Tens Of Thousands March To Defend NHS

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The front of Saturday’s 500-strong march to defend the Maudsley Hospital in Camberwell
The front of Saturday’s 500-strong march to defend the Maudsley Hospital in Camberwell

‘WE are going to fight to keep our hospitals, even if it means occupying them to keep them open,’ shouted demonstrators fighting plans to close Maudsley Hospital Emergency Clinic and Felix Post Day Centre in south London on Saturday.

Five hundred marchers went from Camberwell Green to Maudsley psychiatric hospital, where they handed in a letter addressed to the Trust chief executive, demanding that the April 16 closure plans be rescinded, before marching back to Camberwell Green.

It was one of hundreds of demonstrations and activities that were staged across the country during a national day of action called by NHS Together.

‘Come and join us, come and join us on the march!’ the demonstrators continued chanting.

‘Health cuts – no way! NHS – here to stay!’, ‘Tony Blair, hear us say – the Maudsley is here to stay!’ and ‘They say cuts, we say services!’ were other popular slogans.

Frieda Belle, a UNISON member at the closure-threatened Felix Post Day Centre, said: ‘I work at Maudsley, our clients are the elderly.

‘We need to get them out from their homes into day care, in order for them not to collapse and go back into hospital.

‘It’s a vital resource. Most of our patients are living on their own and don’t have anyone to communicate with, so they depend on us for almost everything. The unions need to support us.’

TGWU shop steward Henry Mott said: ‘Pensioners stormed into Lambeth Town Hall last week. And according to the press reports, Labour councillors and officers were quivering in the corner.

‘There has to be direct action to save the hospital.’

Raz Dowdall, secretary of King’s College Hospital UNISON, said: ‘We’re here today to oppose closures and support the Emergency Clinic of the Maudsley Hospital and oppose any transfer of services to King’s.

‘I think the chief executive of Maudsley Hospital needs to be aware how detrimental closure of the Emergency Clinic is going to be on the community and the hospital itself and the redundancies that are going to come with it.

‘It will mean depriving the community of an essential service.

‘We’re hoping they’re going to get the message. It needs to stay open and give the money to Maudsley so they can still provide a service.’

Dowdall said that if necessary the hospital should be occupied to stop the closure going ahead.

Among the banners on the march were those of Southwark UNISON, the TGWU and Southwark and Lambeth Keep Our NHS Public Campaign.

George Wright, assistant branch secretary of Southwark UNISON, said: ‘It’s outrageous that the Labour government should be cutting the NHS.

‘We have to be out on the streets and protest. The NHS is one thing this country can be proud of.

‘I think we should all show solidarity. We have to stand up together as one union to defend our jobs and services, whatever that entails.

‘We are going to hand in a letter to the Trust chief executive, protesting that these cuts are incompatible with the founding principles of the NHS.

‘I think we should sit in, staff and service users, if they ignore our protest today. We’ll reclaim the service.’

Tony Anthrobus, TGWU member, said: ‘I’m here because I don’t think what the government wants to do in relation to closure of the Emergency Clinic at Maudsley is fair.

‘It will add more work at King’s site and, as far as we’re concerned, there has been very little consultation about the reasons behind the move.

‘If the government decides to ignore the views of the community, it’s only going to make the community feel much stronger.

‘If the community and the unions are ignored, then what are they encouraging? The government will actually be encouraging further action from the trade union side and the communities.’

Frank Wood, Amicus rep and chair of the joint staff side at King’s College Hospital, said: ‘This is the thin end of the wedge of drastic mental health cuts locally and nationally as well.

‘This is one of the flagship services provided by the Maudsley. If we allow this to close then no service will be safe at the Maudsley.

‘This is only the start of the campaign. Even if there wasn’t a Day of Action, we would have had to organise this march very soon.

‘The closure was referred to Secretary of State Patricia Hewitt and she decided to go ahead with it.

‘There was an adjournment debate in parliament in which they suddenly found £6 million in the PCTs to offer King’s to run some sort of makeshift services from the King’s casualty department. It would be entirely unworkable.

‘King’s is one of the busiest casualty departments in the south-east. It’s not at all appropriate for one of the most vulnerable groups in an area of south-east London with one of the highest densities of mental health problems.’

Wood said the question of an occupation would be one for the trade unions and Maudsley staff to decide on.

‘If they do that, we’ll support them,’ he said.

Charles Boakye-Agyekum, TGWU portering team leader and shop steward at King’s College, said: ‘I’ve come to support the march because I think what they are doing is unbelievable.

‘To transfer the A&E in Maudsley to King’s will not work. We are already choked. The doctors can’t cope.

‘I’ve worked there for four years and I know what goes on there.

‘Yes, I believe there should be an occupation if they intend to go ahead and close the Emergency Clinic. We should fight them all the way.’

Stephanie Lodge, a local resident, said: ‘I’m trying to save the Maudsley crisis clinic from Patricia Hewitt and my husband is here because Royal Surrey County Hospital in Guildford – with one of the top cancer units in the country – is also facing closure, in order to save £9 million.’

Her husband Jim said: ‘Even if they just close the emergency services at the Royal Surrey, that will mean there will be no emergency services between the M25 and Portsmouth. Anyone in the catchment of the Royal Surrey will be faced with a 24-mile journey to the nearest emergency services.

‘If it comes to the crunch, then yes, these hospitals should be occupied.

‘This government doesn’t give a damn about anybody. All it does is worship the mighty dollar.’

Greg Peakin, a retired trade unionist, said: ‘There should be a stop to the privatisation of the NHS and a diversion of resources away from war towards health and a diversion of funds away from the replacement of Trident into health, education, pensions and all the other good things.’

Emil, an out-patient of Maudsley, said: ‘If the Maudsley clinic closes, it means mentally ill people will end up on the streets.

‘Everyone falls ill some time in their lives. Everyone will need help eventually.’

Many speakers took part in a rally at the start and end of Saturday’s demonstration in Camberwell Green.

George Wright said he had worked as a social worker with mental health services since the 1970s.

He said the cuts now being planned were the ‘most vicious attack’ on mental health services he had ever seen.

‘Even in the Thatcher years we didn’t experience this.’

He added: ‘They think they’re going to close it on April 16. Don’t let them.’

Labour MP Kate Hoey said she had tried to speak to the prime minister about the closure of Maudsley, but all she had received was a letter.

She added: ‘Creeping privatisation is destroying what I and many people here thought they were joining the Labour Party for.’

Mary Roberts, chair of Lambeth Mental Health and Disabled People’s Action Group, said: ‘They want you to go over to King’s College Hospital. Why, when they’ve got the staff, the people who can do something about it and sort it out?

‘It could be you who needs an emergency clinic at 2.30 in the morning.

‘It’s a very, very sad situation. We are totally, totally against it. We need the Emergency Clinic. They have got the expertise. They could spend the £6 million on the Emergency Clinic.’

Gail Cartmail, a national Amicus official, said the cuts being made to the NHS were ‘things we would never have accepted under a Tory government’.

Andy Tullis, UNISON convenor for Lambeth children’s and young people’s services, said the UNISON national health group executive had voted unanimously for a national demonstration in defence of the NHS in June.

He urged: ‘Keep the pressure on our union leaders to build for a massive demonstration.’

Lois Austin, from Southwark and Lambeth Keep Our NHS Public campaign, concluded that if the closure of the Emergency Clinic or the Felix Post Day Centre closures go ahead, then there should be an occupation to keep them open.

Chris Eames, on behalf of the News Line, said that protests to the government were falling on deaf ears.

‘There will have to be an occupation,’ he said, and called for a Council of Action to unite trade unionists and the community to organise such action.

A speaker from Southwark College UCU and the president of Southwark Trades Council also addressed the rally.

• ‘I HOPE all the health and public sector unions will unite with us on May 1 when we are holding a PCS national strike across the civil service,’ PCS General Secretary Mark Serwotka told a 500-strong rally on the green opposite the closure-threatened St Helier’s Hospital in Carshalton, Surrey, on Saturday.

He said: ‘I am delighted to be here as a local resident and as leader of the 300,000-strong PCS union to say this hospital should be kept open.’

Serwotka later told News Line: ‘We have written to the TUC to call on them to call a national day of action on May 1 to defend public services.’

Local MP Tom Blake told the rally that in order to reduce a £24 million funding gap, one out of three lightbulbs had been removed from the hospital.

‘One out of three lightbulbs have been removed from the hospital.

‘Staff are told to empty their own wastebaskets.

Sandwiches and soup are being served to patients in the evening instead of hot meals.

‘There are no pyjamas for male patients, only gowns, and vacancies are not being filled,’ he added.

News Line spoke to many of the hospital staff, trade unionists and local residents attending the rally.

Krishna Lockare, a local resident, said: ‘We need our hospital and our nurses.

‘I am very concerned for the old people especially.’

John and Iris Bosher said: ‘Our daughter works in there. She’s an auxiliary nurse.

‘When she does a nightshift, it’s down to her and one other nurse to keep the whole ward of 16 geriatric patients. It’s disgusting having just two people looking after so many.

‘It’s not as if they are young and go to the toilet by themselves; they have to be assisted.

‘What will happen here if we don’t watch it is the same as happened at Clacton-on-Sea.

‘If they close St Helier, then our nearest hospital is St George’s, Tooting, which is 10 miles away and in terrible traffic.

‘We need to organise a Council of Action to save the hospital.’

Nicki Loizou, a housekeeper at Epsom Hospital, said: ‘What’s going on is terrible.

‘We don’t know if our job is safe.

‘Epsom and St Helier’s hospitals are matched.

‘The unions must kick the government out.

‘How can you make a profit out of the suffering of the people?’

Medical secretary and UNISON rep, Julie Bowes, said: ‘I’m a worker at the hospital and also a patient.

‘Several wards have been closed and others are threatened.

‘The A&E at Epsom no longer takes in acute emergencies. Acute emergencies come here.’

Fellow medical secretary, Debbie Smith, said: ‘I think they are going to try to close the A&E here.

‘Patricia Hewitt (health secretary) said you only need five hospitals in London.

‘If you’ve got a coronary round here, you are never going to get through the traffic.’

Amicus member, Ron Higginson, said: ‘I would occupy the hospital to stop it closing.

‘The unions should be leading the ordinary population so that we can stop that lot.

‘We’ve got the power.’

A group of nurses who didn’t want to be named for fear of victimisation said: ‘There have been 480 staff cuts across the Trust.

‘We can’t re-order equipment. We are being audited all the time.

‘They are looking at any excuse to get rid of staff.

‘The doctors are going mad because of the cuts.

‘It’s not for the patients any more, it’s for business.’

Nurse and resuscitation officer, Jon Sions, said: ‘I’ve worked at St Helier Hospital for eight years.

‘Reducing the service, particularly the emergency services, is a very real threat to patients.

‘I’m pleased with today’s turnout. There is a huge amount of local support and from the unions.’

George Imperial, a nurse and UNISON member, said: ‘My friend was crying last night because she’s been told her unit is being fused with another unit.

‘They are closing her unit at weekends. It means we will lose some frontline staff.

‘It’s hard to work when you don’t know what is going to happen to you.

‘Hers will be the fourth unit to be affected by cuts. We’ve already lost three units.’

Banners at the rally included NHS Together, CWU London Region, Sutton and District TUC, Croydon TUC and the St Helier UNISON banner.

• Over 10,000 workers and youth marched through Enfield last Saturday against the planned closure of Chase Farm Hospital A&E, maternity and paediatric services.

The march was organised by the Save Chase Farm Campaign whose banner headed off the march after a short rally.

Save Chase Farm councillor Kate Wilkinson told a small meeting at the start of the march: ‘One million people will be affected by these cuts. It will particularly affect women, children and the elderly.

‘Thousands of people have made it clear we don’t want these cuts.

‘We want to sent a powerful message to the authorities, the decision-makers, that no means no.’

Claire Stares from the National Childbirth Trust said: ‘We want local services close to home for women. Short transfers so you can stay home longer.’

A Tory councillor also spoke.

There was no mass rally at the end of the march.

Banners and placards said ‘Save Chase Farm’, ‘Our Hospital, Our Health – Listen to Us’, ‘No Cuts, Listen’, ‘Save our A&E’, ‘Keep Mother and Children Services at Chase Farm,’ ‘Sack Blair – Not Health Workers.’

A lively contingent of workers and youth from the North East London Council of Action marched with their banner saying ‘Defend the NHS – By all means necessary,’ ‘No cuts, no closures, no redundancies.’

Many joined in as they kept up chants of ‘Save Chase Farm – Occupy Now!’ ‘Smash privatisation – kick Blair out!’ ‘Defend the NHS – kick Blair out!’

They carried placards saying ‘Occupy against closures’, ‘United trade union action to defend the NHS’.

News Line spoke to marchers as they assembled in Enfield and at the close of the march outside Chase Farm Hospital.

Nurse Comfort O’akim, an RCN member, said: ‘I’m here to save the NHS and keep nurses and doctors working.

‘I’m worried about proper care for the patients. We need more funding for the hospitals.

‘They’re making cuts at my hospital, closing wards, reducing beds. The unions must cry out loud about this.’

Local Enfield resident Linda Bragoli added: ‘I’m against the closure of any part of Chase Farm. We need a bigger hospital not a small one.

‘Look at all the new housing going up in east Enfield.

‘How are people going to get to Barnet Hospital? It’s too far away.

‘If you build a lot of houses, you have to provide the services people need.

‘This government is ruining the country. Everything they do is detrimental.

‘The trade unions should take action to stop these cuts. If people decide, I’d support an occupation to stop the closure.

‘I think this has been planned for a long time and they are not going to give up easily – that’s why we have to take action.

‘I’ve joined the Council of Action.’

Nik Roberts, Middlesex University Students Union, told News Line: ‘These cuts will really affect students.

‘We have two campuses in the area, both have residential students.

‘If students are having to go to Barnet or North Middlesex for A&E services, it will put our students in danger.

‘We’ve got to see a real commitment to see the NHS stay here in Enfield and stop any privatisation.

‘We’ve got to keep this campaign going, local civil society groups need to be involved.

‘The trade unions should take strike action. I’d support an occupation and will get the students involved.

‘We’re seeing more and more attacks on the NHS. Now is the time to say enough is enough and make it a national action.’

NUT member and local school teacher Wendy Heyes said: ‘All my children have been to Chase Farm A&E many times. I can’t afford to be without it.

‘It’s terrible facing travelling to Barnet or North Middlesex – if you haven’t got a car it’s impossible, especially if you’re old and infirm.

‘Travelling that distance in an emergency is ridiculous, it could be dangerous. There is so much traffic on the roads now and time counts.

‘There should be strike action by the trade unions.

‘I would support an occupation. Everything has to be done to save this hospital.

‘I wouldn’t vote for this government again, you can’t believe it’s Labour. Workers need a new party.’

Another NUT member, drama teacher Laura Street, said: ‘I’m here to support Save Chase Farm. All my students asked me to come today.’

Local GP Dr Nicholas Pillai told News Line: ‘The closure of the hospital and A&E will result in cutting services to the people in the area.

‘Local facilities will not be available and valuable NHS land will be sold off.

‘We need to maintain the local hospital with all its facilities. Each council having a local health authority in London has to have its own district hospital.

‘I would support taking joint action by unions and staff and the local community to stop the closure. If necessary I would support an occupation.’

Young Enfield market trader Lucy Payne told News Line: ‘I was born in Chase Farm Hospital in 1982.

‘My nan was cared for at Chase Farm and she lived until she was 98.

‘I’d support a sit-in to stop the closure – I’d do anything to save the hospital.

‘The unions should take strike action; they are a big voice while I am only one.’

Local government worker and UNISON member Ian Francis said: ‘It’s important to keep services open in Enfield.

‘We’ve got children and it’s important to keep the hospital open for their benefit.

‘I would probably support an occupation to stop the closure.’

Bill Rogers, secretary of the North East London Council of Action, said: ‘We’ve joined today’s march against the cuts in Chase Farm Hospital because we’re opposed to these cuts and the cuts at North Middlesex and Whipps Cross hospitals.

‘This is definitely part of a national plan to smash the NHS.

‘Workers all over the country should be demanding their trade unions take strike action to defend the NHS.

‘The trade union leaders can’t be allowed to get away with what happened last year when they let Blair sell off NHS Logistics.

‘We call on everyone to join our Council of Action to organise occupations and strikes at a local level and to push for national strike action to bring down Blair and Brown.’

Young Socialists national secretary Nash Campbell added: ‘We say fight for the NHS. We all depend on it, young and old.

‘There has to be action.’

Social worker Rosetta Reeves told News Line: ‘I worked for many years as a nurse in several hospitals.

‘To see the NHS being privatised would be a loss of all the energies that myself and colleagues have put in.

‘Our intention was for all people who are ill, whoever they are, to be healed when they need to be.

‘We are asking all the people who are in charge of the hospitals to keep the NHS going with hospitals fully-staffed and fully-trained so people receive the treatment they deserve.

‘They’ve worked all their lives and paid their national insurance and taxes.

‘The unions must take action – firm, strong action – whatever is necessary.’

• In Crawley in Sussex, where massive NHS cuts are being threatened, the Young Socialists played the main role in a lively protest.

• See more pictures in Photo Gallery