By Danny Weller
Photo: Danny Weller
Only 5,000 people attended a strike called by the SOS NHS campaign group to support Britain’s National Health Service (NHS) on Saturday, March 11. This is shocking considering the NHS is facing attempted privatisation, and widespread slashes in funding, with thousands of nurses leaving the institution in the last three years due to horrific working conditions, low pay and the strains of the Covid-19 pandemic. By comparison, nearly 250,000 protested attacks on the NHS in 2017.
Healthcare worker Ian stated regarding the cuts to NHS funding, “It’s by design; they are doing it on purpose… It’s not their [the government’s] problem: they have private health care; they get paid by private health care companies.”
After a similarly poor turnout last year, SOS NHS pledged a “massive demonstration” in London. Campaigners and healthcare workers were shipped in from across the UK, with speakers from the Labour Party including Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell, as well as figures from major trade unions.
This protest came just weeks after NHS talks were called off in order to enter negotiations with the government. A 50,000-strong strike of ambulance and other health workers, represented by Unison, the GMB and Unite were shut down on March 5, as well as a strike of 64,000 physiotherapists and support workers.
This week will see three days of strikes by the junior doctors of the British Medical Association, who are not affiliated with the Trades Union Congress.
Labour Party MPs on the speakers’ platform vehemently attacked “Tory cuts” yet did not mention Labour Party leader Keir Starmer’s comments on the potential for NHS privatisation. He has stated that Labour would “do more of” using the private sector and declared that nothing was “off limits”, regarding the NHS, an institution which should not be treated “as a shrine”.
In an interview, Silan, a junior doctor at University College Hospital, criticised the Labour Party, for “not doing enough to oppose the Tory policies.”
Ian added, “There hasn’t been enough action, and now it feels like we’ve realised that we have to take this into our own hands: we have to strike to win the kind of pay which will improve staffing and safety.
Shadow Health Secretary Wes Streeting has declared that the NHS “reform or die,” and that he would not allow doctors and health workers to “stand in the way of reforms.”
Silan said cuts were a deliberate policy to wear the health service down. “There’s no other explanation… I think the numbers speak for themselves: the number of doctors who are leaving, the number of nurses who are burning out, and the number of patients who are dying. I think this is a deliberate policy to dismantle the NHS so they have an excuse to sell it off to their mates.”
Asked about the Labour Party’s support for greater use of the private sector in the NHS, Ian said, “It’s bonkers. It’s totally nuts. Labour went there before with Independent Sector Treatment Centres [which provide outsourced services to the NHS]. It was a massive waste of money. Money gets lost into private profit and profit gets put first… And when it goes wrong, the NHS still picks up the pieces.”
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