Trade unions must unite to defend bursaries and stop hospital closures!

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TWO very important NHS trade union conferences are currently taking place this week, the RCN, nurses union, and the BMA doctors.

Already the RCN supported by over 20 other organisations, including the BMA, Unison and Unite have put out an appeal to the government to ditch its plans to get rid of student nurse bursaries and replace them with student loans.

In an Open Letter the organisations warn that the plan risks ‘reducing the supply of future nurses and midwives.’ They condemn the plan as ‘being nothing short of reckless’ and being an ‘untested gamble’.

They add: ‘We are deeply concerned that these plans could disproportionately affect more mature students, women, students with children and those who already have a degree, people who have always made up an important part of the NHS workforce. Many of these people will be unwilling or unable to take on even more debt, and their vital contribution will be lost.’

However, we all know that appeals to the Tories are useless – the over 20 organisations must band together to stop the student loans plan with action that drives the Tories from office. The RCN must make such a call at its conference.

This savage attack on the nursing profession is taking place at a time when the government is at war with junior doctors to force through a new contract that removes annual pay progression, abolishes banding and its robust safeguards for staff, and reduces the definition of unsocial hours to impose pay cuts.

The BMA on the eve of their Annual Representatives Meeting (ARM), due to start today, produced its survey to show that 80% did not trust the government with the management of the NHS, that 48% thought that the government did not genuinely care about the NHS, while only 13% thought that the government was giving the NHS the money that it needed.

This public hostility to the government is the other side of the coin to the massive public support for the junior doctors for their heroic strike actions to defend the NHS. Commenting on the findings Dr Mark Porter, BMA council chair, said: ‘Public confidence in the government’s management of the NHS is extremely low. People are increasingly concerned about the future of a health service that they know is under unsustainable pressure. There is a gulf between the government’s promises on the NHS and what the public believe to be true.’

Clearly there are two sides here. The mass of users and the NHS trade unions are defending the NHS and the government is seeking to destroy it through cuts, closures and privatisation. At the BMA ARM, the leadership, despite its survey, is backing the latest Hunt attempt to impose a new contract, and while the junior doctors have just begun balloting, the BMA has already said that it supports it.

The ARM must correct this rotten position. There needs to be an emergency motion put to call the leadership to order and to demonstrate that the BMA stands 100% with the junior doctors and supports a ‘NO’ vote on the new contract. A failure to do this will see every other section of the NHS workforce being subjected to the same disgraceful treatment that the junior doctors have been subjected to. There is also a motion down that the BMA should affiliate to the TUC. This is a vitally important motion since the TUC organises the seven million workers, plus their families, who are the bedrock of support for the NHS.

The TUC leaders however have not distinguished themselves during the doctors struggle, failing to call a single demonstration or strike in the junior doctors support. The ARM must affiliate the BMA to the TUC to mobilise the entire trade union movement in support of the junior doctors, the nurses and the NHS as a whole.

Ahead is a programme of massive hospital closures. Following the closure of the Chase Farm A&E, North Middlesex District General Hospital is to close, as is the Children’s Department of Ealing Hospital on June 30th.

The job of the BMA, Unite and Unison must be to organise the occupations of these hospitals by the staff to keep them open and fully functioning with the support of the TUC. This will prepare the way to bring down the Tories and bring in a workers government and socialism.