Fight for your health

The government is pressing ahead with plans to close down more London hospitals after forcing through its policy this week. As well as the world famous Guys and Barts, Edgware, the Brook in Greenwich and many others will go - unless workers themselves make a stand

WEDNESDAY’S vote in parliament on the continued run-down of London’s hospital services was yet another blow to the government.

It came as no surprise that most Tory ‘rebels’ backed down. Only two, desperate to hold on to their seats and parliamentary perks, supported the mildly worded Labour motion to “halt the withdrawal of services, and moderate the pace of change” in London’s hospitals.

Since the introduction of the market into the NHS in 1990, 304 hospitals have been closed across the country. That amounts to one in eight, with an equivalent number of bed losses - almost 40,000 gone over that period.

The government had hoped that the publication of hospital waiting list figures the previous day, showing a 2.9% drop since last year in England, would help stem the criticism. But in fact there were more people waiting in London.

Despite massive government and health authority efforts targeted at cutting the numbers on the lists for more than a year, the overall figures have hardly changed - more people are now waiting for less than a year.

The policy has been to rush patients in and out and put much more emphasis on out-patient and day centre treatment - that way you wait less for treatment, but the quality is likely to be poorer.

Institutions like the Royal College of Surgeons claim that fewer, more specialised units, such as those for cancer and accident and emergency, result in a more efficient, high-quality service. This is disputed by John Lister of London Health Emergency: “They may be more convenient for the surgeons,” he told the Weekly Worker, “but a longer journey is the last thing you want if you are getting treatment for cancer.”

It is quite incredible that some ‘experts’ in all seriousness suggest that fewer A&E units lead to ‘improvements’, despite the extra time needed for ambulances to reach them.

John Lister sums it up like this: “The government rants on endlessly about ‘improving patient care’, but it is diminishing it by closing down hospitals people want to go to.”

On the one hand Virginia Bottomley transfers treatment to day centres, but on the other increases travelling time to reach them. No wonder her boasts of ‘improvements’ are seen by workers as a pathetic joke.

But won’t help soon be at hand in the form of a Labour government? Forget it. Margaret Beckett, the shadow health secretary, does not even promise to call a halt, let alone re-open the hundreds of hospitals the Tories have closed down: “Labour calls for a reassessment of the pace and scale of the closures and bed losses,” she says (The Guardian May 1, our emphasis).

Labour is just as committed as the Tories to running capitalism, and the truth is this rotten system will claim it can no longer afford to provide workers with the healthcare we need until we organise to fight for it.

At a time when the population is ready to respond to a genuine campaign for real improvement, where are the health unions? Why the delay in stepping up action to win decent pay for their members? An imaginative campaign for those real improvements, together with big pay rises for health workers, would win the support of the entire working class.

If the unions continue to drag their feet, the rank and file must themselves organise the fightback.