Fighting back can halt the cuts.
That’s the message from the campaign to defend the Whittington hospital in north
London, which has won a significant victory over the government and axe-swinging health bosses.
NHS London had endorsed plans to close the accident and emergency unit and maternity services at the hospital.
The cuts were part of former health minister Lord Darzi’s plan to “downgrade” a dozen district general hospitals in the capital.
Following massive pressure from workers and the community, health secretary Andy Burnham has appeared to overrule them.
Burnham told the Camden New Journal, “I will order a complete halt in the process that is being run and I’m asking NHS London to go back to the drawing board.
“As a government we only support changes in the NHS when the local clinicians
propose them and when there is evidence that they will improve quality and save lives.”
Shirley Franklin, joint chair of the campaign to save the Whittington, added, “This is a fantastic victory, and is
testimony to the strength of the opposition we have built.”
The battle has been one of the most vibrant and successful hospital campaigns in London.
Activists mobilised around 5,000 local people to take to the streets against the closure threat earlier this year.
Activist Jan Pollock explained to Socialist Worker how the campaign gathered strength:
“It all started in December last year when local MP Jeremy Corbyn found out that the hospital was threatened. He called a meeting and over 500 people came to it.
“The head of Islington NHS addressed the meeting and made it clear that she had already made her decision—regardless of what local people felt. Lots of us knew then that we had to start a campaign.
“The first thing we did was set up an organising meeting. We contacted lots of local community groups across all the boroughs that would be affected by closing parts of the Whittington.
“Trade unionists, like those in Islington trades council, were particularly important and gave us support straight away.
“At the first meeting health campaigners came together with local workers. Everyone agreed to take on some responsibilities.”
Jan says that drawing up a petition, leaflet and poster were good first steps—but convincing others to become activists was crucial.
“Having a petition forced us to take the message out to the public,” she said. “Every Saturday we’d do a stall and find that most people didn’t know about the threat.
“Then, when people signed, we’d ask them to take away some more petition sheets and posters.
“We’d tell them that this campaign was too important to be left to politicians and that everyone had to be involved.
“Giving people that kind of confidence is one vital lesson from the Whittington.”
North London was quickly covered in posters featuring the black cat logo of the campaign.
Soon activists had the confidence to call a demonstration.
“When 100 percent of the hospital’s consultants came out against the plans to axe services we knew we were winning,” said Jan.
“Already doctors’ surgeries, pubs and shops had posters for our march and we had a feeling it was going to be big.
“But few of us thought we’d get 5,000—and that so many health workers would join too.
“A really large delegation of midwives came, despite quite strong pressure from hospital management not to get involved.”
Jan is elated that the campaign has forced the health secretary to intervene but she and other activists will be keeping up their guard.
“This is a reprieve,” she says. “All the main parties are committed to massive cuts in the NHS after the election, so we can’t simply sit back and declare victory.”
Jan is sceptical about the way local politicians have attempted to claim that they’d played a key role in the campaign.
She thinks they should be involved in campaigns to defend local services, but must not be allowed to impose their own agendas on them.
“Two Labour candidates, David Lammy and Karen
Jennings, were quick to say that they’d been instrumental in the reversal of the threats. I was quite insulted by that.
“The victory is due to
everyone who campaigned. If Labour nationally hadn’t been worried about losing local seats, it wouldn’t have acted.”
Nevertheless, Jan says that the Whittington campaign shows that, when it comes to cuts, MPs are vulnerable—and this could be crucial when a new government is formed:
“Most local politicians can be forced to stand up to the government if you show them that you have the public behind you. We intend to keep up the pressure on ours.”
What next for the fight to defend our NHS?
Camden Keep Our NHS public meeting, Tuesday 11 May, 6.30pm, Somers Town Community Centre, Ossulston St, NW1.
Introduction by John Lipetz
Keep Our NHS Public national conference
Saturday 12 June, Somers Town Community Centre, Ossulston St, NW1
Go to » www.keepournhspublic.com for more information