Campaign groups join forces for NHS day of action

On the #BinBartsPFI bus tour

On the #BinBartsPFI bus tour. Pic: Muna Fadhil

Lobby groups from the Save Our NHS campaign against the privatisation of the National Health Service took to the streets last weekend for Save Our NHS Day.

They were trying to draw attention ahead of the general election on May 7 to the problems that they believe are caused by privatisation of the service. They say that privatisation is wrong because:

  • it has resulted in billions in deficit which the government is having to pay in order to bail out private corporations at the expense of essential services;
  • budgetary cuts are putting additional strain on healthcare workers causing a “bullying work environment” and a shortage of staff; and
  • not only will the government have to bail out failing private NHS funds, but once the debt is paid off these public health facilities will belong to private investors and not to the public.

Among those campaigning was 38 Degrees, a group that mobilised a UK-wide #SaveOurNHS campaign to collect signatures for its petition to end the privatisation of the NHS.

On protest day, 38 Degrees set up stalls near shops, train and tube stations across Britain to persuade passers-by to sign the petition.

Ed Marks, a musician and Stoke Newington resident, is one of the 38 Degrees campaigners who stood outside Stoke Newington train station in Hackney on Saturday morning. Marks is against the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), a trade agreement between the EU and the US aimed at limiting the regulation of big businesses, including those targeting the NHS for contracts.

Marks believes TTIP will allow national healthcare in Britain to be taken over by private health companies – particularly American ones – and fears that companies will be given the power under TTIP to sue the British government if it objects to buying a company’s products. This, he believes, puts profit before people.

“I think [Save Our NHS Day] is a very important campaign. TTIP has to be stopped for the sake of everybody and for the sake of democracy”, he said.

People vs. PFI identifies itself as a grassroots group of volunteers protesting against the Private Finance Initiative (PFI), introduced in 1992, which uses private funding to build and run public health services. They organised a bus tour around Waltham Forest, Newham and Tower Hamlets as part of their #BinBartsPFI campaign to advocate for hospitals and health facilities affected by the £93 million deficit built up under PFI by Barts Health National Trust.

People vs. PFI cites the failure of the Barts Trust (which was put under special measures last month) as a reason to end PFIs, and appeal to the government to rescue hospitals affected by the Barts Trust deficit.

Jacqui Fergus is a doctor at The Royal London Hospital in Whitechapel, Tower Hamlets, one of the hospitals under the Barts Trust. Fergus joined the bus tour because she is concerned that the bulk of the hospital’s funding – over £125 million a year – is being channelled to the private investors who built the hospital at what she described as “extortionate rates”, when staff and facilities are severely under-funded.

Fergus believes the hospital “should have been built with government money with a much, much lower interest rate. This hospital cost about a billion to build and costs seven billion to pay back”.

Charlotte Monro is one of those behind the #BinBartsPFI campaign. She was fired from Whipps Cross University Hospital, where she worked as an occupational therapist for 26 years, in 2013 after speaking out against cuts which resulted in the hospital losing a third of its beds and a specialist physiotherapy gym. Monro recently won her case for unfair dismissal against Whipps Cross and was reinstated.

Today she is on the bus hoping to make “a big splash with a big red bus” and raise awareness of the issue of PFI.

Monro agrees with Fergus on the problematic situation Barts-funded hospitals are in as a result of PFI. “It’s a very bad, bad deal. It’s a bad arrangement nationally,” she said.

“What we’re saying is whoever is in government has got to deal with it. The local health authorities have got to face this problem and make sure that they get their senior people who run the health service in England to address this problem, because it’s crippling us… it’s the big elephant in the room and the major political parties are just not addressing it,” Monro said.

The extent of the funding and staffing crisis at Whipps Cross University Hospital was highlighted in the Care Quality Commission (CQC) report published last March.

Elsewhere in east London, Save Lewisham Hospital hosted a free film night followed by a Q&A session in New Cross as part of its campaign against NHS privatisation and in support of hospitals and clinics negatively affected by economic austerity in Greece.

The Save Lewisham Hospital campaign was started by Lewisham, Deptford residents, doctors, nurses, therapists and patients in 2012 to challenge Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt’s decision to close Lewisham Hospital’s A&E department. They won their case in the Court of Appeals in October 2013. Since then, they have led a number of anti-austerity campaigns for the NHS.

38 Degrees members collecting petition signatures, Stoke Newington

38 Degrees members collecting petition signatures in Stoke Newington. Pic: Muna Fadhil

In Croydon, 38 Degrees collected 2,365 petition signatures in Croydon North, Central and South calling for more funding for the NHS and to protect it from TTIP. The Croydon Health Services Trust came under scrutiny last December when the latest CQC report stated that there was a “likelihood that people may not be receiving safe, effective, high-quality care”. Croydon University Hospital was forced to declare a “major internal incident” in January, as it struggled to cope with increasing pressure on its accident and emergency department.

The NHS is central to the election manifestos of all of the major political parties running in this election. According to a BBC poll in January, 74 per cent ranked the NHS as a “very important” issue, making it one of the top issues on the public agenda along with immigration and the economy.

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