LANSLEY BILL MUST BE SCRAPPED! –rallies across the country on the NHS’s 63rd birthday

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Korean health advocates took part in the march with their banner to show that the defence of the NHS is not just a national issue
Korean health advocates took part in the march with their banner to show that the defence of the NHS is not just a national issue

OVER 1,000 trade unionists and youth marched to parliament on Tuesday night on the 63rd birthday of the NHS, demanding: ‘Kill the Bill!’ – meaning that the Tory coalition’s Health and Social Care Bill must be scrapped.

The march to defend the NHS from cuts and privatisation was called by Unite and led by their banner, which said: ‘No cuts, no carve-up, save our NHS’.

As the march was assembling next at The Strand, Adrienne Sebastian-Scott, a member of Equity, said: ‘(Health Secretary) Lansley is slowly but surely working towards the privatisation of the NHS, and it’s disgusting, it’s frightening and it’s dangerous.

‘I think the unions should continue striking regardless of what Ed Miliband says.

‘As you can see from my stick, I have a disability and I depend enormously on the NHS and without the treatment I’ve received under the MHS, my disability, MS, would be infinitely worse.’

Tuesday’s demonstration took place simultaneously with demonstrations and rallies up and down the country, from Glasgow to Milton Keynes to celebrate 63 years of the NHS and make sure the Health Bill is smashed.

Derek Lee, retired, said: ‘I’m trying my best to try to defend the NHS against Lansley’s privatisation plans. There’s no doubt about it, that that’s what they’re up to.

‘If I do nothing when the NHS is under attack, then I’ll never forgive myself.

‘I think the unions should organise big and more frequent marches. One march every two months doesn’t achieve anything.’

Karl Thomas, an ex-GMB member, said: ‘I just think it’s important to show the government we’re not going to stand by and allow them to destroy the NHS.

‘I thought the action last week by the teachers and the civil servants was very good.

‘I think if the rest of the unions followed their example then we could defeat the government.’

Eileen Short, Camden Unison, said the government was using ‘window-dressing’ to try and cover-up its drive to ‘smash up and privatise the NHS’.

She added: ‘I think we have to keep up the pressure while they know the country’s watching them and demand they drop the Bill altogether.’

Health Visitors Joyce Still, a Unite member, said: ‘The Health and Social Care Bill is absolutely going to destroy our NHS as we know it.’

She said Health Visitors were overstretched because of the cuts in the NHS and warned:

‘Privatisation would take us back to pre-1948. Those that can afford it will get access to good health and people who can’t afford it won’t.

‘The government are trying to privatise the NHS and it’s not through the back door, it’s through the front door.

‘They’re blatant about it, they’re trying to encourage private companies to provide health care and private companies are going to be interested in delivering bonuses for their shareholders and not patient care.’

Ian Evans, chair of Unite’s Healthcare Sciences Occupational Advisory Committee, said he had come from Brighton to join the march.

He added: ‘It doesn’t matter what part of the country I am from, I would have travelled to London to be here anyway, because I’ve worked for the health service since 1996 and I love my job.

‘But the fact is we have been underpaid for a considerable time. The only thing we do have is our pension.

‘In my situation and people who work in pathology, we’ve effectively had and will be having more pay cuts in the form of overtime bans, loss of on-call and again, for the last two years, we haven’t had an incremental pay rise or cost of living increase, which means our pay has gone down in real terms.

‘There is a very aggressive drive by private industry to take over NHS pathology.

‘What I think about the Health and Social Care Bill can’t be printed.

‘I think what we’re going to have to do about it, even if it’s unpopular, is we’re going to have to strike. There won’t be any other option on this one, because the government will ignore us until that point.’

He added: ‘The reason why we’re doing this is in the interests of the patients. This is not a selfish or self-centred thing, we want to deliver a world-class service.’

Among the banners on Tuesday’s demonstration were Defend the Whittington Hospital Coalition, the North-East London Council of Action, SOAS Unison, Help the Aged-Age Concern Islington, UCL UCU, UCU London Retired Members, Defend Haringey Health Services, Brent Fightback, Keep Our NHS Public, Camden Keep Our NHS Public, South-West London Keep Our NHS Public and University College Hospital Unison.

A group of Korean health advocates held a big banner which read: ‘The NHS is not only for you. The world is watching.’

One of their delegation said: ‘We’ve come to love the NHS. The NHS is not only important to England, it is important to the world.

‘We have come to respect this system. NHS protection is very important.’

All through the march the contingent with the North-East London Council of Action kept up some of the loudest chanting, shouting: ‘Smash the Health Bill – call a general strike!’, ‘No cuts, no closures – occupy now!’ and ‘The NHS is not for sale – kick the Tories out!’

There were other slogans that rang out from the demonstration as it made its way through Whitehall, including: ‘Health cuts – no way! NHS – here to stay’ and ‘Whose NHS? Our NHS!’

There were lots of motorists hooting in support when they saw the march.

Ben Hayes, 16, joined the march and said: ‘If you can’t defend the NHS, you might as well give up and go home.

‘It’s helped me out and everyone’s had some kind of experience with the NHS.

‘I think action necessary to defend it should be taken.’

Anne Harris, secretary of Whittington Unison, said: ‘We’re all marching from Unison Whittington Health Branch because we can see that the NHS is being dismantled before our eyes.

‘We have to alert MPs and Lords that they must vote against Lansley’s Bill.

‘There should be a TUC pan-union agreement to stop the Bill and find a viable alternative for proper public funding of the NHS, via defined indirect taxation, like a tax on bankers’ bonuses.’

Sophia, from east London, said: ‘I don’t think the reforms are well-thought through at all and they seem to be more ideological than beneficial.

‘I want to improve the NHS, but I don’t think this is the right way to do it.’

Frances Kruk said: ‘I can’t afford to pay for my treatment.

‘The Bill needs to be thrown out. There needs to be as much union involvement as possible and more health workers to join their unions and go on strike and make it very widely known exactly what’s going on.’

Harry Ellis, 17, said: ‘Andrew Lansley’s quite clearly intended privatisation of the Health Service is covered by a facade that they’re going to cut layers of bureaucracy, when they’re clearly trying to turn a public service for the people over to the private sector.

‘Along with other cuts, it’s a clear marketisation of public services.

‘They need to be kept as public services.

‘There could be a nationalisation of banks and a cut in tax evasion and a Robin Hood Tax on the rich, instead of attacking the most vulnerable people in society, which is what they’re doing.’

Amanda said: ‘I agree there should be a general strike to smash the Health Bill and I took part last Thursday and joined the picket lines.

‘This government and all governments need to be brought down.’

Stef Radu, a University College student from Bloomsbury Fightback, said: ‘I’m marching to defend the NHS.

‘I think this Bill should not pass. If affects each and every one of us, including students, and I think students and workers should definitely unite and fight against the cuts and defend our NHS.’

The march ended with a rally at Old Palace Yard, directly opposite parliament, where there were lots of speakers.

Rally chairman Dave Carr warned: ‘The lie is given away when you look at the list of cuts taking place across the country.

‘This list from Health Economy reads like a casualty list from the First or Second World War! So it’s a lie when they say front-line services are not affected.’

He added: ‘I’m proud that last Thursday 750,000 public sector workers took strike action around the country and I can’t wait till I’m on the picket line with them, defending my pension and the National Health Service.’

Unite leader Len McCluskey said the NHS was ‘one of the great institutions not only of this country, but the world.’

He said that simultaneous rallies were being staged on the NHS’s 63rd birthday from Glasgow in Scotland to Truro in Cornwall.

He said the clear message from all these rallies to the prime minister ‘and his cronies’ was: ‘We’re not prepared to allow him to dismantle this great institution, and neither will the British public.’

He said if they didn’t listen ‘they will end up in the dustbin of history’.

He continued: ‘Our NHS is responsible for maintaining all of us, for caring for our loved ones, for raising our families.

‘It is admired throughout the world, it is dear to the hearts of the British people and no one but no one is going to be allowed to take it away from us.’

He added that more and more people from the NHS professions, from nurses to doctors and consultants, were opposing the Bill.

He said the government’s plans were ‘ideologically driven and unworkable’.

He said private companies were ‘slobbering’ at the thought of the profits they will get ‘if this Bill goes through’.

He said the attack on the NHS was taking place in tandem with ‘the other attacks, these ideological attacks on our welfare system, our education system’.

Speaking about the creation of the Welfare State, he said: ‘Our parents and grandparents, having defeated the evils of fascism, came home determined to build a land fit for heroes.

‘They built the Welfare State and we’ve no intention of letting a gaggle of public schoolboys take it away from us.’

McCluskey continued that ‘with month and month of disputes to come, it will become crystal clear we are prepared to fight for the NHS’, and said in the same way that Thatcher sparked the Poll Tax uprising, that uprisings were spreading across the Middle East and that Blair’s demise was brought about by the Iraq war, so the Health Bill was making people say ‘enough is enough’.

‘You are the voice that speaks for millions of people. They desperately want a leadership.

‘I believe justice will prevail,’ McCluskey concluded.

Jackie Davis, a BMA Council member and founder member of Keep Our NHS Public, said: ‘Most doctors don’t like the Bill any more than you do and if we don’t like it and you don’t like it, who is left who likes it!

‘Most doctors are afraid this is going to compromise their relationship with their patients and most of all that it will damage the NHS.

‘The BMA have voted twice to dump this Bill.

‘The chairman of the BMA has called this Bill a dog’s dinner.

‘This Bill is a toxic mess and our message to Lansley is “Kill the Bill!’’ and not the NHS.’

Norma Dudley, a health visitor, said: ‘The NHS provides health care for everyone from the cradle to the grave.

‘The Secretary of State will no longer have a duty to provide comprehensive health care for all’ if the Health Bill becomes law, she warned.

She added patients with complex health needs ‘will never be profitable’.

She said: ‘If this Bill is passed, the inequalities from one postcode to another will be frightening.’

Jackie Berry, a student nurse from Medway, said: ‘Student nurses work long hours for low pay.

‘I’m not responsible for the mistakes of the bankers, but it’s people like me and most importantly the patients who are being asked to pay for the mistakes of the banks.

‘It’s hard to imagine how the coalition can make things any worse for us on our ward, we are so understaffed.

‘It’s happening across the public sector – their fight is our fight.’

She called for ‘generalised strike action now’.

She added: ‘Our unions pay millions and millions into the Labour Party and they can’t even stand up and defend our brothers and sisters when they take strike action.’

Ron Singer, a member of the BMA’s GPs committee, said: ‘They are telling us lies. They lied when they said there’s going to be no top-down reorganisation of the NHS, then they started lying about the statistics.

‘The NHS is improving year on year.

‘Now they’re saying they’re not privatising the NHS – that’s a lie too.

‘They want to sell-off NHS services to any willing provider.

‘GPs do not support these changes.

‘They are in consortia as a defensive move to protect their patients.’

He warned the government was moving in the direction of the United States where 50 million have no health insurance and 30 million more are deemed ‘uninsurable’.

‘They are trying to abolish a universal health care system.’

John Healy, Labour shadow health minister, was interrupted and heckled several times when he spoke by trade unionists angry at actions of the Blair-Brown governments and for Ed Miliband’s attack on last week’s public sector strike for pensions.

Healy said he was ‘proud of the work we’ve done with Unite, with the work we’ve done on the legislation over there (pointing to parliament), and proud we have the Tories on the backfoot’.

Dr Wendy Savage, founder member of Keep Our NHS Public, said: ‘We must step up our opposition to Lansley’s Bill.

‘It should be withdrawn, scrapped and buried, as the BMJ says in its editorial this week.’

Paul Motante, TUC Public Services, brought greetings from the TUC General Council to the rally.

‘Congratulations on a fantastic event on the doorstep of parliament,’ he said.

He urged everyone to stick to the founding principles of the NHS: universal healthcare, healthcare at the point of delivery and healthcare free to all ‘regardless of your income or wealth’.

‘Healthcare is a right not a privilege or a commodity to be bought and sold.’

He said rallies were taking place on the NHS’s 63rd birthday in ‘places as diverse as Torbay, Coventry, Hastings, Manchester and Milton Keynes, sending an unequivocal message to the government and privateers and the healthcare corporations: keep your greedy hands off our NHS!’

Joe, from UK Uncut, said: ‘If we do not fight they will destroy the NHS.’

A medical student from NHS Direct Action said: ‘They’re taking away our social reform so we should show them social revolution. Happy Birthday to the NHS.’

The final speaker was Bill Rogers, secretary of the North-East London Council of Action, who invited everyone to join the latest picket to keep Chase Farm Hospital open outside the closure-threatened hospital in Enfield on July 19, ‘from 7.00am to 2.00pm.’

He said the Council of Action had been fighting for more than four years to keep the hospital open, picketing every month against closure.

‘The trade unions have to step into this fight,’ he said, and stop the private companies coming into the NHS and taking it over.

‘Every hospital and department threatened with closure should be occupied and the trade unions should call a general strike, to stop these cuts and stop this Bill,’ he said to applause and loud shouts of ‘Yes, absolutely!’.