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Back to Front - Together at last


The lobby of the House of Commons on 1 November by NHS Together, the joint NHS trade union and health care professionals campaign, was successful in that over 2,000 health staff came together. On the other hand, meeting their MPs, especially Labour MPs, was in many instances an exercise in trying to communicate with the dead, or at least with the deaf.

Health workers were particularly aggrieved at the ruthless and farcical rebuttal of the NHS Together campaign briefing. Blair boasted of only 200 compulsory redundancies and only 900 voluntary redundancies having occurred in England.

Stunned health workers could not believe such nonsense. Thousands of vacancies have been cut, posts are unfilled, bank and agency employment stopped, voluntary redundancies are reported across the country.

Ironically, nobody knows what the exact figure is as those who collate such figures – the Strategic Health Authorities – have themselves been cut to the bone. Strategic Health Authorities in London have gone from five organisations to one, losing approximately 400 staff in the process.

This means that London will have only 120 staff planning the capital's strategic health services, compared to over 500 for Scotland. Yet London has a greater population than Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland put together – over 8 million people, with a commuter band embracing the whole of the south east and with more operations than the above regions put together in a year.

Local demonstrations against cuts in the NHS across England in the past six months have been stunning, but generally have gone unreported outside the particular areas.

Stoke had 5,000 marching, as did the Forest of Dean. In Stroud 3,000 went onto the streeets, in Cheltenham a massive 10,000. The list goes on: Chichester 4,000, Plymouth 3,000, Nottingham 3,000, Epsom 7,000, Haywards Heath 7,000 and Guildford 5,000. Topping them all, magnificent Hale in Cornwall with 26,000. These numbers are only the recorded police estimates, and do not take account of the myriad other marches, protests and rallies that have occurred.

Britain is on the move over health. But the government is trying to look the other way. The health services of Britain are being dismantled. Either by being marketised, the new name for privatisation, into the private sector, the voluntary sector, the charities and the do-gooders, or simply closed.

The forecast shortfall in clinical professionals such as nurses, midwives, doctors – due to age and retirement calculations – has simply evaporated. Not because there are more of them, but because the government has reduced the planned targets needed. For example, in doctor training, a target of 21,000 posts became 9,000 overnight. And the government simply looks to loot the health care services of Eastern Europe.

The NHS has the look and feel of Dickensian England.

The NHS Together campaign, unique in having brought together all health trade unions, has to ensure its campaign is protracted and united. Such an opportunity cannot be wasted.

Health, vital to everyone from cradle to grave, must be one of the reefs which shatters this perfidious government.