A THOUSAND people – hospital staff, local residents, trade unionists and other groups from as far away as Crawley and Cambridge – joined the march to save Chase Farm Hospital in Enfield on Saturday, organised by the North-East London Council of Action.
The march, which was joined by local firefighters – in their fire engine – was applauded as it made its way through Enfield town centre.
It ended with a rally on Chase Green at which everyone voted for a resolution that said: ‘This demonstration is determined to defend Chase Farm Hospital as a District General Hospital.
‘If the government decides to close the A&E, Maternity or Paediatric departments then we will call on everyone in Enfield to defend them, and to take part in supporting an occupation of the hospital in order to keep it open.’
Slogans rang out all along the route of the march, including: ‘Defend Chase Farm! Stop the Closure!’, ‘No Polyclinic! Keep Chase Farm Open!’ ‘No more cuts, no more closures! Defend the NHS!’, ‘Occupy Chase Farm! Stop the closure!’ and ‘Defend the NHS! Kick the government out!’
The march was led off by the banner of the North-East London Council of Action, followed by the banner of the staff at the Chase Farm Hospital Maternity Department.
The News Line banner also joined the march, along with the banner of the South-East London Council of Action.
Many people also carried Save Chase Farm Hospital flags along the route.
A delegation from the Chagos Islanders Community Association in Crawley joined the demonstration.
One of them, Eduard Roche, told News Line: ‘The Chagossian people support the National Health Service.
‘All the hospitals should remain open and the working class should take action to defend them.’
Scott Dore, a member of the Young Socialists, said: ‘I’ve been on most of the pickets with the North-East London Council of Action outside Chase Farm because the people here want Chase Farm to remain open.
‘The committee that is deciding the future of Chase Farm has been meeting and I think they will approve the closure, so it’s up to us to fight against it.’
Hulya Degirmencioglu, a long-standing Enfield resident, said: ‘Now they want to close down the doctors’ surgeries as well.
‘We don’t want polyclinics.
‘We want our own hospitals, our own doctors and our own surgeries.’
Stuart Hasler, another local resident, said: ‘We are marching to help to keep Chase Farm open.
‘If it closed, we would have to go all the way to North Middlesex or Barnet hospitals.
‘I think we should occupy the hospital if necessary. I think we should do as much as we can to keep it open.’
Tony Wickenden said: ‘I’ve come as part of the Welwyn and Hatfield Keep the NHS Public Campaign, to support the aim of the campaign to keep Chase Farm open.’
Tanya Partridge said: ‘My son broke his leg five weeks ago and we were up at Chase Farm then.
‘If they closed it down and we had to go to Barnet, it could take us up to an hour to get down there.
‘My son is only two and when he broke his leg he was in a huge amount of pain.’
Brian Ford, another local resident, said: ‘I’ve come here just to defend our hospital.
‘It just needs money spending on it, not selling it off.
‘They’re only selling it off because the land’s worth money.
‘They’ve already got rid of Highlands. We used to have three hospitals in Enfield, now we’ve only got one.’
Vally Wilson, secretary of the South-East London Council of Action, said: ‘We have to give our support to stop the closure of Chase Farm Hospital and stop the public services being sold off and closed down.
‘It’s the same all over the place. All over the country they’re going to close hospitals down unless we stop them.’
Hank Roberts, secretary of Brent NUT and ATL teachers’ unions, said: ‘There’s absolutely no difference in essence between what the government and the ruling class are planning for education and for health.
‘It’s clear they think both are very large areas worth billions of pounds that they want to be able to get in there and make money out of.
‘We have to make health and education their Waterloo, the turning point, and that’s going to require strike action, it’s going to require direct action including occupations and it’s going to require political action.’
Maria Suarez, a midwives assistant from the Chase Farm Maternity Department, said: ‘I’ve cancelled my holidays and I’m here on the march because we have to keep the hospital open.
‘I’m fighting for my job in the maternity department, where I work as a health care assistant.’
Chase Farm midwife Pat McAdden said: ‘This is my hospital and I want to keep it open, and I work at Chase Farm.
‘Barnet maternity unit closes on a regular basis because it’s a smaller unit than Chase Farm, but it doesn’t count as a closure because Barnet and Chase Farm are not closed.
‘The Ridgway Birth Centre is probably staying open as a stand-alone unit at Chase Farm, but it is 20 minutes by Blue Light Ambulance – acute emergencies in obstetrics – from Chase Farm to Barnet in the rush hour.
‘A baby or mother may die in those circumstances.’
Lindell, from Hackney, said: ‘I’ve come down because they closed down the hospital I was born in, they’re going to try and close down this one, they’ve knocked down the street I grew up in, they’ve now knocked down Woodberry Down School – my secondary school – and if we don’t fight for this, where are they going to stop.
‘We’ve just got to make a stand.’
Jill McGrail said she’d been on all the marches to save Chase Farm.
She said: ‘I just think without Chase Farm, the number of times my mum had to go to Chase Farm in an ambulance, she’d have died a lot earlier.
‘Barnet is too far away for frail, elderly people.
‘Chase Farm is a good hospital, we want something local.’
Lee Tumminello said: ‘I’ve come down because I’m at the hospital a lot and we need the hospital.
‘I think people should do what it takes to keep it open.
‘It is close to a 10-minute drive from six motorways and it never closes its doors.
‘People will die if it closes. Who’s going to have that on their conscience.’
‘It’s about time we said “no’’ to the government and their proposals,’ another local resident on the march added.
At the rally that followed, Bill Rogers, secretary of the North-East London Council of Action, said the NHS was the greatest gain by the working class in Britain and must be defended.
But he warned: ‘We have a situation where the government plans to hand the whole of the NHS over to the private sector. These are politically-inspired cuts and closures at Chase Farm.
‘Health minister Lord Darzi says the days of the District General Hospital are over. Chase Farm is such a hospital.
‘Darzi has also suggested that 24 out of the 32 District General Hositals will be run down and closed.
‘We have to defend this NHS against a privatising government and here at Chase Farm we’re right on the front-line to defend the NHS.
‘If Chase Farm is allowed to close it will most definitely cost lives.
‘To get to Barnet will be an extra six miles. It’s actually over two hours by buses and for some areas within the Chase Farm catchment area it can take over two and a half hours to get to Barnet.’
He said there was ‘absolutely no clinical need’ to close the services at Chase Farm and concluded: ‘The government wants to instigate polyclinics by December. Yet Chase Farm is providing the same services at the moment.
‘Now they’ve handed the (closure) decision to this Independent Reconfiguration Panel. We’ve got no doubt at all it will be a rubber-stamp for closure and if they do that, then we’ll occupy. . . And we’ll be calling on the trade union movement to support such an occupation.
‘Really, the trade union leaders should be out here fighting.
‘My union branch officially supports this march.’
Sue Fitzgerald, from Chase Farm Hospital maternity department, said: ‘Thank you all for coming today to save our lovely hospital and its services.
‘Other midwives are here as well.
‘If the unit closes to high-risk mothers where are you going to go. Chase Farm takes 3,000 a year and Barnet has less bed capacity and a smaller unit.
‘The birth rate in Barnet and Enfield has gone up and the population has gone up threefold.
‘To go from Broxbourne to Barnet on the bus is impossible.
‘Chase Farm has recently upgraded to a high standard and modern equipment.
‘It’s very clean and very successful.
‘Worthing General Hospital has managed to keep their hospital open by doing the same as we’re doing.’
Consultant surgeon Anna Athow, a member of the BMA Council, speaking in a personal capacity, said the decision to turn Chase Farm into a ‘cold site’ was being taken in an attempt to pay off the PFI debts at Barnet and North Middlesex hospitals and to pay for all the new polyclinics the government wants to bring in.
It would mean no more emergency admissions and elective surgery being tendered out to the private sector, she warned, adding that the ‘walk-in centre’ at North Middlesex is already run by a private company.
She continued: ‘District General Hospitals and GP surgeries have been the backbone of the NHS for 40 years.
‘The A&E at Chase Farm sees 75,000 patients every year and fewer than two per cent have to be referred on to tertiary units.
‘It’s situated where people need it and our GP surgeries are close to people’s homes and provide continuity of care, but this government is determined to privatise the NHS.
‘This government has no mandate to privatise the NHS.’
She said the way to defend the NHS was in the same way that it was won, through a struggle, and she called for more Councils of Action to be set up.
She finished by saying: ‘We need new leaders in the unions who put the interests of their members ahead of cosy relations with government ministers.
‘If it means sitting in and keeping hospitals running and open, then that’s what we’ll have to do.’
Save Chase Farm councillor, Kieran McGregor, said: ‘We fully support the march and applaud the work of the Council of Action.
‘Many people have come forward to make a very strong case to keep open Chase Farm and we’re still hopeful in the Save Chase Farm group that the closure decision will be reversed.
‘There are signs saying “land for sale’’, but planning permission has been turned down, so the land can’t be sold off for housing.
‘These small victories are down to the continuous pressure we have put on politicians at a local and national level.’
He added: ‘Some people have come all the way from Broxbourne today and there are even people here from as far afield as Crawley to support our campaign.’
Anti-academy schools campaigner Hank Roberts said: ‘They do intend to privatise the whole of the NHS and they intend to privatise state education.
‘The question is what are we going to do about it.
‘If the law is wrong, then it is our duty to oppose it.
‘We live in unusual times. I couldn’t believe they would privatise state education. These people are criminals.
‘We have to defy the law if it’s an unjust law.
‘We will lose our NHS, people will suffer, people will die, unless we stand up and say enough’s enough.’
The whole rally voted for the resolution to defend the hospital and to stop it closing by occupying.
Everyone was invited to the next meeting of the North-East London Council of Action at the Hollybush Pub on Tuesday August 19 at 7.30pm, whilst being urged to be vigilant and ready for action to save the hospital before then.
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