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Year 2001 No. 88, May 24, 2001 Archive Search Home Page


Safeguarding the Future of the NHS

Workers' Daily Internet Edition : Article Index :

Safeguarding the Future of the NHS

College Lecturers Strike

News In Brief:
Engineering Redundancies in the Black Country

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Safeguarding the Future of the NHS

Should not health care be recognised as a fundamental human right and be provided professionally through a fully funded system organised by staff paid according to the value of their work? Such views were discussed at the second of three Political Forums organised by RCPB(ML) in the London region at Marx House on Wednesday, May 23.

Roger Nettleship – Independent Health Worker Politician Candidate in South Shields

Welcoming the opportunity to address the Forum, Roger Nettleship said that the Forum’s aims to encourage discussion on the basis that all should elaborate their views without personalising issues or trivialising people’s concerns was imperative in the efforts to oppose the "Third Way" programme of Tony Blair’s New Labour government. This programme he said was a disastrous neo-liberal economic and political policy and programme, which was devastating the country. His own experience in the field of the Health Service was a glaring example of this. Elaborating, he said the many social advances made in the 20th century were being reversed and the elderly in the South Tyneside region in which he worked were being forced to use their own savings or sell their homes in order to be able to pay for health care. These elderly people he said recalled the pre NHS days and its inequalities and hardships for poor people. The destruction of the Health Service which was begun by Margaret Thatcher carrying out the beginning of the neo-liberal policies had been continued by New Labour using such measures as the Health Service Concordat and Private Finance Initiative which were being used as measures to sell of the assets off the Service in order to guarantee profits for the economically most powerful companies. Relying on finance capitalists to fund the building of new hospitals – often inadequate in quality – worsened this situation.

Whilst New Labour had claimed to increase funding for the NHS it was not seen in his hospital, nor recognised by the thousands of health workers nationally. New nurses and staff would reflect such apparent funding – instead nurses and other staff with three decades of service and professional and conscientious in their work were being forced to retire on grounds of ill health such as stress.

One of the areas of consistent problems was related to the National Efficiency Savings imposed by successive governments with the aim of achieving savings in costs and with fewer resources to achieve such savings. The cuts resulting from such savings had regularly caused support services to be withdrawn or provided with fewer resources, one of the consequences of which was the problem highlighted recently of dirty hospitals. In this way staff were being blamed for problems caused by the cutting of resources.

Whilst the government repeated claims that waiting lists were decreasing all that had changed, in his experience, was a change in statistics with patient’s time waiting for a consultant to see them being the only thing changed – which in any case was meaningless because there was no need for waiting lists if the Health Service was fully and properly funded. This had been the pretext for bringing in the Concordat. Private Operating Centres had recently been proposed which in Roger Nettleship's view, would intensify the crisis by using methods already revealed as ineffective and even harmful to the individual hospitals, the NHS and to patients.

Describing the problems surrounding provision of primary care it was shown how the closure of District General hospitals, specific services such as orthopaedic and maternity provision had led to a downgrading of the service. In many case patients and users had been forced to travel to be able to get treatment for care and the problems had even led to the contemplation of strike action by the members of British Medical Association. In this sense what many of the problems revealed, continued the speaker, was that the New Labour government had continued the trend started by Margaret Thatcher which created a situation of people being left to fend for themselves. Tony Blair in his election campaign and beyond was trying to keep the lid on the crisis in the NHS and the growing opposition from workers and users to the problems.

Talking about his candidature as an independent Health Worker politician in the North East of England Roger Nettleship told the meeting that the content of his campaign was for Workers to be the Opposition to the "Third Way" programme of Tony Blair’s government and to make themselves the decision-makers in society. In this way the workers themselves would constitute an alternative to the "Third Way" programme.

On speaking to the electorate in the constituency in which he was standing Roger Nettleship said that many had expressed to him their unhappiness with and awareness of the privatisation agenda being pursued by New Labour policies. In this context many people are beginning to recognise the similarity between the policies of the major parties – and people are looking for a change. That a candidate representing the alternative to the domination of the big parties is standing is something that makes people confident.

Divisions caused by loyalty to particular parties are also being healed in the opinion of Roger Nettleship. He expressed his view that the political parties should exist only to organise the people, to maximise their participation in politics, not to aim to come to power. This issue was being discussed as a result of his standing as an independent health worker politician candidate. The idea that there is an alternative to the domination of the big parties, that there is an alternative, is a major issue behind his campaign also.

Roger Nettleship stated that the Northern Regional Forum on the Mass Party Press had assessed the possibilities for participation in the election and had decided that health workers could not wait for the situation to improve – they had decided it was vital to stake a stand immediately to highlight the problems in their sector of the economy.

The campaign in South Tyneside to oppose hospital closures and health service cutbacks, that people had no role to play in the decision-making process – only to "consultation" – had its beginnings in 1995 when in the face of many illusions at the time that New Labour represented an alternative to the programme of the Conservative Party a campaign led by the Kidderminster Health Workers met with some successes. Campaigners had also worked with the Dudley workers in opposition to the Private Finance Initiative in that area; they had supported their struggles and had encouraged their political participation in the election campaign.

Concluding his speech Roger Nettleship told the audience that many people in the workers’ movement, of different ideological outlooks and including stalwarts of the Labour Party had been encouraged and unified by the work for political unity on the opposition to the anti-social offensive in health care provision. With this he expressed his conviction that change, to the political system and in the National Health Service, can take place when an alternative is articulated and implemented.

Frances Hook – Nurse Counsellor at Royal Free Hospital

Frances Hook described her experiences since the 1950s in the National Health Service.

She said she was a third generation Communist and had never hid this fact. Whilst she believes in trades unions she had no illusions. In the National Health Service much work was needed for Health Service staff and Nurses, including becoming political.

She described the focus on "resource management", that goal posts had been changed in target setting and funding structures which had all had a negative impact on the NHS. She had participated in a "Hands off Guys Hospital" Campaign led by Student Nurses, together with some consultants which was a broad based campaign – the arguments of which had been won.

After the first Trust was introduced, then came capital charges to put financing in line with the private sector. It was inevitable that redundancies and reduction in qualified staff followed in their wake. The Labour Party has not changed any of these issues, particularly the ratio of qualified to unqualified staff.

She said PFI schemes provided no new money but all came mainly from investments from the City of London, which had to be repaid. That service contracts had been provided for 30 years to multinationals to persuade them to invest in the National Health Service to entice them to make a profit. In this vein, she said New Labour had guaranteed that no PFI hospitals would go bust to ensure that these companies could make a profit from their investment in the NHS.

She described the continuation of what is known as the purchaser/provider split that had created confusion and chaos in the NHS. That primary care provision was being weakened and removed and providers were turned into Trusts. Those doctors in many cases were synonymous with private contractors who exploited nurses.

Pat Coulton – Hands of Greenwich Hospital

Pat thanked RCPB(ML) for the opportunity to participate in this Political Forum, and that it was vital that various groups involved in different issues could get together in a forum to sum up and discuss their campaigns.

He described the materials and methods used when Greenwich Hospital was built – this had caused cracks to appear in its facade. These were being used as one of the pretexts to call for its closure. He said the Conservative government had closed many hospitals. Virginia Bottomley who was the Health Minister in the previous government had decided to close the Brook Hospital. A slogan in opposition against that proposal was "2 into 1 won’t go". The campaign had been supported by the Labour Party whilst they were in opposition but been since abandoned. Whilst the campaign was not successful they head learnt many lessons.

Talking about the period of the 1997 election Pat Coulton expressed his opinion that costs in renovating the hospital had been escalated in order that the contract could be given to a particular company.

Privatisation had been a source of many problems in hygiene, in standards of care and in the general quality of the service.

Concluding his talk, Pat Coulton said that working people should build organisations who can determine who will rule the country. That the people will soon understand what is going on in society, become alarmed by it and begin to take action.

Experience of other health workers

After the Chair had thanked the participants for their contributions a health professional from Whipps Cross hospital in London shared her experiences.

She said many staff were working under serious pressure. Such people show that a commitment to the principle of caring for people and a strong belief in what their profession can do were being undermined.

She said she became involved in the campaign in the 1990s in opposition to a regular annual rush of proposed redundancies proposed to save costs. Support services, those not directly engaged in health care such as portering and cleaning, were especially targeted in this way. Pressure had been imposed on staff to work harder, but with fewer resources. At the end of the 1990s staff in her hospital at Whipps Cross in east London were faced with a range of cuts in many areas of health care service. The union, the Community Health Council and local activists – all opposed to the proposed cuts in service and financing became an effective vocal campaign and achieved some successes.

She pointed out that it was a New Labour think tank – the Social Policy think tank – which had proposed PFI in primary care areas.

She explained the work, role and activity of Community Health Councils, which had been established in the 1970s to help users with complaints against the Health Service and to participate in its governance. They had since that time become an effective campaigning force and an important organisational form for opposition. Because of this the government wanted to abolish them but had been defeated. In her area a £750m PFI project had been proposed which may result in 750 staff being transferred to the private sector. When this had been opposed the Trust which runs the hospital had retreated and instead want to subject them to a Best Value Review in order to carry out the same attacks but more slowly.

She concluded by saying that a lot of pressure was being imposed that people should not take action or oppose the problems they face. The campaign of the workers in Dudley had shown that there is an alternative however for health workers.

Other participants in the Forum continued to explore the issues involved in safeguarding the future of the NHS in depth. Discussions centred around the consistent campaigns, struggles of users, workers and local communities for a National Health Service that meets peoples requirements and reflects the aspirations of society for such a service.

Then discussion was wound up in order to find time to show a new video made to illustrate the stand of RCPB(ML) on participating in the elections. It is entitled "Power to the People", and its cover also carries the slogans, "Support Candidates of the Alternative", "Build the Workers’ Opposition to the ‘Third Way’". The video was highly acclaimed, and several copies were distributed to those keen on showing it in the course of the work of the Party and the progressive forces during the election campaign.

The next meeting of the London Political Forum will take place next Wednesday, May 30, when the topics under discussion include the struggle against globalisation, upholding the dignity of the national minority communities and the stand of the youth to take control of their own future. Speakers include Salvinder Dhillon, Independent Community Candidate Empowering Change for Ealing Southall, and Jim Brann of the London CND Executive. As usual, the place is Marx House, Clerkenwell Green, and the time is 7.30 pm sharp. All are very welcome.

Article Index

College Lecturers Strike

Some 30,000 Further Education (FE) lecturers at up to 290 FE colleges staged a one day strike on Tuesday, May 22, in support of a pay demand for an immediate £3,000 across the board pay increase for all lecturers. The lecturers, members of the National Association of Teachers in Further and Higher Education (NATFHE), have rejected a derisory 3% offer from employers as "totally inadequate". NATFHE represents 65,000 lecturers.

The action included rallies in London, Birmingham, Newcastle and Manchester, as well as a lobby of the Welsh Assembly in Cardiff.

At Westminster-Kingsway College, London's largest FE college, support for the strike was solid. Pete Green, secretary of the Kingsway branch of NATFHE described the strike as "almost 100% – a real success". He said that pickets had been mounted on all the main Kingsway sites and that as a result there was no teaching going on at any of them. A number of lecturers had been given exemptions to supervise exams so that students were not penalised and these lecturers had in turn agreed to donate money to the strike fund.

On the picket line at the main site at Grays Inn Road site, Jennie Kitteringham who works with students with learning difficulties and disabilities and has over 20 years teaching experience, described the present situation facing FE lecturers as "outrageous". She pointed out that lecturers' salaries have now fallen behind those of secondary school teachers and that there is now an urgent need for a pay increase for FE lecturers.

Summing up the strike, Pete Green felt that it sent a clear message to the government and the college management that the union was strong and united. This was particularly important as further battles may loom ahead since the government is demanding that any response to the low pay of FE lecturers must include the introduction of performance related pay. The strike will be followed by other disruptive non-strike action, backed by 86% of the lecturers in the NATFHE ballot earlier this month.

The local parliamentary candidate for the Socialist Alliance, Candy Udwin, supported the picket at Grays Inn Road site.

Article Index

News In Brief

Engineering Redundancies in the Black Country

More than 100 jobs have been lost at an engineering firm which has gone into receivership. Some 117 workers at Cool Technology in Kingswinford near Dudley have been sacked. Corporate recovery experts are looking at a further 27 jobs based at the Pensnett Trading Estate.

Halesowen engineering works Birwelco is to close within three months.

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