A THOUSAND local residents, health and other workers, trade unionists and youth participated in a very powerful North East London Council of Action march through Enfield against the closure of Chase Farm Hospital on Saturday.
They carried banners and flags, chanted, cheered the hoots of support from passing cars and marched to a rally at the hospital, where speakers expressed determination to occupy the hospital to stop the planned closure of the Maternity and Paediatrics departments on 15th November and the Accident and Emergency department on 9th December.
At the rally, the call was made for another ‘be ready to occupy – don’t let it close’ march to the hospital on Thursday 14th November, assembling at Enfield Green at 5.30pm and departing at 6pm.
Saturday’s march also assembled at Enfield Green.
Sevim, an Enfield resident and Unison member, told News Line: ‘I’ve supported the daily picket of Chase Farm Hospital many times.
‘I’m already a patient in Chase Farm and every time I come for an appointment I try to stand with the picket for a couple of hours because hospitals are necessary and we have to keep them alive.
‘Any department closure isn’t good for our community.
‘I will support an occupation.’
Local resident Ann Stoner said: ‘The A&E is something the local residents need.
‘Every time you go up there it’s always full, so it’s obviously needed.
‘We have to show we are totally opposed.
‘Anyone, anytime can need A&E, you never know.
‘You don’t want to have to go miles.
‘I had my leg in plaster at the beginning of the year and the only way to get to the hospital was by taxi. It would have cost too much to have to keep getting a taxi to Barnet.
‘But I want to emphasise that that was just a minor thing. Imagine if you have to have chemo!’
Sue, a retired midwife and RCM member, who still works occasional shifts at the hospital, said: ‘They are planning to close in November and most of the staff are being transferred to Barnet.
‘The population of Enfield is going up and there’s nowhere for pregnant mothers.
‘We were promised more things in the community, but we haven’t got them.
‘Thousands of babies have been born at Chase Farm, it shouldn’t stop.’
Then the march set off, headed by the North East London Council of Action banner, which read: ‘Defend the NHS By All Means Necessary! Save Chase Farm!’
Other banners on the march included the Day Mer (Turkish and Kurdish Community Centre) banner, which read: ‘No Cuts to Public Services. Tax the Rich’, the UCU College of North East London banner, the Ex-Visteon Workers ‘Support the Fight to Keep Chase Farm Hospital Open’ banner, the Camden Unison banner and the Maternity Chase Farm Hospital ‘Jobs 4 Life – Jobs 4 Lives – Save our Maternity Unit’ banner.
Waving scores and scores of red and yellow ‘Save Chase Farm Hospital’ flags, the marchers shook the busy Enfield shopping centre with chants of: ‘Save Chase Farm – Occupy Now! Defend the NHS – Save Chase Farm! No Cuts No Closures – Kick this Government Out! Defend our Hospitals – No Privatisation! What Do We Want? Save Chase Farm! When Do We Want It? Now!’
As they marched, marchers spoke to News Line.
Sacha Allen, aged 20, from Southall Young Socialists, said: ‘It’s disgusting the government is closing down all the hospitals.
‘People on benefits can’t afford to get to hospitals that are too far away and it causes real harm.
‘That’s what happened to me when I had a broken wrist.
‘I couldn’t afford the fare to keep going to the hospital and now my wrist is permanently damaged, because the hospital was too far away.
‘Occupying is the right thing to do. If we don’t do it, no-one will do it, nothing will happen and the hospital will close.’
Mandy Roper, a Unite member and local resident, said: ‘This government must be stopped from closing hospitals.
‘People are living longer and we need more hospitals, not less.
‘It seems this government is trying to do what America is doing and making people pay.’
She added: ‘What happened at Grangemouth is terrible. Now all these bosses will think they can just threaten people that if they don’t accept wage cuts they will get the sack.’
Ozkan Kurban, from Day-Mer, the Turkish and Kurdish Community Centre, said: ‘Chase Farm closure will affect many people’s lives, especially local people.
‘Time is very important in health issues and it will cause many deaths.
‘They are closing the hospitals because of capitalist ideology. They want to privatise the NHS and make private companies benefit.
‘They are understaffing hospitals because they want people to take out private insurances.
‘We must get rid of this government and we must come up with an alternative system, which is socialism.
‘Socialism is the alternative, but without revolution there will be no socialism.
‘We have to occupy. We need the doctors and nurses to stand with us.’
Linda Fenwick, a local resident, said: ‘Chase Farm saved my life three years ago.
‘I’m in remission from cancer now. They were very good.
‘When I needed an ambulance, I can’t imagine having had to get to Barnet.
‘And during my chemotherapy I did need the A&E.
‘I felt I had to be here today. I think the people who have been fighting have done a fantastic job.
‘If occupation is the only way to stop the closure then that’s what we’ve got to do.’
Phil Mirams, a retired civil servant and PCS member, said: ‘I am here to defend the NHS.
‘I am extremely worried. It’s not just this local hospital, it’s the broader NHS.
‘They are trying to privatise the NHS and 90% of the contracts that have gone out from these new Clinical Commissioning Groups have gone out to private companies.
‘So it’s clear it’s a privatisation agenda.
‘And the worst of it is it’s being done by a government that hasn’t been elected by anybody.
‘I absolutely support occupying. In fact, never mind supporting, I will take part.’
Enfield resident, Darcie Martin, aged 22, said: ‘I was born at Chase Farm and so were my three sisters.
‘I want to occupy to stop the closure. They shouldn’t close it at all, it’s just the wrong thing to do.
‘If they close it, it’s going to put a lot of pressure on the other hospitals.
‘We’ve got to kick this government out.’
Then the march arrived at the hospital, where there were a lot of policemen and security guards in the grounds, mobile toilets put in place and anyone who wanted to go into the hospital prevented from doing so.
North East London Council of Action Secretary and Aslef railworkers union branch officer, Bill Rogers told the rally: ‘We have been campaigning against the closure of Chase farm for over six years.
‘We have held a daily picket of the hospital for the last 450 days solid.
‘Last February we had a march and we occupied. We were escorted in by local police, but then things turned ugly.
‘Other police were called to evict us from the hospital. They pushed me over. Two of us were arrested.
‘But when it ended, the magistrate said we had the right and the eviction was illegal.
‘When we march on November 14th we need a lot of support, especially from the trade unions, the BMA, Unison, Unite and others.
‘We need new leaders in our unions. Unite leader McCluskey completely sold out at Grangemouth, accepting a three year no strike deal. People like McCluskey should be booted out.
‘The managers are saying this is a cottage hospital. But this is not a cottage hospital. It’s a District General Hospital. They are trying to rubbish this hospital to justify its closure.
‘We’ve always said that closure of A&Es costs lives and closure of this A&E would cost lives.
‘This is an attack on our basic rights. This is an attack on the NHS.
For the first time, after the Second World War, the National Health Service meant there was decent healthcare for everyone.
‘Now they’ve brought in a staunch privateer to take over the running of the NHS.
‘His name is Simon Stevens. He was an adviser to Blair and Milburn and helped to form the Private Finance Initiative and then went to America to become the president of United Health, a big private health company.
‘Now he’s coming back to privatise the NHS.
‘We’re opposed to privatisation.
‘Today’s was a great march.
‘What we are going to do on November 14th is have another march and we are going to occupy. Don’t let them do it! Who’s coming? Who’s going to join us?’ Rogers concluded to a huge cheer.
Then Doug Taylor, the leader of Enfield Council spoke.
He said: ‘As a council we’ve had a consistent position of opposition to closure of Chase Farm.
‘When they said they were going to close the hospital, they claimed they would make significant improvement to the provision of care in the community. This hasn’t happened.
‘Our judicial review will be heard 4-5 of November.
‘Whatever happens, we are committed to doing all we can to save the hospital.’
Chase Farm midwife, Sue, said: ‘It’s a shame to shut the maternity.
‘The population of Enfield has gone up. It’s a really nice hospital, so many generations have been born here.’
BMA member and retired North Middlesex Hospital surgeon, Anna Athow, said: ‘Reducing from three hospitals to two in this area means a massive reduction in acute beds, a massive reduction in doctors, nurses and other staff. And who stands to gain? Private health companies.
‘What they are doing is taking money out of acute care and handing it over to the privateers.
‘They’ve got their sights on sixty hospitals. By calling for an occupation we are putting a stop to it.
‘We need national industrial action by the unions to support all occupations.’
Sandra, from Save Our Hospitals, was the final speaker. She said: ‘I’m from the Save Charing Cross Hospital campaign. At Charing Cross they are planning to close the A&E, the Ambulance service and the best stroke unit in the land.
‘They intend to knock down our hospital and build flats. We are determined to stop them.’
After the rally, Chase Farm physiotherapist, Rhys told News Line: ‘I’ve come to work here from Liverpool, where they closed two emergency and trauma units, leaving the hospital I was working in struggling all the time.
‘They close two units and then don’t offer any extra support to the hospitals that have to take on the extra work! And the same is happening here.
‘There are less acute medical beds. There’s no specific trauma ward, so everyone is mixed up together and it’s a strain on the diminishing staff levels.
‘We can’t work to the best of our ability when we’ve got such big caseloads, increasing paperwork and diminishing staff levels.
‘It was a really good march. Numbers swelled as we grew closer to the hospital. People are very concerned.
‘Private interests are being held above the interests of the people. It’s happening all over the country, in every sector. It’s got to be stopped.’
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