‘KEEP your hands off our hospital! This hospital belongs to the public, not the government!’ Kaushalya Gussar declared at the mass picket of Ealing Hospital on Xmas Eve.
Over 50 supporters, local residents, patients and trade unionists picketed the front of Ealing Hospital at 7am last Thursday morning demanding that the Maternity Department is re-opened and that the A&E and the Children’s Departments are not closed. Kaushalya Gussar continued: ‘We are going to win our struggle, do not let our hospital close.’
The West London Council of Action has established a daily picket outside the front of the hospital for the last three quarters of a year and once a month the council of action organises a mass picket. Everyone was in a festive mood, wearing Santa hats, Father Xmas came to show his support as did Charlie Chaplin.
Mince pies and home made fudge were passed around to give the pickets the energy required to keep up the chanting. Pickets shouted: ‘Defend Ealing Hospital! Re-open Maternity! Support the junior doctors! Kick the Tories out!’
The GMB union came down to support the picket and brought with them a number of large orange and black GMB flags. GMB London Regional officer Dean Gilligan told News Line: ‘North west London’s services are under serious attack with Charing Cross, Hammersmith, central Middlesex and Ealing Hospitals all being hit hard.
‘We have already lost our A&E at Hammersmith and Central Middlesex. Ealing has lost its Maternity Department. The NHS Trust maintained that the services left at Charing Cross were “viable and safe”. Now we have found out that waiting times at Northwick Park Hospital have increased.
‘Don’t forget that our ambulance services are also being cut as well. This means that neither Charing Cross or Northwick Park can cope. They are trying to privatise the NHS, they want an American style system where you have to pay. We had a strike at Medirest at Ealing Hospital. We took eleven days of strike action and we won.
‘These were ancillary staff. They were having their holidays cut, they were not being paid sick pay and the dispute centred around basic pay rates. We won an overall package that when calculated to include sick pay, holiday pay and the pay rise worked out at a 49% increase. This proves that if we strike we can win.
‘On the national pay dispute I expect my members to reject the 1% offer. We should be demanding a 11% pay increase. With the junior doctors coming out, it won’t be long before the entire NHS comes out and before you know it the whole public sector will come out. In my opinion we need a general strike across the whole public sector.’
Caroline Shervill, a secretary at St Bernard’s, which is the mental health hospital at the back of Ealing Hospital, came to join the picket. She said: ‘I walk past the picket most mornings and always stop to buy a paper and show my support. The pickets are out here in all weathers and they are doing a sterling job. The government want to turn the NHS in to a business where the focus is profit instead of care. It already feels more corporate then it used to be. I have worked in the NHS for the last 30 years. If they close down the A&E at Ealing I do not know where the patients are going to go.’
Regular picket Surjit Chohan said: ‘We have been doing this daily picket for the last 9 months. The public are so worried about the closure of Maternity and the threat of closure of the A&E and Pediatrics Department. This hospital is relatively new, the building only dates back to 1979. There must be strike action to defend the NHS, everyone must support this fight to save the hospital. We have organised three marches and occupied the hospital outside the Maternity Department for a week. We will fight and continue our fight into the new year until we win. It is very important for the public to save Ealing Hospital.’
Equity member David Girt was on the picket as Charlie Chaplin. David told News Line: ‘We must defend the NHS, it is one of Britain’s greatest inventions, alongside the cinema. The only time Charlie Chaplin got angry is when people talked about “the good old days”. He said that they were not good, they were hard and cruel.
‘He grew up in Elephant and Castle in south London. Him and his mum kept getting sent to the workhouse because they were so poor. Ex-PM Thatcher used to say that she wanted to get back to Victorian values. This means getting back to the time where the rich got richer and the poor got poorer.’
Anisa Ahmed, a Young Socialists member and student who aspires to become a midwife, said: ‘When I heard about the closure of the Maternity Department at Ealing Hospital I was shocked. Why would they close down a Maternity Department? They are not treating pregnant women, those giving birth and their families as important.
‘I stayed up all night so that I could come to this picket early in the morning. I live all the way in south London, but I had to come because I feel so strongly about saving the NHS. The government are now taking away the bursary for student midwives and nurses. Why would they do that?
‘Why would they change something which has worked for nurses and midwives for so many years. The bursary enabled us to go to university and not have to pay the £9,000 a year tuition fees. They are taking away the bursary right at the time when I am about to start my studies. We want our bursaries back so that we can study for free.’
Harjinder Singh said: ‘Now that it is winter, especially old people and children are affected by the cold and more people are getting sick. This means that we need more medical facilities not less. They have already closed down our Maternity Services. It is now very hard for the ladies and for the fathers because they also have to travel far away. We want the Maternity re-opened now!
‘They are threatening to shut our A&E and our Children’s Department. One of our comrades who was injured over here, they sent her to St.Mary’s Hospital far away. This means that they do not have proper services and this means that they have partially closed the A&E. The government are taking away our vital services. We say “do not close down our hospital”, our population is increasing. We need more doctors, more nurses, more junior doctors. There is a massive shortage of doctors and nurses at the moment. Do not close our hospital down. Do not play with peoples lives!’
Frank Jaffray said: ‘I have come down to this picket to protect our NHS. I have come down from Barnet. In Barnet Hospital they are also making cuts. They said that they want to move our A&E to North Middlesex Hospital. We have already lost our Maternity and A&E from Chase Farm and they told everyone that they would have the facilities at Barnet.
‘Now they are telling us that Barnet’s facilities will be moved to North Middlesex. North Middlesex is overloaded, the waiting time is six hours already. You can die in that time, waiting to be seen. It is crazy that they are trying to close down A&E Departments all over the country. We cannot afford to go to Harley Street and all those private hospitals. They are unaffordable to the everyday people. That is why the sooner we get rid of this government the better.’