Against the backdrop of the new Health and Social Care Act, and deep cuts to NHS budgets, Keep Our NHS Public (KONP) held its AGM on Saturday 23 June.
The meeting lasted just one hour but was followed by a public conference, “Reclaiming our NHS”, sponsored by a number of organisations including KONP, TUC, Unison, Unite, NHS Consultants Association, Socialist Health Association (SHA), Health Emergency and the NHS Support Federation (NSF).
There were about 60 people at the KONP AGM and around 350 at the conference. Both events showed the need for more coordination of NHS campaigning efforts.
The KONP AGM was sometimes cosy and sometimes fractious, but more like a family gathering than a campaign that could save the NHS. There are just 33 local KONP groups.
KONP runs on a federal model. Local groups are represented on the steering committee. The model has its virtues, but the KONP central office is run on a shoestring, it seems, and with a tiny staff.
Key KONP activists Wendy Savage and John Lister have resisted the idea of an umbrella group to coordinate the campaigns to save the NHS, and resisted KONP assuming this role. Yet it seems that they have come under some pressure and realise they must raise their game.
They helped to call the bigger conference on Saturday; and at their AGM passed a “strategy statement” that said the organisation should aim to raise £200,000 a year in order to become “more professional”. (This seems to be about five times as much as they spend at the moment.)
Later, at the main conference, in a summing up plenary session, KONP activist and SHA chair Brian Fisher said that the suggestions coming from the day’s workshops would be collated and followed up on by KONP.
Is KONP up to taking on the vital coordinating role that is needed to save the NHS? It seems to be assuming a greater role — but reluctantly. There are tensions in the organisation between those who want KONP to be beefed up and play more of a coordinating role, and those who want to stick with the “federal” model of (an insufficient number of) local groups.
Workers’ Liberty members attended both the KONP AGM and the public conference. We argued for more pressure on the Labour Party to commit to reversing the Health and Social Care Act should it win the next election. We encouraged activists not to wait for KONP, but to support the new NHS Liaison Network and to urge KONP to participate.
We promoted the lobby of Labour Party conference in Manchester on Sunday 30 September called by the NHS Liaison Committee, North West Region of Unite the Union, and Wirral TUC.
Saturday’s conferences underlined the urgent need for a bigger coordination of efforts, with resources particularly from Unison and Unite, the main unions representing health workers.
Although these two unions supported the conference, they had not mobilised their members to attend.
At the KONP AGM, campaigners expressed their anger with the unions and Labour at not leading a bigger fight against the Bill. We must continue to push Labour and the unions to act.