS cannot be left to junior doctors, GPs or nurses and midwives.

Along with the Welfare State, the NHS was won by the whole working class and must be defended by the entire movement.

This means that the TUC must be forced to stop all its endless pleadings to the Tories for mercy from austerity and call a general strike to bring down the government and go forward to a workers government and a socialist system that alone can guarantee the future of the NHS.