‘Defend the NHS–We need action now!’ – union leaders keeping a lid on the situation

North East London Council of Action marchers demanding that Chase Farm Hospital A&E be kept open attracted much support in Enfield town centre on Saturday
North East London Council of Action marchers demanding that Chase Farm Hospital A&E be kept open attracted much support in Enfield town centre on Saturday

TWO-HUNDRED marchers – local residents, trade unionists and youth – expressed enormous anger on Saturday as they demonstrated through Enfield in north London against the closure of the Accident and Emergency Department of Chase Farm Hospital.

The A&E department was set to close at 3am this morning, following the closure of the Maternity Unit and the Mental Health Unit in November.

Marchers condemned the trade union leadership for allowing the closures, and for preventing the necessary action from being taken to stop them.

The march was led by the North East London Council of Action banner, with other banners on the march including the Barnet Local Government Unison banner and the Ex-Visteon Workers Support the Fight to Keep Chase Farm Open banner.

Slogans chanted on the march through Enfield’s busy town centre and up to the hospital were: ‘Save the A&E – Don’t let it close! Save Chase Farm – Occupy Now! No Cuts No Closures – Kick the government out! No Privatisation – Defend the NHS! Whose Hospital? – Our Hospital! What do we want? Save Chase Farm! When do we want it? Now!’

A feature of the march was a large police presence both on the march and especially on its arrival at the hospital where there were vanloads of police visible and a line of police outside the A&E, making it clear that the police were there to defend the closure of the A&E.

The police had already warned that the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008 would be used to prevent an occupation and arrest and prosecute those involved.

Michael Schofield, GMB Hendon, said: ‘We’re here today to try to stop the closure of Chase Farm.

‘Enfield Tory MP Nick de Bois was in town this morning campaigning in favour of lowering the business rates – when he’s got an A&E about to close down!

‘The loss of this A&E will be devastating to thousands of people, including me.

‘My parents, who are in their eighties, live near here, as do I.

‘De Bois pledged to stop the closure of Chase Farm, so did Cameron, so did all the parties. It shows you can’t trust them.

‘But to be honest, I don’t think the trade unions have done enough for the NHS.

‘There will come a time when ambulances won’t be taking sick people to the A&E; they’ll take them to old people’s homes, Alcoholics Anonymous, anywhere but A&E.

‘Today’s march is rightly demanding the A&E stays open. The trade unions must not let them get away with it.’

Chris Watson, Unite member and electrician, said: ‘I’m currently working down the “smoke”, at the airport.

‘As I see it they are going to try and do with the NHS what they did with the coal industry.

‘I’m originally from Leeds, which was affected by the miners’ strike and its aftermath.

‘The TUC and the trade union hierarchy is keeping this government in power. They have to be brushed aside and replaced by people who will organise action to defend things that we care about. And the thing we care about most is the NHS.

‘I also want to say that I’ve been round the Chase Farm Hospital site. It’s obviously worth money and clearly they want to sell it to speculators, or really they want to give it away to themselves.

‘It belongs to us and the only way they’ll take it off us is by theft.

‘I am shocked by the fact that we haven’t had a general strike. There is a massive groundswell and the trade union leaders are keeping a lid on it.

‘They are destroying our society before our very eyes, in broad daylight.

‘It’s daylight robbery and the union leaders are complicit. We need action now!’

Chris and Nadia said: ‘We’re from Enfield and we’re really worried.’

Nadia went on: ‘I had a total knee replacement and I still need check-ups and stuff. At Chase Farm I had the best treatment. I’m an outpatient and the hospital is an intrinsic part of the community.’

Chris said: ‘I’ve been living in Enfield the best part of my life and Chase Farm has been a very important part of my life. My daughter was born there and I can’t count the number of times I have been there for one thing or another.

‘People only want change if it’s for the better and this is certainly not for the better.

‘Part of the reason we are here is that we are waking up to the wider issues. You feel powerless most of the time, the way they are trying to shut everything down – the benefit cap, the bedroom tax.

‘But all these things are intolerable and have to be stopped.’

Anne Slater, from Waltham Cross, said: ‘Chase Farm is my local hospital and I really need to keep it open. It’s always cared really well for me and my husband. It will be a big loss to lose it. Where are we going to go?

‘I’m very angry, more should be done, it can’t happen! They say we should go to Barnet, but I don’t even know where Barnet is!.’

Lee Murray, from Enfield, said: ‘My son, daughter and grandson are here on the march – all born at Chase Farm.

‘But my issue is not the closure of the Maternity or the A&E at the hospital, but the Mental Health Unit, which was shut down last month.

‘I’m worried about where people are meant to go.

‘You are told you either have to contact the mental health team by phone or go to Barnet A&E.

‘But if you’re ill and suffering with an anxiety disorder or something like that it’s not the right environment.

‘So the closure is absolutely devastating.

‘In the Enfield Advertiser, they were saying that the mental health facilities already aren’t coping and so closing it down is making things much worse.

‘There’s been an uprise of cases of people with mental health issues, so the last thing we need is the closure of Chase Farm.’

Rita said: ‘I’ve just joined the march from the street. Everybody should join in.

‘It’s obvious with a growing population we need more A&Es, not less.

‘To me, it’s a non-argument. It’s in all of our interests to stop the closure.’

John Burgess, Secretary of Barnet Council Unison, said: ‘I want to applaud the people who are here today to shout about the disgraceful destruction of our local NHS services.

‘I’m shocked at the lack of trade union involvement. I can only speak for our branch, which has been in the eye of the storm of cuts and privatisation in Barnet, but I’m also an Enfield resident and I’m shocked and saddened by the lack of trade union activity in Enfield to stop or defeat the attack.

‘Where is the trade union movement, locally, regionally and nationally, including Unison?

‘Hospital closures, as far as I am concerned, obviously means that jobs are being lost. What’s going on? Why aren’t the unions fighting this?

‘They shut the doors of the A&E on Monday and that’s it – gone!

‘There should be a general strike. The community has to force the unions into action.’

Sheila Nellis said: ‘I’ve been joining the picket of Chase Farm Hospital on a regular basis ever since it started. I was absolutely desperate to save the hospital, after all, it is our local hospital and closure will undoubtedly cost lives.

‘When I first started I was positive we could change the mind of the government about closing Chase Farm, but as time went on I realised how treacherous they are. They say one thing and do something else. They lie through their teeth.

‘Closure will be an absolute tragedy because it will cost lives. Today we are marching for the last time. It’s best to say things the way they are.

‘The trade unions have really let people down. It’s an absolute scandal.

‘Without them we can’t achieve what we want to and we really need their backing.’

Sheila continued: ‘Years ago, when they closed Highlands Hospital, they said they were going to build us a new hospital. Where is it? And where’s the money gone?

‘The Highlands site is now all houses and flats, like a little village, and they want to do the same to the Chase Farm site.

‘There has been great medical work done at Chase Farm. Many people owe their lives to Chase Farm.’

Sheila’s friend, Isobel Rees said: ‘Chase Farm saved my son’s and my husband’s lives.

‘It saved my son, Stuart, whose heart stopped for eight seconds. Three times it stopped. If it hadn’t been for the ambulances and nurses at Chase Farm I would have lost him.

‘My husband had a heart attack and two major heart operations at Chase Farm and three or four times they have saved his life.

‘And they want to close it. It’s scandalous! If it hadn’t been for Chase Farm ambulance drivers, paramedics, nurses, doctors and heart specialists my family wouldn’t be here. I can’t praise them enough.’

Serena Henderson, Enfield YS, aged 19, said: ‘I actually had to come to Chase Farm quite a few times when I was young and I reckon they saved my life a few times.

‘I wasn’t breathing and they had to get oxygen in me.

‘I would be dead if I’d had to travel half an hour to Barnet.

‘It’s scary to think if that was to happen again and Chase Farm was closed.

‘I think the whole government are trying to take everything away from people who really need it.

‘I’m on benefits and I obviously can’t work because I’m at college.

‘We have to get rid of this government and the capitalist system.

‘It’s within our power. We are the whole of society. We are the ones who can make the change.’

The march arrived and marched into Chase Farm Hospital shouting: ‘Save the A&E! – Don’t let it Close!’

Bill Rogers, Secretary of the North East London Council of Action, told the marchers: ‘This hospital has been betrayed by the union leadership. We’ve held six marches, three in the last three weeks.

We oppose all closures. We’ve held 72 monthly pickets and we’ve held our daily picket for over 480 days.

‘Chase Farm is a blueprint for what they want to do throughout the NHS.

‘These cuts are not clinical cuts, they are politically driven cuts.

‘The NHS is our greatest gain since the second world war. Closure of the A&E here will kill people.

Journey times to Barnet and North Mid are too long and waiting times will increase by 100%.

‘I’m a railway worker and my union branch set up this Council of Action to protect our hospitals because we need them.

‘We’ve called for an occupation of the hospital.

‘We’ve got to organise in the unions to protect our hospitals, including Chase Farm.

‘These rotten union leaders are running scared and have given up the fight.

‘But we haven’t.‘We’re not giving up the fight here.

‘We are going to be back here every week. We are continuing our picket on Wednesday mornings from 9am. Come up here and join us. We’re not leaving the NHS to the privateers.’