‘OCCUPY TO KEEP CHASE FARM OPEN!’ – Bill Rogers tells Council of Action Conference

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A section of the Council of Action Conference voting on the resolution
A section of the Council of Action Conference voting on the resolution

OVER 100 workers and youth voted unanimously on Saturday for occupying hospitals against closure and to stop the smashing up and privatisation of the NHS, at a special conference called by the North-East London Council of Action in Enfield.

Moving the main resolution, Council of Action Secretary Bill Rogers said the world financial crisis was driving the government’s attack on the NHS.

‘The McKinsey report was leaked to the Health Service Journal last year and what they’re proposing for the NHS is £20 billion of cuts,’ he told the conference, warning that hospitals and GP surgeries across London are threatened with closure.

‘Look what happened with mental health,’ he continued. ‘They said patients would be looked after in the community. That was far from the truth.

‘They just dumped people on the streets.

‘They talk about “patient choice’’, there won’t be a choice.’

Rogers also referred to a recent report on a polyclinic in east London, where doctors had complained they were seeing patients who needed to be in an Accident and Emergency department.

‘All polyclinics have been designed for is a way for the private sector to muscle in and take over the NHS budget,’ he said.

‘At Chase Farm they’re under notice that the A&E, paediatrics and maternity departments are going to close.

‘We’re proposing an occupation of these departments or any hospital departments threatened with closure.

‘We’ve already got massive support.

‘One great thing that happened was when the Visteon workers occupied their factories in Belfast and Enfield.

‘An occupation is really the only way of defending the NHS.

‘The NHS can’t be sustained by a bankrupt capitalist system.

‘We’re socialists, we don’t accept these cuts and closures.

‘Only a workers’ government will defend the NHS.’

Rogers stressed the Council of Action was opposed to the return of the Tories and called for a vote for Workers Revolutionary Party and Young Socialists candidates who stand in a general election.

Anna Athow, a consultant surgeon and a member of the BMA Council, spoke in a personal capacity.

She said that the Department of Health commissioned the McKinsey report, which proposed making 10 per cent of NHS staff redundant, 137,000 staff.

‘It was circulated to top NHS management with a view to it being carried out,’ she continued.

‘It remains secret and members of the public and the trade unions cannot read it despite Freedom of Information requests.

‘It proposes three ways to cut the £20 billion:

• ‘make massive cuts through staff redundancies and closing down and selling off land, building and assets.

• ‘shift care out of hospitals and into what they call “cheaper out-of-hospital care’’, meaning polyclinics, treatments centres and urgent care centres.

• ‘decommissioning – removing the provision of care altogether.

‘As Nigel Edwards, the policy director of the NHS staff confederation which represents the NHS managers, said, “Savings can only start to become available when we shut entire buildings, sites and reduce staffing numbers.”

‘The programme to shift care out of hospitals cannot succeed until the patients are literally taken away from hospitals, and shifted elsewhere or simply denied any care.’

She warned: ‘The ultimate weapon is “failure regimes’’.

‘Under the new health act, the government has the power to close down any so-called “financially unsustainable NHS provider’’ in 120 days.

‘A hospital can then be franchised out to a private provider, merged, closed, or sold off.’

She concluded: ‘In the British Medical Association, the BMA, we voted overwhelmingly at last June’s conference for a campaign to reject the commercialisation of the NHS and its break-up into competing businesses.

‘We need to mobilise all the union organisations to campaign for occupations to keep these hospitals open.

‘Strikes have to be organised in local areas to stop everything, until cuts and closures are withdrawn.’

Opening the discussion from the floor, John Jewson told the conference: ‘I worked for the health service for 32 years as a frontline London ambulance man. I’m now retired.

He said: ‘Seeing what’s happening to the health service, I can’t believe it. And everything they’re saying is true.

‘But people don’t know what’s going on. As far as they’re concerned the health service is alright – but six months or one year down the line, you’ll call an ambulance, it will turn up, but it’s got to find a hospital to offload you.’

If Chase Farm A&E closes, he warned, then it could end in disaster, he warned.

He added: ‘Polyclinics are an absolute waste of time. They’re only going to be open from eight in the morning to possibly 10 at night.

‘You go to every single casualty in this country and I can assure you now, at 2.00am it is bedlam. Not one A&E is empty after 10.00pm at night.’

Derek Robins, a local resident, said: ‘I’ve been on six or seven marches to try and save Chase Farm, but they’re not taking any notice.

‘I’ve been told that where the library is now. . . they want to transfer that into a polyclinic, at Thomas Hardy House.

‘I do not agree with what’s going on and I think it’s a total disgrace what the government is doing.’

Dr Banu, a GP, warned that death rates will inevitably rise if more hospitals are closed.

‘If you talk to GPs you won’t find one is happy,’ she added.

She also warned: ‘The Tories closed something like 6,000 hospitals in the UK. Nobody knows they closed so many.’

Matt Linley, from the Young Socialists, said: ‘It’s not just hospitals they’re privatising, but education.

‘Over Christmas three private schools around England, because the sponsors of them went into administration, they got shut down.

‘One thousand kids at each one didn’t have a school to go to.

‘What if that happened to a hospital – whole sectors of London will be left without hospitals.

‘PFIs are floundering, haemorrhaging money all over the place.’

Linda, a sacked Visteon worker, said: ‘I was an employee with a Ford motor company contract for life and when we were sacked we all decided to do an occupation.

‘We all got together and stuck together and stood out on the streets all the time and we are winning.

‘Don’t walk away, stand and fight and fight for our hospitals.’

Frank Sweeney, from the Workers Revolutionary Party, said: ‘The question of the defence of the NHS and our local District General Hospitals is coming to a crunch.’

He said the closure of the NHS hospitals was taking place ‘because political decisions have been taken to promote privatisation at whatever cost’.

He slammed the Tory leader Cameron who said ‘we have to live within our means’.

He concluded: ‘If there hadn’t been the monthly pickets, the huge demonstrations in Enfield and the local campaign against the closure, Chase Farm Hospital would already have gone.

‘If they move to close these departments we will occupy them.

‘This comes down to a question of force: whether they’re going to bully and intimidate and close our hospitals or we’re going to stand up and say we’re not going to let them close our hospitals.’

Peggy Idem, a nurse, said that whilst visiting the United States she had witnessed at first hand the consequences of private health care when she went to the aid of a woman who had suffered a heart attack.

‘To call a single ambulance is $500,’ she told a shocked audience.

‘I could not sleep,’ she said. ‘I had tears running down my eyes.

‘Think about what would happen here.’

Already the A&E department at North Middlesex ‘can’t cope’, she said. ‘What happens if Chase Farm is closed. I’m ready to occupy.’

Adam Keighley, from Luton, said: ‘They keep on telling us our hospital is losing money.

‘We cannot afford to have our hospitals closed.’

In his reply, Bill Rogers said ‘We’re not going to let this hospital close, we’re going to go forward and occupy.’

He urged everyone to join the monthly picket outside Chase Farm tomorrow morning from 7.00am, to build up the fight to keep the hospital open.