All trade unionists must take action to defend the NHS

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The front of the 5,000-strong march to defend the NHS setting off through Nottingham last Saturday
The front of the 5,000-strong march to defend the NHS setting off through Nottingham last Saturday

UP TO 5,000 health workers, trade unionists and local residents determined to save their jobs, hospitals and NHS services from massive cuts marched through Nottingham on Saturday.

Almost every car hooted its horn in support as the march proceeded down the busy streets of central Nottingham to a rally at the Albert Hall.

There were angry chants of ‘Save Our NHS’ from the wide age range carrying banners and flags saying A&E Not RIP; Blair We Care About Patients Even If You Don’t; Patients Before Prices; NHS is on its Knees – Have You Done a Risk Assessment?; Beds Not Bombs; Nottingham Hospital Staff – Save Our Services; Fund Health Not War; NHS Not DHL; Public Service Not Private Profit.

Many RCN Keep Nurses Working/Keep Patients Safe banners were on the march and UNISON banners from East Midlands, South Derbyshire Health, Nottingham Healthcare, Leicester Health, Ashfield and Dukeries, as well as banners from NAMA Nursing and Midwives Association Students Union and Central Nottingham NUT.

Karen Littleton, RCN East Midlands Regional Officer, told News Line: ‘There are very big cuts across the East Midlands, particularly locally at the City Hospital and Queen’s Medical Centre, the two main Nottingham hospitals.

‘Some 1200 jobs are going, of which 450 are nurses. Student nurses across the East Midlands are experiencing difficulty in getting posts. They are also particularly targeting and cutting experienced nurses to save extra money. It is going to be a disaster for patient care.’

Hannah Craig, City Hospital Cardiac Intensive Care nurse, said: ‘The cuts are having a direct impact on patient safety and quality of care.’

Yvonne Fahy, Health Care Assistant and UNISON rep, said: ‘All the unions should be banding together and standing together over the NHS. They are taking our NHS away. It belongs to the people.

‘I heard on the news this morning Gordon Brown plans to make the NHS independent. To me that sounds like privatisation.

‘It’s got to be stopped and the trade unions, not just UNISON but all the unions have to act to stop it happening.

‘We’ve got to save NHS Logistics before it’s too late and stop the terrible cuts in nursing. This Labour government, which most workers voted for, is kicking us in the teeth. It’s not Labour anyway, Maggie Thatcher was his mentor.’

Clare Martin, RCN member at Grantham Hospital said: ‘They’ve instigated a turnaround plan with three preferred options which all involve cuts and basically the downgrading of Grantham.

‘They involve cuts in A&E, women’s health and surgery. The cuts mean members of the public of Grantham would have to travel for an hour to get treated for emergency surgery or women having a baby.

‘We’ve got a campaign group at Grantham and believe that all the campaign groups and unions around the country should get together and campaign on one particular day.’

Joan McDaniel said: ‘I’m a very angry Grantham resident. I’m just furious. We are wearing these T-shirts saying Stop Grantham Falling Apart, because that is exactly what would happen if the hospital closes.

‘They are doing it surreptitiously starting with the A&E. I really think the unions should call a general strike to defend the whole NHS. A really big one.’

Angelia Phillips RCN said: ‘We are here in uniform today proud of what we have achieved. I graduated in January 2006 but am unable to find a job. I was on a six month contract but that has now ended.

Patricia Hewitt hasn’t got a clue. We want a one day general strike all over the country.’

RCN member Melissa Andrews, also in uniform, said: ‘I’m in full time employment having graduated with Angelia, so I’m working at full stretch while my friend has no job.

‘I think there should be a mass demonstration in London. We should all be out at the same time on the same day. Of course nurses should stay looking after their patients, but we are not all at work all at the same time and other trade unionists should come out on strike to save the NHS.’

Sharon Vasselin from Queen’s UNISON, carrying the NHS Not DHL placard, said: ‘DHL haven’t got a clue about medical equipment. Privatisation is speeding up across the NHS faster than the Tories were doing. It’s soon going to be like America with no tax-paid health care.

‘If negotiations won’t work then I think there will be a general strike nationwide. We want a national demonstration urgently.’

Nineteen-year-old John G said: ‘I’m a patient at Nottingham City with cystic fibrosis. I go in about six times a year for about two weeks each time and have been all my life ever since I was about four months.

‘I’ve grown up knowing how important the NHS is and I think it’s time to get rid of Blair and the whole lot of them. The trade unions should stand up and fight.’

Fellow cystic fibrosis patient, 19-year-old Richard Bond said: ‘Hospitals are busy enough as it is so closing wards and getting rid of nurses makes me feel very angry. Workers should rise up and stop it.

We need more staff not less. Hospitals are very busy places.’

Phil Gunn, UNISON Nottinghamshire Local Government branch said: ‘We need a national demonstration immediately to defend the NHS. We have to stop the cuts.’

The rally in the Albert Hall on the Derby Road was chaired by Helen Willetts, RCN East Midlands regional officer who said that there had been 3,000 on the march – ‘a brilliant turnout’.

The first speaker was Karen Jennings, UNISON Head of Health, who said: ‘You are sending a powerful message today, well done.’

She added: ‘We want to slow down the pace of reform. Look at what they’ve done to NHS Logistics. At the moment our campaign is falling on deaf ears, but we’ve only just begun.

‘Every single NHS trade union and professional organisation, including the BMA, is going to take part in a major lobby of parliament on November 1.’

Tom Sandford, RCN Director for England, said: ‘We are here today to say Redundancy Notices No Way! We are not just protesting, we’re fighting on behalf of patients, workers and communities.’

Andy Bellfield, UNISON regional head of health said: ‘You know the government is looking out for hotspots where NHS cuts and closures are too hot to handle, well, after today we must be added to the list.

‘They are planning £60 million cuts in Nottingham, 1,200 jobs, 200 bed closures and several wards. Nottingham has been told to clear £20 million deficit by the end of the year. There is one rule for the NHS and a different rule for the private sector. We have to stop the privatisation of the NHS.’

Josie Irwin, RCN lead negotiator, asked: ‘Why are nurses being made redundant, why are hospitals being downgraded, why are newly qualified nurses unable to get a job?

‘NHS Together brings all NHS unions together along with the TUC with a strong message.’

Jill Court, nurse and Queen’s and City RCN lead steward, said: ‘I am facing the prospect of being surplus to requirements and on Friday I received a letter saying my job is at risk.

‘We are afraid of what the cuts will mean for us and our families. But we are even more afraid for patients. Winter is fast approaching and with staff cuts and ward closures who knows what it will bring. This is not what I came into nursing for or dedicated the past 30 years of my life for.’

Brian Loder, NHS Logistics UNISON received a standing ovation. He said: ‘If it works privatise it. That is this government’s policy. Our members do not believe that any private company should make a profit from the NHS.

‘We say no to DHL. We are part of the NHS along with all other NHS workers. We are holding another Day of Action next Tuesday and we are going to send a delegation to lobby the Labour Party Conference during our strike.

‘Don’t be afraid to stand up to the government. Our members are pleased they did it. The prescriptions agency is next on this government’s privatisation list and then the pensions agency. We will come to support you in your struggle. We are all part of the NHS family.’

UNISON nurse Debbie Rose said: ‘I’ve worked for the NHS for 20 years and they made me redundant yesterday. Thanks to the Trust that has put my family at risk with a disabled husband and two children. All sorts of people are being made redundant. It’s putting lives at risk.’

Bruce Lakin, a patient in the closure-threatened Southwell respiratory ward at the City Hospital, was cheered by the meeting when it was informed that he had gate-crashed Patricia Hewitt’s meeting with staff when she had visited the hospital last month.

He told News Line: ‘I walked through security to get a front row seat. I didn’t want to say anything too early for fear of being thrown out like Walter Wolfgang. I had the last question.

‘I asked why she is getting rid of nurses, especially in my case respiratory nurses who have served me for 31 years, during which I have had 71 admissions with severe asthma.

‘I asked why you are getting rid of these respiratory nurses. She answered “I’m sure there are other nurses to look after you.”

‘This has got to stop. Patients are fearful. Last night for 28 respiratory, elderly and cancer patients on Southwell ward there was just one qualified nurse and one auxiliary helper. For 28 patients! It’s frightening isn’t it?’

• See photo gallery feature