Fifty thousand people marched on Saturday 20 April to defend Stafford Hospital against threatened cuts in services and jobs and against private healthcare companies taking over their hospital.
Fifty thousand people took to the streets in a magnificent display of support to defend their local hospital despite it having recently suffered some of the worst publicity of any hospital in the history of the NHS.
Fifty thousand people (in a borough with a population of 126,000) crowded into the town square, with a shared understanding that cuts and underfunding inevitably lead to excess patient deaths and poor care and conditions for patients and their families.
Jobs were cut, care reduced, and conditions impoverished to balance the financial books of the Mid-Staffordshire Foundation Trust. And now, 1,200 unnecessary deaths later, the Government declares Mid-Staffs Foundation Trust to be bankrupt.
More jobs to be lost, many more services to be cut, and Stafford and Cannock Hospitals to be downsized and primed for the private healthcare companies to rob services for profit.
This is the future that the Con-Dem government have planned for the NHS. And, increasingly, it is a future that tens of thousands of people actively reject.
The Lewisham demonstration in January and the Mid-Staffs demonstration on 20 April are the beginnings of a wave of local hospital campaigns that can mobilise significant numbers of people to defend the NHS. We need to mobilise hundreds of thousands of people in communities, unions and workplaces if we are to turn the tide on the wholesale destruction of our health service.
On Wednesday 24 April, the unelected House of Lords will debate and vote on the latest draft of the regulations that will govern procurement and competition in the NHS (Section 75 NHS regulations).
These regulations are essential to make the Health and Social Care Act work for the government and private healthcare companies. As Lucy Reynolds, a public health academic, put it in a video interview in early March: “The (H&SC) Act itself was the aircraft of privatisation, the structure that gave the idea the potential to fly. Section 75 of the regulations is the engine that will allow it to take off”.
Section 75 sets the legal framework for competition in the NHS. It requires Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) to put out to tender everything that could be provided by an organisation other than the NHS.
Under Section 75, GPs cannot keep care within the public service unless they can prove that there is only one “capable provider” for a particular service. If the private sector can offer it too, CCGs will be forced into “competitive tendering”.
This is a short step from a two-tier NHS. The whole process weighs heavily in favour of the big, rich corporations who have time, money and expertise to put together tenders. Big corporations with one-track minds and shareholders to keep happy will sacrifice safe, high quality care to profit. NHS and voluntary sector providers will lose out as the big corporations cherry-pick their way through the NHS, leaving behind the long-term sick, elderly, emergency care and anything else where provision is expensive and profit-making difficult.
Already, thanks to dogged campaigning and lobbying, the Government has been forced to redraft the competition and procurement part of the regulations. But the redraft is no better than the original and remains the great opportunity it was always meant to be for the greedy private companies.
This week’s debate and vote in the Lords is the only real chance get Section 75 rejected. Since the redraft, campaigners in Lewisham have spent countless hours sitting in doctors’ surgeries and health centres engaging hundreds of people in a personal letter-writing campaign. Thousands of letters have gone to various Lords from all over the country in an effort to put pressure on and shift opinion. This has gone alongside lobbying and meetings with various groups of Lords.
Section 75 is a weapon of mass destruction being dropped on the NHS. If it goes through it will be a huge boost to the enemy achieving its goal to privatise our health service. But the war will continue and every battle will count.
Mobilising communities, health workers and medical staff, and dragging the trade unions into action is our weapon of mass destruction against the rich, greedy profiteers and their political representatives in Parliament.
Our strength lies in numbers: mobilising and organising these numbers is the key to us winning these battles and, ultimately, the war to save the NHS.