THE news that the Accident and Emergency and maternity units at Queen Mary’s Hospital are to be closed for the coming winter is a not just a warning, but the opening shot in the planned destruction of the National Health Service.
The closure of the A&E Department in November, and the subsequent closure of the maternity unit as soon as possible, is being portrayed as a temporary measure necessitated by staff shortages which pose a ‘safety risk’ according to the local health authority.
This hospital, located in Sidcup and serving a catchment area of more than a million people in London and Kent, is under threat of closure under the controversial and misnamed ‘A Picture of Health’ proposals. It is clear that permanent closure is now being engineered through the back door of safety concerns.
Already this hospital has suffered a ‘temporary’ closure of overnight A&E services which turned into a permanent closure after 8pm.
The tactic being used here is: first declare a hospital down for closure, encouraging staff to seek jobs elsewhere; then declare staff shortages a safety risk; then close the most vital units down on a ‘temporary’ basis over the most crucial winter months and, from then on, permanent closure is a formality.
Just last month, the Tory-led coalition removed the moratorium on the reconfiguration of London hospitals – for reconfiguration, read closure.
It is now open season on all hospitals in the London area, with Chase Farm in Enfield facing renewed threats of closure and the proposed merging of the Whittington with the Royal Free.
What is the response of the health service unions to these attacks?
The short answer is that the leadership of these unions has done absolutely nothing that has the remotest chance of saving a single bed, let alone a complete hospital, in the face of a government determined to slash and burn the NHS in order to save money to bail out the banks.
The latest tactic employed by the biggest health service union, Unison, is to place its faith in the legal system to save the NHS.
The day after the Queen Mary announcement, Unison was trumpeting as a victory the fact that a legal challenge by them against the government over the lack of public consultation on the NHS White Paper – the blueprint for their massacre of the NHS – has received a ‘positive response’ from the court.
Not that the union have succeeded in overturning the government, just that the judge indicated that he thought they might possibly have a case and he might possibly allow them to proceed in their demand for a judicial review.
This is grasping at straws with a vengeance.
It also explicitly implies that for the union leadership, the fate of the NHS rests entirely with judges.
These leaders must be told in no uncertain terms that the working class cannot rely on the courts to defend the most important gain that it has ever made.
The trade unions must now tell the government that they are declaring a moratorium on all cuts and closures in the NHS, and that they intend to enforce it with a campaign of occupations to stop ward and Maternity and A&E closures.
Further, that they will put and end to the bosses’ plan to smash the NHS and the Welfare State by calling a general strike to bring down the coalition government and replace it with a workers’ government that will carry out socialist policies to maintain and further develop the NHS.
Leaders who will not fight to remove the coalition must be replaced by leaders who will.