|Patients & staff wave to marchers at Pinderfields in Wakefield|
The march was set up by some mothers from Darlington in north-east England, who had grown increasingly concerned about the deterioration of the NHS over the last few years. Through the 999 Call for the NHS, they are retracing the steps of the 1936 March for Jobs from Jarrow to London to highlight the health service crisis engulfing England.
|Darlo-Mums: the founders & organisers of the People's March|
privateers such as education, social services and transport.
Among the most frequently cited concerns among people on the marches were the deliberate underfunding and privatisation of health services at all levels in England. Under the "Nicholson challenge" set by the Blair/Brown Government, and gleefully continued by the current one, the NHS is required to return £2,000 millions from its budget each year, supposedly in efficiency savings. The result is hospitals in crisis - our local Mid-Yorkshire Trust is £17 million in debt and running down services accordingly.
The Coalition Government has removed the duty to provide universal care free at the point of use and so we now see an ongoing debate to charge up to £25 for GP visits and possibly more for the apparent crime of going to the A&E department. The latter is often used by the Coalition as a supreme example of wasted resources, conjuring up the image of drunken chav teenagers descending on A&Es across the country from Friday lunchtime to the final effusions on a hazy Monday morning. Notwithstanding the brave struggle of medics and paramedics with the byproducts of our neoliberally deregulated entertainment industry and its excessive focus on flogging as much booze as possible, the truth is somewhat more prosaic - research by the College of Emergency Medicine shows that fewer than 15% of A&E visits could be dealt with by GP intervention; hardly enough to justify charges to deter alleged timewasters.
|The Stockport Undertakers bear the NHS cake cruelly cut & carved by the Coalition|
But to me personally this crisis is as strikingly in evidence in some small but nevertheless important ways. My father-in-law passed away last year after a long illness with cancer. During his treatment, I recall one evening visiting him in hospital and having to go out to a local supermarket to buy pillows for him as the hospital did not have any spare. On the way back, in the lift, I met a woman who had brought a duvet for her husband because they had run out of clean blankets. Even the ward toaster was not replaced when it broke.
We are the sixth richest country on planet Earth. But, depending on which measurements you use, we are also the second or third most unequal. Our Governments have sold off public asset after public asset, telling us the private sector will run them more effectively in spite of its ever growing need and ability to take out more and more for profit. Energy, telecommunications, the railways, the bus service, huge swathes of our universities and colleges, the post office, the probation service, Job Centres, the passport agency, and now the NHS have been or are being sold off or leased out at often bargain basement rates to the very people who are funding our political parties and/or in whom our politicians hold substantial financial interests. Even opposition politicians like Labour's former health secretary Alan Milburn and former Chancellor Alistair Darling have taken contracts of one sort or another from private health firms.
|Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt - a tragi-comic target|
Some Government Ministers and Labour MPs (Labour are almost as keen on TTIP as the Tories and Lib Dems) have suggested the NHS could be exempted from the TTIP. However, the agreement covers all commercial enterprises and by marketising and contracting out NHS services, the NHS is subject to commercial law and, as such, can not be exempted from the TTIP. Any attempt to do so would almost certainly lead to legal cases running into the hundreds of millions in terms of costs to the Exchequer as well as possibly years of uncertainty. Besides which, when did the Tories really not want to sell off the NHS in any case?
We can and must do better than this. There is no real need for austerity - only for redistribution: of wealth and of ownership. The 999 Call for the NHS is a brave and imaginative initiative: it reaches deep into the hearts of tens of millions who have always assumed we live in a society where you will be cared for if you fall ill. Terrifyingly, under our very noses, duplicitous politicians are taking all that away, replacing the motive of public service and community with the selfish drive of profit. It is time to purge ourselves of this parasitical class of professional legislators and, in its place, create genuine democracy far beyond the simplistic notion of five yearly trips to the ballot box; democratic ownership is absolutely central to a society that uses its resources for the common good.
And such a society is still possible, even essential. Perhaps the journey towards it began a couple of weeks ago on the streets of Jarrow.
|Just to confirm what they won't tell you - the National Health Service IS being sold off, right now, under our noses.|
Professor Ray Tallis, author of NHS SOS, spoke to the rally at Barnsley Hospital.