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Volume 47 Number 4, March 4, 2017 ARCHIVE HOME JBCENTRE SUBSCRIBE

Intensify the Fight to Safeguard the Future of the NHS!

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#OurNHS: HEALTH CARE IS A RIGHT! Intensify the Fight to Safeguard the Future of the NHS!

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Intensify the Fight to Safeguard the Future of the NHS!

Today March 4 in London, many many thousands are literally demonstrating their conviction that the NHS belongs to them, to the whole of the people and must be in their service.

The direction in which the NHS in England and Wales is being driven in the here and now is one of enriching the private sector rather than meeting the claims of everyone for health care at the highest standard possible. This is causing an unprecedented crisis in the health service, so that many voices from all quarters are warning that the NHS is on the brink.

In building the movement to safeguard the future of the NHS in opposition to the government-led privatisation, cuts to services, downgrading of facilities and closure of vital hospitals and units, it is essential that the people keep the initiative in their own hands. This mass demonstration today is testament to this consciousness of the necessity to build a movement, to intensify the fight to safeguard the future of the NHS, to take it in a direction which affirms that health care is a right, and to hold the government to account for its programme of wrecking this precious public asset which ought to be the first priority of a modern society. This is the aim and sentiment of today's demonstration and rally for which Health Campaigns Together and a myriad of concerned forces and the people at large have worked so hard to build and make a powerful manifestation of the people's resistance. It points to the future and a vision of a new health service which puts the people's health and social care, as well as the well-being of all health workers and professionals, at the centre of considerations.

The present direction of the NHS is capital-centred rather than human-centred. Funding is made the central issue, without solutions for how investment in the health service must be increased, not cut, for a healthy economy and population. A fraudulent austerity programme is imposed, increasingly under the banner of actually improving the standard and efficiency of the health service and considering different models of care, for instance the integration of health and social care. But it cannot be denied that this is leading to a humanitarian crisis, with lives being endangered due to overstretched Accident & Emergency departments, inadequate ambulance services, pressure on mental health services and cancellation or postponement of vital operations.

To cap it all in this capital-centred direction for the NHS, the Sustainability and Transformation Plans (STPs) take further the agenda of wrecking the NHS in favour of increasing the privatisation by the US, EU and British health monopolies. This direction is for a health system for which people will increasingly be forced to pay, making it harder for people to have access to public NHS services. It is not for nothing that it is said that STP really stands for "Slash, Trash and Privatise" the NHS.

The crisis is very real. According to a House of Commons briefing paper on NHS England: 21% of patients spent more than 4 hours in major A&E departments in Dec 2016, compared with 13% in Dec 2015 and 6% in Dec 2011; long waits for emergency admission were 58% higher in 2016 than in 2015, and five times higher than 2011; there were 23% more delayed transfers of care in 2016 than in 2015, social care delays rose by 37%, delays due to waits for homecare rose by 45%; the waiting list for routine treatment grew 11% to 3.66 million between Dec 2015 and Dec 2016; the 8-minute ambulance response target (75%) has not been met since May 2015; and the number of GPs is estimated to have fallen by 3% between 2014 and 2015.

Behind the statistics, the pressure on health workers themselves is becoming unbearable and unsustainable. Added to this is the pay restraint imposed on the junior doctors and all health workers. The fact is that the material and social conditions of those who work in the NHS reflect and impact on the health care conditions of patients and all who avail themselves of the health service. It is unacceptable to pit one against the other. To optimise the conditions of health workers to enable them to perform at their best is to benefit the public as a whole. It is a fraud benefiting only vested private interests simply to pay lip-service to NHS staff and then deny them a decisive say in their conditions and in the direction of the health service as a whole and even blame them for the crisis or lack of efficiency.

The aspiration to reverse this crisis is very close to everyone's hearts. It is this aspiration that is increasingly giving rise to campaigns that fight to save their NHS services and fight to reverse the cuts to public health services, marketisation of the NHS and privatisation. These campaigns bring people together from trade unions in the hospitals, people in the community, MPs, councillors and political parties into a campaign where the people decide, working out their aims and actions regardless of political views. This movement is summed up in the hashtag #OurNHS.

This being the case, the question of who decides is inevitably raised. The agenda is set not by the people or even those who toil in the NHS, but by those who hold political power. The Five-Year Forward View is a case in point. The direction is set from on high, and then “consultations” are conducted on how the 44 STPs can implement this direction. The issue becomes, instead of health care being affirmed as a right, some fatuous commitment to, for example, “spend our money wisely, to deliver better outcomes and avoid waste”, and how this can be achieved. How to hold the government to account, how to deprive them of the power to prevent us from deciding, how to make “Our NHS!” a reality at all levels, how to set the agenda for the future of the health service - these are and must be the burning questions of the moment.

Today in Britain, as in any modern society, health care is the right of all and must be guaranteed. Health workers and clinicians add value to the economy. It is the health service that maintains the people's health so that they can contribute to science, manufacturing, service industries, culture and other human endeavours. Reclaiming this added-value for healthcare from the owners of social wealth would ensure that the rationing of healthcare is ended and that the claims of all are met for a modern healthcare system. The government continues to insist that a healthy economy is a priority to achieve a healthy NHS; but they fail to point out that a fully-funded NHS caring for the health and welfare of the people is a precondition for a thriving sustainable economy.

The very conception of health care and education as rights must be taken up, affirmed and fought for by everyone campaigning to safeguard the future of the health service. The direction that turns health care into means to enrich and serve a privileged few must be blocked and reversed.

At this demonstration and rally let us declare that health care is a right, that public right not private interests should prevail and that the government of the day is duty bound to provide a comprehensive physical and mental health service to all communities to meet their claims on society, and that health workers and the people as a whole must be the decision-makers! Let us intensify the fight to safeguard the future of the NHS and all our public services!

Health Care Is a Right! Intensify the Fight!

It Is Our NHS!

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