MORE than 400 people joined Saturday’s march through Enfield by the North-East London Council of Action to keep Chase Farm Hospital open.
The march was held to call for an occupation of the hospital, to stop it being shut by the Tory-Lib Dem coalition and its local agents.
As the demonstration went through Enfield Town Centre, young people spontaneously joined in, whilst passers-by stopped and applauded.
The march was led by the banner of the North-East London Council of Action and followed by the Chase Farm Maternity banner, the banner of the News Line-All Trades Union Alliance and the banner of the ex-Visteon workers, who occupied their factory in Enfield.
‘The NHS is not for sale – no privatisation!’ the marchers shouted.
There were more chants of: ‘No cuts, no closures – kick this government out!’, ‘Defend jobs and services – occupy now!’, ‘Defend our Maternity – save Chase Farm!’, ‘Defend our A&E – save Chase Farm!’ and Defend our Paediatrics (children’s unit) – save Chase Farm!’
Many marchers waved red and yellow Save Chase Farm flags.
The march finished with a rally at a local church hall, where messages of support were read out from the general secretary of ASLEF (the train drivers’ union), from Paul Kenny (general secretary of the GMB), and from the PCS civil service union and the Fire Brigades Union (FBU), who all support the campaign to keep Chase Farm open.
Opening the packed meeting, North-East London Council of Action Secretary Bill Rogers, a member of ASLEF, said there was ‘massive anger at what this government’s trying to push through’.
He continued: ‘On November 30, the PCT revealed they want to push ahead with these cuts and closures.’
He said Chase Farm ‘is not being closed for clinical reasons; it’s a political decision. The decision has been made to smash the NHS.’
He warned: ‘The plan is to smash the District General Hospital as a model and then people will be forced to go private.’
He cited the example of rail privatisation as ‘an absolute, unmitigated disaster.’
Rogers said: ‘We’re going to have to occupy if they try to physically shut any of these departments.’
He said there also had to be strike action and speaking about the messages of support from trade unions, he added: ‘A million trade unionists are represented in these letters, who support us in our fight.
‘We can bring these workers into this struggle and get strike action.
‘When we occupy, we’re going to expect the trade unions to throw their weight behind us in support of the occupation and call out all the troops.
‘Next week, when they vote on raising tuition fees in parliament, there should be a general strike.’
He concluded: ‘We’re the advanced guard to defend the NHS all over the country.
‘We’ve earmarked Tuesday December 14 as the next picket at Chase Farm Hospital and we want you all to be there.
‘Bring your friends, placards and banners and we’ll have a march at the beginning of the New Year.’
Sue, from the Chase Farm Maternity department, said: ‘Thankyou for coming down on a cold Saturday afternoon when you could be doing Christmas shopping.’
She said Chase Farm’s Maternity is ‘convenient and friendly’ and ‘it’s usually very busy’.
She added: ‘Barnet is often closed to admissions and then those women have to come to Chase Farm.
And more young couples are coming to the borough.’
She concluded: ‘Chase Farm has just won an award for the most improved hospital in the country, so why shut something that’s just improved?’
Peggy, a nurse from North Middlesex Hospital, also addressed the rally.
‘A lot of cuts are already in place,’ she said.
‘A lot of the trained nurses’ jobs have been hijacked. They want cheap labour.
‘It’s estimated that 27,000 nurses’ jobs have been cut and a lot more are in line.
‘I wanted to be able to come here to tell you that what the government is telling us is a lie and patients are suffering. There are not enough beds.’
She said that: ‘In my department, there’s supposed to be five patients to one registered nurse. I’m telling you as I’m standing here, I’m having 18 patients on my own.’
Young Socialists National Secratary Joshua Ogunleye also spoke.
He said: ‘The Young Socialists wants to keep Chase Farm open, along with other hospitals across the country.
‘This is the winter of organising to defend the NHS and get a future for the working class.
‘Students have taken to the streets to defend their education.
‘We have to struggle to bring this government down and replace it with a workers’ government,’ he said to applause.
He added: ‘Workers and students recognise we’re in the struggle of our lives.’
Ex-Visteon worker Linda Bartle said: ‘Two years ago we were sacked at minutes’ notice. We decided to go into the factory and fight back.
‘We’re still fighting Ford motor company because they owe us our pensions.’
She said: ‘The attack on the NHS is a disgrace.
‘Patients get kept on trolleys for 18 hours and they want to close more hospitals and more A&Es.
People are going to lose their lives.
‘I think this fight has to go on and if we have to occupy, occupy.’
Consultant surgeon Anna Athow, a member of the BMA Council, speaking in a personal capacity, told the rally: ‘The NHS in England is being devastated by a double onslaught: the biggest cuts in its history and privatisation.’
She said the NHS budget in England is being slashed by £20 billion – a quarter.
Speaking about the threat to Chase Farm, she continued: ‘If you remove the paediatric department, the consultant-led maternity unit and the A&E, then the whole of the rest of the hospital will close; meaning all the acute inpatient beds for medical and surgical patients, the 24-hours intensive care unit and the 24-hours operating theatre.
‘So where will patients go? With a whole hospital missing, they will pay for it with their lives.’
She further warned: ‘The same thing is happening all over London.’
‘As for GPs,’ she said, ‘the traditional NHS GP model is being abolished.’
Condemning the closure of the Bush Hill Park GP practice, she concluded: ‘We in the North East London Council of Action believe that every District General Hospital and GP surgery must be defended and properly funded.
‘The Visteon workers showed us the way with their occupation.
‘The privateers must be thrown out.
‘The only way to do this is to get rid of this Tory coalition government and replace it with a workers government and socialist policies to restore all our public services.’
Many local residents joined Saturday’s demonstration.
‘The only problem the hospital has is there’s too much land goes with it,’ commented Mr Hegarty, warning that the hospital’s land is the target for property developers.
He added: ‘You try getting to Barnet Hospital, it’s choc-a-bloc all the way up.’
Mr Jones, another local resident, said his whole family has relied on Chase Farm and he was recently rushed to the A&E for treatment.
‘If a child has an accident and gets knocked over by a car, the difference between life and death could be keeping Chase Farm open,’ he said.
‘Please save Chase Farm, urgently,’ implored Mr Henderson as the march assembled.
‘All the area will miss Chase Farm Hospital if it closes and we need to do as much as possible to keep it open,’ he added.
Local resident Derek Robins said: ‘We must stop these closures. It’s desperate.
‘Keeping North Mid is not enough, we need Chase Farm as well, if Chase Farm closed they wouldn’t be able to cope.’
Stuart Hasler said: ‘Occupy Chase Farm to keep it open.
‘I was born there and people in Chase Farm help people with special needs.
‘And people who get injured in war need the hospital to treat them too. And people with heart problems. And old people. They are a lifeline to people with old age.’
Michael Attwell said: ‘I think we’ve got to lay down in the roads, put our lives at risk, to stop the demolition.
‘I think someone has to take some action. It’s backs to the wall, like the Second World War.
‘That’s what led to the NHS in 1948. They’ve been hacking away at it for years and we’ve got to stop them from destroying it.’
John Smyth said: ‘I’ve come down from Birmingham.
‘They’re trying to dismantle the NHS.
‘I’ve had to live through Thatcher and another Tory government after that and it’s time everybody stood up or before they know it, we won’t have an NHS and we’ll all be slaves.’
Local resident and Council of Action campaigner Sheila Nellis said: ‘I just cannot understand why they could close a hospital that we so desperately need.
‘It really is so important that the people of Enfield and surroundings stand up and be counted. It’s their hospital, fight for it.’
She added: ‘This hospital is so close to the M25 and there are accidents there almost on a daily basis.
‘Can you imagine it, just by-passing a hospital that is so close. It doesn’t make sense. People will die.’