Activists from Unision and healthcare workers in Sheffield took action against the creeping privatisation of the NHS on Saturday 7 July. They were protesting at the slow sale of public health facilities to Virgin Healthcare.
We set up a stall, hung some impressively faked Virgin banners on the outside of the Virgin Mobile shop and leafleted the main shopping area, taking opportunities to talk to passers- and to encourage them to sign the petition against Virgin involvement.
We felt it important to speak to the workers in the shop, explain our position and make it clear that this was not a personal attack. We also passed on some union literature to them; arguably as a result of this, management at the shop made no attempt to interfere with our activities.
Protestors spent around two hours at the site. The response from the public was overwhelmingly positive, with many shoppers taking time to speak to us and actually reading the leaflets! It seems that opinion is very much on our side; attacks on the NHS have a direct impact upon the working class and most of the people we spoke to had had some experience of the consequences of this, whether it being an increase in waiting list time, a reduction in critical services or the threat of job losses.
The strong response to our protest serves to reinforce what we already knew; we must continue to take direct action and to press for increased union involvement. The NHS will not be sold off piecemeal, whether through the dissolution of ‘failing’ trusts or the influence that Virgin wields through its GP provider companies. We will continue to fight, to publicise and to organise against the vultures that prey on those least able to defend themselves.
Meanwhile in the city, it has been reported that the medical 'walk-in centre' which has NHS branding but has been contracted out to a private provider - One Medicare - has been implementing charges for patients seeking medical help for whiplash injuries from road accidents. Private providers, it appears, have no obligation to uphold the principle of 'free at the point of use'.