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Workers' Weekly Internet Edition: Article Index : ShareThis
The Battle for the Future Direction of the NHS:
NHS in Crisis - Save Lewisham Hospital Campaign Conference and Discussion Day
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Prime Minister David Cameron has been widely condemned for his government's approach to the refugee crisis that has engulfed Europe. One former senior politician referred to what he called an "appalling and totally immoral policy". The refugee crisis is itself a direct consequence of the military intervention in Africa and western Asia in which British governments and their allies in NATO and the EU have played the leading role. It is also a consequence of neo-liberal globalisation, the capital-centred system, the unequal relationship that exists between Britain and its EU allies and large parts of the world, which is the cause of so much poverty and misery.
This week, at the EU Summit on the refugee crisis, the Prime Minister announced that the Royal Navy will participate in the NATO force which also includes ships from Germany, Canada, Greece and Turkey, that has been sent to the Aegean Sea to prevent refugees making the journey from Turkey to Greece. Already this year nearly 120,000 have made that hazardous journey, nearly ten times as many refugees made the crossing in the first six weeks of 2016 compared with the same period last year. Already this year more than 400 people have died trying to cross the Aegean Sea to Europe.
It is not accidental that the government refers to those seeking refuge as "migrants" and even "illegal migrants", in order to divert attention away from the nature of their plight and the reasons why so many will even risk death to reach Europe. The government's position is that this latest naval mission is to prevent "people smuggling" and destroy "criminal gangs", while the Prime Minister boasted of the fact that his government was acting to "secure" Europe's borders and would urge its EU partners to return refugees. As the Prime Minister put it: "That's why this NATO mission is so important. It's an opportunity to stop the smugglers and send out a clear message to migrants contemplating journeys to Europe that they will be turned back. That's why the UK is providing vital military assets to work with our European partners and support this mission."
The Prime Minister's comments were made as EU leaders meeting in Brussels announced a provisional plan to deport those they consider are not refugees from Greece back to Turkey. In return the Turkish government demanded additional finance from the EU totaling some 6 billion, as well as other inducements including restarting stalled talks on Turkey's entry to the EU. Already 2.7 million Syrian refugees reside in Turkey. The provisional plan will allow one Syrian refugee in Turkey to be admitted to Europe for each refugee sent back to Turkey from Greece. Turkey will also be expected to prevent "irregular" refugees departing its shores for Greece. According to David Cameron this proposal was a "breakthrough" which heralded the "possibility that in future all migrants who arrive in Greece will be returned to Turkey". The Prime Minister added that the proposal "would, if implemented, break the business model of the people smugglers and end the link between getting in a boat and getting settlement in Europe". However, even the UN High Commissioner for Refugees has criticised the legality as well as the morality of such a proposal.Filippo Grandi told the European Parliament, "I am deeply concerned about any arrangement that would involve the blanket return of anyone from one country to another without spelling out the refugee protection safeguards under international law." Some human rights organisations pointed out that such a proposal was an attack on the fundamental right to seek asylum.
In a related development Home Secretary, Theresa May, regained the legal right to deport failed asylum seekers in Britain back to Afghanistan when the Court of Appeal recently ruled that deportations could be resumed. A ban on deportations was temporarily imposed last year when a group of Afghan asylum seekers appealed against their deportations on the grounds that Afghanistan was unsafe. According to press reports even the government of Afghanistan advised the government not to restart deportations, and last year was the most hazardous yet for civilians with over 11,000 casualties, including over 3,500 deaths. The Afghan government wrote that it "expects the authorities and the general public in our friends' country the UK to show tolerance concerning the return of Afghan citizens, in particular in cases where returnees are vulnerable individuals".
These recent developments show once again that neither the EU nor the British government has any concern for the lives and well-being of the millions of refugees that are being forced to flee to Europe as a consequence of military, political and economic intervention of Britain and the other big powers in the EU and NATO. There is now a global refugee and migrant crisis, further evidence that the capital-centred system creates not only poverty, instability and war, but also the displacement of millions, a crisis which cannot be solved within the existing conditions. The inhuman approach taken by Britain and the EU to this crisis speaks volumes. It demonstrates that the EU remains the organisation of the big monopolies in Europe and operates in their interests and against the interests of the people of Europe and other parts of the world. The times cry out for an alternative, for a people-centred Europe and for a people-centred, anti-war government in Britain.
This is the concluding part of the report of the conference held by the Save Lewisham Hospital Campaign at Goldsmiths College, south London, on December 5, 2015. The first part was published in Workers Weekly Internet Edition Vol. 46 No 5 March 8.
published on SLHC website Read Jane's paper). She outlined the history of PFI and the damaging effects of PFI on health services. The cost of PFI is a continuing burden for many hospitals. In 2013/14, nine out of the 15 most indebted Trusts had PFI schemes. PFI is now widely recognised as providing very poor value, costing nearly twice the amount of a publicly funded scheme. The cost to the taxpayer will be £80bn for hospitals that cost nearly £13bn to build. Around 100 NHS hospitals have been built through PFI, mainly under the last Labour government, but continued by subsequent governments.Jane Mandlik, SLHC campaigner and member of Lewisham Pensioners Forum, spoke to her paper on PFI (
She discussed possible solutions around which campaigners could organise. Her proposals were that a campaign could be organised for hospitals with PFI debts to receive subsidies and that the government renegotiate debt. Simultaneously campaigners must put their energies into promoting the NHS Bill to put an end to the privatisation of the NHS and to protect the service from TTIP and other such "free trade" agreements.
Peter Roderick talked about the NHS Bill 2015-16 tabled by Caroline Lucas MP which received a truncated debate in Parliament on March 11 in what was supposed to be its Second Reading. Peter Roderick drafted the NHS Bill with Professor Allyson Pollock. He argued that the harm being done to the NHS by the fragmentation, chaos and costs of the market can only be reversed by legislation that abolishes the NHS market and restores it as a true public service. The NHS Bill will provide the legal framework to:
In the afternoon Dr Gurjinder Sandhu of Ealing Hospital talked of the devastating plans to close four hospitals in north west London. The Ealing Hospital maternity unit has already closed and its A&E was due to close. He talked of the importance of local hospitals that were responsive to the particular needs of their local community, as Ealing was, and that the hospitals slated for closure in NW London were all in the poorest areas. He criticised the idea that the only way to ensure adequate 7-day cover is to close hospitals to concentrate services in fewer hospitals. He talked of the adverse impact of these closures on other hospitals in the area, citing the example of Northwick Park which had the worst A&E 4-hour performance in the country last year, a direct result of the closure of two A&Es in north west London.
John O'Donohue of Lewisham Hospital talked of the way government routinely misleads by abuse of statistics about increased deaths at weekends. This is used by government for a variety of purposes from justifying hospital closures to forcing a new contract on Junior Doctors. He cited research indicating that patients admitted at weekends are sicker than those admitted mid-week, and showed how the ludicrous claim by Jeremy Hunt that closing Lewisham Hospital would "save 100 lives a year" was just a back of the envelope calculation with no foundation in evidence that would stand up to scrutiny - something Sir Bruce Keogh, chief medical officer, admitted in a letter to John O'Donohue in which he said such calculations were "not an exact science".
Dr Sally Ruane of the Leicester Campaign against NHS Privatisation talked of plans to close 400 hospital beds in Leicester with the justification, as with such plans everywhere else in the country, that "community services" would replace those beds. She reviewed the research evidence on community care and said there was no evidence that it would reduce hospital admissions or be cheaper. She said that there were in fact no replacement community care beds being planned. There were concerns that transferring care from hospitals to people's homes would make it easier to privatise care and to deliver it by less well trained, supported or monitored staff which could lead to poorer quality care, which would be more difficult to identify and tackle.
Anne Drinkell of the NW London Save Our Hospitals Campaign critiqued the arguments justifying hospital closures, giving the example of the North West London "Shaping a Healthier Future" plans which involved the closure of four out of nine hospitals. She referred to the recent report by Michael Mansfield into the NW London reconfiguration which warned it would lead to dangerous deterioration in services there and calling for it to be halted. She explained how "care in the community" was a hollow idea in their area with no serious commitment to funding or staffing, no evidence that it would work and no plans to tackle the existing deficiencies in social and community care.
Dr Brian Fisher, Lewisham GP, talked about the adverse impact of austerity on health, and the crisis in social care, giving examples from Lewisham, and argued that health campaigners should take these as seriously as the attacks on the NHS itself. The issues raised by Dr Fisher as summarised in his talk are contained in the paper by Dr Brian Fisher and Dr Tony O'Sullivan (See SLHC website Read paper from Brian Fisher and Tony O'Sullivan here)
The conference ended with concluding remarks by Dr Louise Irvine, Chair of SLHC. She said that the conference had had to cover a lot of ground because the attacks on the NHS "are coming from all fronts". She said that "we have to be the real health watch - the people's health watch" ... "we have to scrutinise, ask questions and demand transparency, but more than that, we have to go on to the streets and talk to people and translate everything into a language that people can understand and that is vitally important". Louise Irvine concluded by urging people to carry on in their local groups and thanked all the speakers. Her remarks were greeted with enthusiastic applause.
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