In the North West of England the threat of privatisation of the NHS is being opposed by a mixture of traditional, such as trade unions, and new organisations, such as 38 Degrees: a reflection of the fact that many people see this as their health service and an essential part of the fabric of this country.
In Greater Manchester up to five local Accident and Emergency units are facing closure or downgrading under the proposed “Healthier Together” Review. In Rochdale the A&E has already closed. In Trafford, the birthplace of the NHS, local people have campaigned to save the A&E and, although last month the NHS Greater Manchester approved its downgrading to an urgent care centre, the matter has been referred to Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, by Trafford Council’s Health Scrutiny committee. Other local NHS services have also been privatised or face the axe to achieve alleged “efficiency savings”; the further “rationalisation” of services and spending cuts.
In Trafford Steven Tennant-Smythe is typical of the people not previously active who have become involved in campaigning against NHS cuts through the internet lobbying organisation 38 Degrees: I am not an NHS worker, not in a trade union, not politically active and I have voted for all the political parties. He became involved with 38 Degrees by signing their petitions and it was almost accidental that he became involved in a group: 38 asked if anyone would organise the handing-in of the petition, I waited a few weeks hoping someone else would do it and when they didn’t come forward I agreed to do it. Together with 15 other 38 Degrees members from his area, he handed in the petition concerning the make up of the Clinical Commissioning Groups.
Since then Tennant-Smythe has regularly organised street stalls across the towns of Trafford to raise the issue of the increased marketization of the NHS, getting people to sign postcards against the use of private providers and then delivering the postcards to GP surgeries:
There are about thirty five people in our group and their ages vary from 20s to 70s.” He feels that the campaigning by 38 Degrees has had an important effect; “It has got all kinds of people involved and has been a resurgence of democracy in getting people interested in the issue.
Gary Parvin from Glossop in Derbyshire would echo those sentiments. He is a local Labour councillor, NHS worker and Unison member. He became a councillor in 2011 and was involved in setting up a local NHS Watch: 38 Degrees is a new way of organising politically. It has brought in new people to the NHS cuts campaign who have not been politically active before and has given them confidence in getting involved. But while online petitions have been useful, Gary feels that this doesn’t always then lead on to people coming to meetings and doing collective work: I am not sure whether it’s a question of time poverty, maybe the older people who turn up at the street stalls have more time to get involved.
In his local area, Glossop, he has been involved in doing street stalls to raise awareness of of the use of private providers by GPs and alerting people to the threat of the closeure of local A&E services: NHS Watch is a broad based campaign and we want to see as many people as possible get involved.
Stephen Hall of the Greater Manchester Association of Trades Union Councils sees the issue over the NHS cuts as a crucial one for organisations on the left; Greater Manchester is at the vanguard of the privatisation of the NHS. We need to step up to the plate and empower local people to organise their own campaign group.
Over the last few months he has been organising groups across Wigan to raise the issue of the closure of the local A&E and encouraging people to set up a local group: Most of the people who turn up have never been active in a campaign, but once we tell them about the threat to their local services they then understand how important it is to do something.
GMATU, is not just offering to help people set up a campaign but have also established a fighting fund so that people can afford to book rooms and speakers and pay for leaflets. As he says; It is not a question of GMATUC doing everything but empowering people at a local level to set up their own campaign. We cannot substitute ourselves for a mass campaign, which is what we need.
On Saturday 16 February at the Friends Meeting House in Manchester, GMATUC and a number of groups and individuals have called an emergency summit to bring together all those who want to do something about the NHS cuts. Amongst the speakers at the summit will be Dr John Lister, Information Director of the National Health Emergency campaign, and Dr David Wrigley, a local GP, who is a member of the Keep Our NHS Public campaign group (KONP0, as well local campaigns such as the Campaign against Manchester Ambulance Privatisation and NHS User Groups.
The conference will be an opportunity for people to meet together and plan a strategy for opposing the cuts. It will also allow individuals and groups to find out about what is happening locally and gain skills in how to set up local NHS campaign groups. Hall says:Local community campaigns have already started across the city region – we want to bring them together to share their experience, pool resources and make the strongest possible impact…The NHS belongs to local people – we urge them to come and join us in the fight to save vital life-saving services which we all value. The NHS is a much-loved public service. Now the public need to stand up to save it. People power can save our NHS.
Greater Manchester Health Emergency Open Conference Saturday 16 February 12-430pm Friends Meeting House, Mount Street, Manchester.
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