Bank occupied in protest at NHS cuts

Photo: Tom Bonnett

Protesters from UK Uncut occupied a bank in Hackney to show their opposition to plans to cut the budget for the borough’s Homerton Hospital by £15m.

Dressed in hospital scrubs and holding placards in the air, NHS workers and local residents stopped traffic and sang chants as they marched through central Hackney and went into a branch of Barclays bank.

A protester, who gave her name as ‘Emma’, addressing customers and staff in the Mare Street branch, said:

I know how important the Homerton Hospital is for me and my family and I’m sure it is for you too. At the moment, the Government wants to cut £15m from Homerton Hospital. That money, that is roughly just twice the salary bonus that the chief of Barclays Bank… Bob Diamond, got last year. What’s he going to do with that? Buy a yacht, buy himself a few new houses? Well, what about the maternity unit, what about the mental health unit, what about all the units at the hospital that are going to be facing cuts and all the people that will be suffering and feeling more pain. The point is that this doesn’t have to happen. We can change it. We can protest this.

Listen to the full speech:

A member of the branch management asked the protestors to call off the occupation.

Photo: Tom Bonnett

As he left a protestor announced that the bank had now become a “public forum.”

Demonstrators took it in turns to talk about the help they or their family had received from Homerton Hospital and compared the quality of the NHS to healthcare systems elsewhere in the world.

There were calls to “jail the bankers” as well as attacks on the Health Secretary, Andrew Lansley.

One demonstrator, who wanted to be named only as Pete, made clear the occupation was not an attack on the staff working in the branch.

The branch manager expressed concern that the demonstration was intimidating and denying customers privacy, so he closed the doors.

photo: Tom Bonnett

A sizeable crowd had assembled outside, some watching the protest and others who needed to use the bank, when a police sergeant arrived.

After speaking to the manager the sergeant told Pete that the bank manager wanted to re-open the bank and that the protest would have to be moved outside.

Pete relayed the sergeant’s message to the crowd. He said:

As far as the bank’s concerned they don’t want us in here. They would like us to move our protest outside. If we don’t do that they are going to shut the bank and re-open it on Tuesday and the police will consider us to be aggravated trespassing. We will be asked to leave and then if we don’t leave, he says, we will be arrested individually. Those are the options.

Listen to a recording of the negotations (audio is quiet in places)

The demonstrators said it was unfair that people were being stopped from using the bank and agreed that they would stop using the megaphone if that was intimidating.

photo: Tom Bonnett

Glynn Harris, from the Hackney Alliance, said:

The protest’s gone brilliant today. At least 50 people here have been inside the bank. They could have left it open, there was never any problem inside.

Tom Harris, from UK Uncut, told East London Lines before the occupation why the group was protesting against the banks. He said:

£850bn was pumped into the banks and now we have a gaping hole in the public spending and the Government’s looking to do something about it. Fair enough, but instead, it’s going after places like Homerton Hospital here and going to threaten mid-wifery services. So, instead of going after the banks just down the road in Canary Wharf to ask for the money back, they’re cutting essential services.

Hear more from Tom Harris:

photo: James L

On Thursday, Health Secretary Andrew Lansley warned the Prime Minister, David Cameron, he would rather quit the Cabinet than abandon his health reforms.

Mr Lansley said on Thursday:

I’ve stopped being a politician – I just want to get the NHS to a place where it will deliver results. I don’t want to do any other Cabinet job. I’m someone who cares about the NHS who happens to be a politician, not the other way around.

The demonstration was part of a nationwide demonstration, organised by UK Uncut, to turn banks into hospitals in protest to the proposed NHS cuts.

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