Londoners have an opportunity on Saturday (18 May) to speak out in defence of the NHS, as the crisis in the capital’s accident and emergency units accelerates.
Unite, the largest union in the country with 100,000 members in the health service, believes that a combination of the so-called ‘efficiency savings’ and privatisation of the NHS is contributing to the A&E crisis.
Unite pinpoints the A&E units and other services, such as maternity facilities, at Charing Cross, Central Middlesex, Ealing, Hammersmith, Kingston, Lewisham and St Helier’s in Sutton which face the axe.
Unite also blames the financial strait-jacket caused by the private finance initiatives (PFIs) on the recent erosion of NHS services in the metropolis.
Unite is urging thousands of its health and other members in London to turn out for the march which starts at noon on Saturday at Jubilee Gardens, Waterloo, Belvedere Road, SE1 and will march to Department of Health in Whitehall and the Houses of Parliament.
A rally will be held outside Downing Street at 14.00 when a letter calling for the cuts to be reversed will be handed in. The Unite speakers will include London regional secretary Pete Kavanagh and health visitor member Norma Dudley. Check out the details of the NHS march and rally.
Unite said that the onslaught in London has been mostly on hospitals that are deemed to be financially struggling. The reality is that many of these hospitals are struggling because of disastrous PFI schemes, such as the one at South London Healthcare NHS Trust where the PFI scheme borrowed £230 million, but will pay back the financiers £2.5 billion.
This means over £2 billion of taxpayers’ money will have been handed over to private corporations to close a hospital trust that is amongst the top five per cent in terms of clinical performance.
Another example is Whittington Hospital in Archway. The Whittington is the hospital with the lowest mortality rate in the country. This is because it has a higher nurse patient ratio than most hospitals.
Yet despite this, in order to become a foundation trust, it has to cut costs. This involves a proposal to cut over half of the beds. The rationale is that patients prefer to be treated at home. Unite has pointed out that patients prefer not to be ill, but when they are they want a hospital to treat them, however this has been brushed aside by the board.
Unite head of health Rachael Maskell said: “Across London, hospitals are facing ward and A&E closures on spurious evidence that these services are not needed. Lives are being put at risk and the NHS is on the road to ruin, as a result.
“Secondly, there has been no overall London strategy as to how healthcare will be provided in the capital. Some areas, mostly Tory voting, will have adequate coverage. However, some Londoners will have to travel miles to get emergency treatment, with fatalities which could have been avoided.
“There is a third issue, which is related but not London specific - the privatisation agenda. It is noticeable that the services being closed are the ones less attractive to the private sector.
“However, in many cases, the future plan for the hospitals - Lewisham and St Helier’s in Sutton at the forefront - includes moving towards greater provision for elective surgery, such as hip replacement operations.
“These are the services most attractive to the private sector as it is easier for them to generate profits for their shareholders at the expense of the sick. Increasingly, it looks as if the closures will punish the poor and reward the private sector.”
Unite blamed the Health and Social Care Act which forces compulsory competitive tendering of all local services to be put out to tender, with the private sector being in pole position to scoop up lucrative contracts.
When the s75 regulations which allows this to happen were debated in the House of Lords, nearly 150 of those peers, who voted in favour, had shares in private healthcare companies. The majority passing these regulations was less than 150.
For further information please contact Unite senior communications officer Shaun Noble on 07768 693940 and/or Unite campaigns officer Chantal Chegrinec (who will be on the march) on 07774 146777
- Unite is Britain and Ireland’s largest trade union with 1.5 million members working across all sectors of the economy. The general secretary is Len McCluskey.