The price of health

Healthworkers enjoyed a short-lived ‘victory’ in their fight to save Guys

LAST WEEK’S confirmation by health secretary Virginia Bottomley of the full or partial closure of several London hospitals came in a written parliamentary reply. But the fury of even Conservative MPs, particularly London Tories anxious for their own seats, forced her to defend her actions the next day.

All remaining NHS hospitals in the borough of Greenwich are to be closed, with the transfer to the health service of the smaller Queen Elizabeth military hospital to replace them, and the world famous Barts and Guys will lose all but a few minor units. The overall effect will be the continuation of bed losses and the rundown of healthcare.

Interestingly, Liberal Democrat MP Simon Hughes, active in the campaign to save Guys, stated that the only hope now lay in a general election and Labour’s promised moratorium on further closures in London. Such individuals would now be perfectly at home in Blair’s party.

However, Labour’s moratorium clearly falls far short of what workers require. Several recent cases have highlighted the already pitifully inadequate level of ‘service’ provided by the NHS.

But Labour leaders, as in other policy areas, promise to reverse none of the Tories’ cuts. They are at one with them on the need to dismantle the welfare state. They share the belief that capitalism can no longer afford to provide what we need, and their ‘social justice’ commission of last year even proposed forcing workers to take out their own private health insurance.

Meanwhile the unions’ low key pay campaign plods on. After the ‘fair pay’ day against a national one percent offer, the main health union, Unison, is consulting its members over industrial action.

But the lacklustre nature of the campaign, combined with the leadership’s lowering of their official claim to a pay-cutting three percent, has meant that their members have been open to local management enticement.

While as yet no Unison members have succumbed to this pressure, it is likely to be intensified by the latest department of health ‘concession’ that only basic pay, not conditions of employment, would be subject to local negotiations. The government claims that 75% of local offers would be for the full three percent.

Astonishingly, a joint statement from the unions welcomed the move. Although a Unison spokesperson was adamant that no local deals were being entertained, she told the Weekly Worker that the fact that nationally negotiated conditions of employment were to be retained was positive.

Peter Manson