OVER 50 people joined a picket of the Department of Health yesterday, demanding that the government honour a pledge from Tory Health Secretary Lansley before the election not to close the Whittington Hospital in Islington, north London.
This follows warnings that the closure plans are being renewed, despite the assurance from Lansley that he would make sure the Accident and Emergency Department stays open.
Demonstrators gave out leaflets warning: ‘The new coalition government’s white paper proposes the most far-reaching health service reorganisation which threatens the very future of the NHS.
• ‘NHS hospitals and services are to become independent of the NHS. Private companies will have equal status as “health care providers’’.
• ‘Billions of pounds of tax payers’ money will go to private companies as part of GP commissioning.
• ‘The national structures of the NHS will be replaced by “independent’’ economic regulators.
• ‘Health workers may lose their rights to national pay bargaining and NHS pensions.
‘The NHS has always been seen as the jewel in the crown of the welfare state. It was not won without a fight, but now we have an urgent battle on our hands to make sure that it is not dismantled and handed over to huge multinational corporations.’
Addressing yesterday’s protest, Islington Labour MP Jeremy Corbyn said that the campaign to keep open the Whittington was a campaign to save the NHS, not to keep the Whittington open at the expense of Chase Farm or any other hospital’s closure.
Speaking about the plans for ‘GP-led commissioning’, he said: ‘GPs will be responsible for £80 billion of NHS funding. Where is the democratic accountability in that?’ He warned that private conglomerates like Bupa will come in to do the ‘commissioning’ for GPs, leading to large-scale privatisation. ‘The NHS is not for sale!’ he said.
Former Save Chase Farm councillor Kate Wilkinson said Tory Health Secretary Lansley ‘came to Chase Farm A&E to reassure us there would be a moratorium’ on the threat to close the hospital. But two months later, she said, there are now moves afoot ‘to get through exactly the proposals that we fought against’, starting with the cutting of 50 beds – over 10 per cent of the hospital’s 494 beds.
Mick Gilgunn, secretary of Islington Trades Council, also spoke. Gilgunn called on community groups, tenants groups and all trade unions to join in the fight to defend the NHS and the whole Welfare State.
The Defend the Whittington Hospital Coalition, marched to the hospital before the general election, vowing to stop any government from shutting it. The Coalition said: ‘Yet again our health services are at risk. The North Central London NHS (covering Camden, Islington, Haringey, Enfield and Barnet) have reopened the possibility of closing the Accident and Emergency, Trauma, Paediatrics and Maternity Department in North London Hospitals.
‘This is part of a wider attack on hospitals and other health and mental health services in North London. Health Secretary Andrew Lansley gave us reassurances about our hospitals, before and after the election, that the NCL plans would be scrapped and that our Accident and Emergency provision would be safe. If this fails to be the case, this is the first serious broken promise to come from the Government.’