Workers' Weekly On-Line
Volume 50 Number 18, May 16, 2020 ARCHIVE HOME JBCENTRE SUBSCRIBE

Workers' Forum

Assessing Where We Are in the Fight to Make Health Care a Right for All

Roger Nettleship, Chair of Save South Tyneside Hospital Campaign, in a brief to the Campaign

I would like to make the following remarks on why the Save South Tyneside Hospital Campaign (SSTHC) thinks it very important to assess where we are with the work of all those who have been fighting to save hospital services and to make health care a right for all that is guaranteed.

This is because in the present coronavirus pandemic the direction and arrangements that the ruling elite have put in place in our public health and National Health Service have become even more exposed to the people. Then at the same time, the ruling elite are desperately trying to use the crisis to try to block any outcome that favours the people. It is very important for us, therefore, to start to assess the work we have done and where we are in terms of the fight of the SSTHC at this time.

The Save South Tyneside Hospital Campaign at the High Court Appeal Court in November 2019

At the moment, everyone in the health workers' movement is talking about how the coronavirus pandemic is being used by the government to accelerate the handover of all kind of services to private corporations. This is being implemented when these very same privatised arrangements have already failed to supply vital services and provide protective equipment to health staff and other workers in need of them. For example, with the closure of so many NHS laboratories and the privatisation of others, they could not do the testing and tracing that has always been needed in such an outbreak because of the decimation of the public laboratory capacity. So, handing over huge sums of money for testing and tracing to Deloitte, Serco, Boots, G4S and other private companies that have already failed is hardly going to bring about a better outcome. It is a similar story with the privatised "just in time" supply chains for vital equipment, which were privatised under previous governments ending a well-stocked public service when the contract was handed to DHL and then Unipart.

Further, just as the government is awarding contracts in the pandemic without any scrutiny, NHS England is encouraging independent NHS Trusts to "lock-in" the changes to services when the pandemic is over without even any public involvement. This only confirms further that the path over the years is one where successive governments abrogated their responsibility by making public authorities hand over public health and other health services to either private companies, or a fragmented and corporate-led public sector driven by continued government cuts. In this way, state bodies implement decisions that the people, not only have not been consulted on, but that they oppose, as they do not meet the needs of the population to access the vital services that they need. This includes the now mainly privatised and completely fragmented for-profit care home sector, where so many have died in this pandemic.

In opposition to this, over the years the people have escalated their fight to safeguard the future of public health and other health services all over the country. South Tyneside has a population of 150,000, and a District General Hospital and community and mental health services. In these circumstances, it has necessitated our building a campaign, alongside trade unions and many other fighting organisations in the borough, to save hospital services.

First Public Meeting of SSTHC in South Shields, August 15, 2016

For about four years now, 20 to 30 people from the health and other unions, staff at the hospital working and retired and people from the community meet every two weeks to discuss this fight to save vital services, particularly around the right of all to healthcare and how to guarantee this in a modern society. All over the country, SSTHC has fought alongside other campaigns such as the Save Lewisham Hospital Campaign in London and has taken a stand in uniting all the forces in meetings and well-planned mass actions, as well as waging legal battles together.

This fight together in every part of the country has given the people some security, because although people have not been able to save all the services that are vital for the people in every area, it has seriously delayed the implementation of even worse closures. In South Tyneside for example, they wanted to close hundreds more hospital beds and acute services at our District General hospital by 2017, giving less safe access to vital urgent and acute services and moving these services to already overcrowded services at Sunderland and elsewhere. However, because of the fight of the people these services were still open and available with the onset of the pandemic. People are seeing that the hospital is still here for all because of the fight they have undertaken to save its services over the last four years. And through this, yet more people have become involved in this fight and the fight to save other services, such as end of life palliative care, when a local Hospice in South Tyneside closed its doors last year.

Then with the corona virus pandemic, it became clear that such a fight here and throughout the country can be transformed into an asset for the people by our taking up the battle against the government and authorities over their handling of this virus outbreak.

We have been fighting the refusal to provide the right protection equipment in the quantity needed as well as their refusal to test staff in the health service and care homes for Covid-19 in a timely manner. We are supporting all those health workers and those in our trade union circles in that fight.

For example, we know back in April that the University Hospital of Leicester and Northampton General Hospital medical staff challenged the government guidance and forced those Trusts to implement their own much better guidance. This in turned forced the government to alter its national guidance, although it still was not up to the standard of the recommendations of the World Health Organisation (WHO). But still the fight goes on with staff and unions demanding the right protective equipment for their staff, with proper masks, eye protection and gowns that cover their whole body. Also, there was a protest on Westminster Bridge in the last week of April with medical staff from St Thomas Hospital, where the Prime Minister Boris Johnson was treated, with a banner "We are Not Disposable, We Don't Go to Work to Die". This was a reference to the remark of Health Secretary Matt Hancock that PPE was a "precious resource", meaning that the lives of the staff were disposable and not the precious resource whose lives should be protected at all costs by providing the right material resources to protect them.

Health workers are speaking out on this everywhere in the country and all kinds of actions are taking place against the criminally negligent government guidelines on protective equipment and testing.

Then we have found in our circles, people who either have expertise in social benefits to advise people who have lost their jobs, and then those who are engaging themselves in providing food and meal distribution to those who cannot get out or who are vulnerable and abandoned by the state. This is the positive message that so many people are taking up public responsibility in the face of the criminal negligence of the government and state authorities that are supposed to be responsible, but who are in reality using the crisis to try to strengthen their diktat over the people and serve private interests.

Our assessment today must be that, with all of this experience that we have had over the last four years together, we must keep speaking out and keep the fight going to get an outcome that favours the people, where we make the decisions to ensure that health care is a right for all that is guaranteed in South Tyneside and everywhere else. Let us strive to make this a turning point in the fight for empowerment and an outcome in favour of all the people!

See the Save the South Tyneside Hospital Campaign website:


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