Monday’s decision by NHS Gloucestershire to set up a stand-alone NHS trust instead of outsourcing community health services and hospitals as originally intended, is a victory for anti-cuts campaigners across the county. The county’s eight community hospitals and health services, and the 3000 people employed in them, will not come under the control of Virgin Health, Serco or some other profit-driven company. The new standalone NHS Trust will run these services until a new Foundation Trust is established. But anti-cuts campaigners are aware that while we have won an important battle, the campaign is far from over.
In some ways it is a bitter-sweet victory. The NHS is under siege. Before the General Election Cameron promised there would be no tampering with the NHS or top-down reorganisation but this was clearly contradicted by the Health and Social Care Act. Despite hundreds of thousands of people signing petitions, in the face of opposition from every professional medical body and amendments in the House of Lords, the Act, which will open the flood gates to privatisation, was finally passed. The NHS is facing billions of cuts. Its staff, already under pressure and overworked, have been dismayed by attacks on their pensions and are now fearful about the impact of the recently-established South West NHS pay consortium which aims to cut pay increments, sick pay and holiday entitlement equivalent – reducing earnings by approx. 15-20%.
Monday’s vote was unanimous, but we should not forget that it took a High Court challenge against the outsourcing plans by Michael Lloyd (76) of Stroud, and a sustained campaign involving countless meetings, protests, stalls, petitioning and a day of action to get us this far. Throughout the campaign we have reached out to health sector unions and staff. Their wellbeing, job security, pay and conditions are an important component of an efficient, caring health service. Their interests and ours are indivisible. The comments made in the board meeting about the importance of listening to staff rings hollow in light of what staff have told us about their fear of speaking out, about their future and that of the NHS, about the impact of massive cuts and the pay cartel in particular. At the start of our campaign we were told an NHS option was not possible and that staff and public consultation had registered overwhelming approval for the Primary Care Trust’s proposals. The judicial review halted the process and gave us a chance to show the falsity of these claims. Monday’s vote shows it is possible for even small campaigns to win significant battles.
Cheltenham and Gloucester Against Cuts hopes that it will be possible to build on this victory, strengthen links to the trade unions and other anticuts groups in the county and see bigger campaigns to defend jobs, services and conditions across the public sector, but especially in the NHS. Part of this must be to oppose pressure on GPs to push through the commissioning of services via private companies and the pay cartel which will not only affect staff but also the quality of service. Claude Mickleson, an 89 year-old campaigner from Forest of Dean Against the Cuts, who recently handed the PCT a petition signed by over 6,400 people, said: “We daren’t think the campaign is over. I can’t really celebrate knowing that the NHS is still under threat of privatisation, cuts and attacks on pay and conditions. We’ve won the battle but not the war”. A trade unionist all his life, he hopes the demonstration in London on October 20 will mark the start of a trade union-led fight back.
A meeting in Gloucester to discuss the next steps of the campaign and celebrate the PCT decision is being organised by the county’s anti-cuts groups – details will be announced.
Cheltenham & Gloucester Against Cuts and the National Shop Stewards Network* have organised a meeting for Thursday 8 November, 7.30 p.m. in Barton & Tredworth Community Centre, Barton Street, Gloucester to discuss the role of the unions in defending the NHS . With most NHS Trusts in the South West planning to break away from national collective bargaining, in order to launch a pay consortium aimed at attacking the pay and conditions of health workers throughout the region, it’s important that NHS campaigners work closely with the health unions.
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* The National Shop Stewards Network was set up in 2007 to build the strength of our movement from the bottom up by creating local, regional and national networks to put elected reps and shop stewards from different unions in permanent contact with each other. Organising mutual solidarity when trade unions are in dispute is at the heart of our work. We also share information to develop ways of successfully resisting attacks on our union rights, jobs, pay, conditions and pensions. It is officially supported by the CWU, POA, RMT, NUM, NUJ and PCS unions at a national level and by branches of various unions across the country.