Wednesday April 24 may be the day that the NHS dies — or that it lives on. On April 1, largely unnoticed by the people of England, the most popular institution in the land, the NHS (the National Health Service), was privatised by the Tory-led government, in regulations relating to Article 75 of the Health and Social Care Act, which force competition on almost all NHS business.
If they are not reversed, the regulations will lead to private companies swiftly and effectively dismantling the NHS, cherry-picking services they can easily make profits out of, and cowing the newly appointed Clinical Commissioning Groups (the GPs responsible for 80 percent of the NHS budget), who will be afraid of ruinously expensive legal challenges if they dare to take on the private sector.
This is a disaster of colossal proportions, and yet it has barely been reported by the mainstream media, although medical websites and blogs, and campaigners — myself included — have been covering it since the regulations first surfaced in February.
On Wednesday April 24, the House of Lords has a historic opportunity to derail the regulations. Please email members of the House of Lords today or tomorrow to urge them to vote against the regulations. The Save Lewisham Hospital campaign has put together a detailed list of Lords here, including details of how to contact them by email. If an email is not listed, click on the peer’s name to go to their website, where emails are listed, as well as phone numbers — which is another good way of getting in touch with them, with less than 48 hours to go. Read the rest of this entry »
Ever since the Tories came to power in May 2010, aided by the Liberal Democrats, who, sadly, demonstrated that everything they professed to believe in could be discarded if it meant being in government, the very fabric of civil society in the UK has been faced with extinction. This is a country that has developed a welfare safety net to protect the most vulnerable members of society and those who have fallen on hard times, and one that has guaranteed healthcare for its entire population, through the NHS, paid for through general taxation, but the Tories are determined to destroy it, and far too many people have been fooled by their poisonous persecution of the poor and disabled, and their ideologically motivated “age of austerity,” which continues to ruin any chance of economic recovery, while plunging millions of people further into serious poverty.
On Monday, April 1, multiple welfare cuts hit hundreds of thousands of the poorest and most vulnerable members of society, and although two newspapers led with the news on their front pages — the Guardian (“The day Britain changed”) and the Daily Mirror (“D-Day for Savage Con-Dem Cuts”) — there is no sign that the British people, in general, have woken up to the full ramifications of what is being done in their name.
From the beginning of the Tories’ attack on the state, the government and large parts of the media have successfully lied about the unemployed and the disabled being scroungers and shirkers, creating a climate of mean-spiritedness and hatred amongst my fellow citizens that I have found to be both shocking and disgraceful, because the blunt truth, which anyone could find out if they could be bothered, is that there are around 2,500,000 people unemployed but only 500,000 job vacancies. Read the rest of this entry »
This photo set collects a few photos from events over the last week and a half that I haven’t included in any other sets — three relating to the ongoing campaign to free Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantánamo, and to bring him back to the UK to be reunited with his wife and children, and four of a “die-in” for the NHS, involving a roadblock outside the Houses of Parliament, during a protest that took place prior to a Parliamentary lobby on Tuesday.
I have been writing about Shaker Aamer’s case — and campaigning for his release – for many years, not just because Guantánamo has been a legal, moral and ethical abomination since its creation over 11 years ago, and remains so to this day, but also because his release is so long overdue. He was first told that he would be released under President Bush, in 2007, and again under President Obama in 2009, but, disgracefully, he is still held. Read the rest of this entry »
Yesterday, in the Houses of Parliament, a passionate and packed-out meeting took place in one of the House of Commons committee rooms, attended by well over a hundred campaigners for the NHS, at which MPs, doctors and activists spoke, and there were also intelligent contributions from the audience, as, collectively, we tried to work out how, in the short term, to resist the government’s latest plans to privatise the NHS, and, in the longer term, how to save the NHS and build a successful movement to oppose the whole of the wretched age of austerity imposed on us by the Tory-led coalition government for malignant ideological purposes; in short, in an effort to destroy the state provision of almost all services — with one exception, of course, being their salaries and expenses.
The spur for the meeting, and the rally outside that preceded it, is the government’s plan to push through privatisation of the NHS — despite explicit promises not to do so — through secondary legislation relating to Section 75 of the wretched Health and Social Care Act that was passed last year, in which almost all NHS services will have to be put out to tender by the Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs), the groups of GPs who will be responsible for 80 percent of the NHS budget from April 1.
Although 350,000 people recently signed a 38 Degrees petition opposing the plans (which I wrote about here), and Lib Dem minister Norman Lamb promised that the key regulations on competition in the NHS would be rewritten, the rewritten regulations have barely changed, and they still oblige the NHS to put almost all NHS services out to tender, allowing private companies to begin to devour the whole of the NHS or face legal challenges that they will probably lose, because enforced competition will have been made into a key component of the provision of NHS services. Read the rest of this entry »
Two years ago — at noon on March 18, 2011 — I gave up smoking after chain-smoking for 29 years. It was one of the best things I ever did in my life, along with giving up drinking (nearly five years ago), and meeting my wife and having a child.
When I gave up smoking, I did so because I was admitted to hospital after two and a half months of severe pain in my right foot, which, in the last fortnight before my hospital admission, had become so excruciatingly painful that I literally couldn’t sleep. I wrote about it at the time, in an article entitled, “Intimations of Mortality” — hence the reference in the title above, as I revisit this crucial period of my life.
I had developed a blood disorder, which had manifested itself as a blood clot, cutting off the blood supply to my right foot — first to my big toe, and then to my middle toe. It took two months for me to be admitted to hospital, but, when that happened, doctors and consultants in St. Thomas’s Hospital saved my toes, and I was discharged after spending about a week and half being pumped full of drugs and gazing across the River Thames at the Houses of Parliament (as the photo above shows). Within three months, my toes had healed, and I contributed to keeping myself alive by giving up smoking, and, I think, by somehow “managing” the indignation I feel about the injustices of the world, an indignation that had led to me discovering, in my late 30s, that my calling was to be an independent journalist and activist — on civil liberties, human rights abuses, and social justice. Read the rest of this entry »
Please sign the e-petition calling for the British government to secure the return to the UK from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison, who has been cleared for release since 2007. 100,000 signatures are needed by April 20.
With a huge hunger strike taking place at Guantánamo, the prison is on the mainstream media’s radar more than it has been for many, many months, if not years — and, in the UK, it is also time for there to be a renewed focus on the case of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison.
Despite being cleared for release under President Bush and President Obama, Shaker is still held, even though he is the one prisoner, out of 86 prisoners cleared for release but still held, who could — and should — be released immediately. Congress has raised obstacles to the release of prisoners to any country that can be regarded as dangerous, but few, if any lawmakers would dare to argue that Britain fits that category.
In the UK, the ongoing detention of Shaker Aamer continues to appal those who have been campaigning for his release for many years — and the British government’s persistent claims that they are doing all they can to secure his return do not sound convincing. Last year, Shaker’s family launched an e-petition asking the British government to explain how, as America’s closest ally in the “war on terror,” it cannot secure Shaker’s return to the UK, to his British wife and four children, and there is now just one month to go for campaigners to try and ensure that the petition gets 100,000 signatures so that it is eligible for a Parliamentary debate. Please note that only British citizens and residents can sign it, although there is no lower age limit, so all family members can sign. Anyone anywhere in the world can sign the international petition here. Read the rest of this entry »
Born in Lewisham: The Protest to Save Lewisham Hospital, March 16, 2013, a set on Flickr.
On March 16, 2013, the Save Lewisham Hospital campaign organised a protest and publicity event, entitled, “Born in Lewisham,” outside the endangered hospital — serving a population of 270,000 people — on Lewisham High Street.
The campaign was established in October 2012, when Matthew Kershaw, an NHS Special Administrator appointed to deal with the financial problems of a neighbouring trust, the South London Healthcare Trust (based in Greenwich, Bexley and Bromley), recommended that Lewisham Hospital — which is not part of the SLHT and has no financial problems — should merge with one of the SLHT’s hospitals, the Queen Elizabeth in Woolwich, and should have its A&E Department closed and other frontline services — including maternity — severely downgraded. In Lewisham, this would mean tens of thousands of emergencies having to be dealt with elsewhere, as well as 90 percent of Lewisham’s mothers having to give birth outside the borough. Read the rest of this entry »
Please note: Although I took an optimistic tone in this article, the truth is that the revised regulations are still toxic for the NHS, and intended to usher in the wholesale privatisation of NHS services through legal means. Please see this article — and photos from a lobby of Parliament on March 26 — for further details, and please get involved to save the NHS.
Life under the Tories is so miserable, and the assaults on the very fabric of British life so unrelenting, that it’s rare for a ray of sunlight to shine through.
Yesterday, however, NHS campaigners secured victory in a campaign to prevent the stealthy passage of legislation designed to enforce competition on almost all aspects of NHS business, largely as a result of pressure exerted by members of the public. Just two weeks ago, campaigners began setting off alarm bells across the internet — by email, on websites, and via social media — about regulations relating to section 75 of the wretched Health and Social Care Act, which the government hoped would pass stealthily, without debate, and which, in the words of the campaigning group 38 Degrees, “would force local doctors to open up almost all NHS services to private companies,” breaking cast-iron promises made by the government when the bill was passed, without which it would have been derailed.
The quote from 38 Degrees comes from the petition that was launched last Monday, February 25, which currently has nearly 250,000 signatures, and which secured nearly 120,000 signatures in the first 24 hours.
As the Guardian reported yesterday, however, “Ministers have been forced into a humiliating climbdown on plans for more private sector involvement in the NHS just four weeks before they were due to come into effect.” Read the rest of this entry »
Please support the “Born in Lewisham Hospital” event on Saturday March 16, and, if you can, contribute to Lewisham Council’s Legal Challenge Fund to pay for the Judicial Review that has just been launched, to prove that the plans to close Lewisham Hospital’s A&E Department and severely downgrade other services is illegal!
The struggle to save Lewisham Hospital from destruction continues, with undiminished energy, I’m glad to report. I have been a resident of Lewisham, in south east London, for the last 15 years, and I am proud of the creativity, commitment and clear-sighted indignation of my fellow residents campaigning against the wretched proposals to disembowel the hospital, conceived of, proposed and endorsed by both senior NHS officials and the government.
To recap briefly (although my archive of articles is here, and I also recommend the Save Lewisham Hospital website and Facebook page), at the end of October Matthew Kershaw, an NHS Special Administrator appointed by the former health secretary Andrew Lansley to deal with the financial problems of a neighbouring NHS trust (the South London Healthcare Trust, covering the boroughs of Greenwich, Bexley and Bromley) proposed that King’s (in Camberwell) should take over one of the SLHT’s hospitals, while another, Queen Elizabeth Hospital, on a remote, blasted heath in Woolwich, should merge with Lewisham.
Kershaw was the first administrator appointed under specific “unsustainable providers” legislation, of which there are many critics (myself included), who see that trusts may end up in debt for all kinds of reasons, including, as in the case of the SLHT) monstrous PFI deals that ought to have been illegal. However, there was at least a certain logic at work with regard to the proposals for King’s to take over one hospital, and for Lewisham to merge with Queen Elizabeth. Read the rest of this entry »
UPDATE 7.30pm, Feb. 25: The campaigning group 38 Degrees has now launched its own official petition calling for a debate on the provisions for implementing enforced competition in almost all NHS services, which the Tories had been hoping would pass in a month’s time without even being noticed. There appear to be no depths to which these butchers of the state will not sink. Please sign this and share it as widely as you can. It already has nearly 20,000 signatures, and the target is 60,000 by the end of today. Note: This petition is in addition to the one launched by Charles West, mentioned below.
Where is the outrage in the mainstream media?
For the past week I have been receiving messages via email or on Facebook from concerned friends and/or organisations warning me that the government is sneakily pushing through new legislation which will force all Clinical Commissioning Groups — the GP-led practices, which, from April, will be responsible for 80 percent of the NHS budget — to go through a marketplace for all new NHS service contracts.
As the campaigning group 38 Degrees explains in an urgent new petition, regulations relating to section 75 of the wretched Health and Social Care Act (Andrew Lansley’s NHS privatisation bill, which was passed last year) “require virtually all health provision to be carried out in competitive markets, regardless of the wishes of either local people, GPs or local Clinical Commissioning Groups. They contradict assurances that were given by health ministers during the passage of the Act that it did not mean the privatisation of the NHS, and that local people would have the final say in who provided their NHS.”
The silence in most of the mainstream media regarding these plans — in the BBC, for example — has been deafening, although today, the Daily Mirror has become involved, with an article entitled, “Tories’ hidden privatisation plan revealed,” and on Friday, in the Guardian, Polly Toynbee’s contribution was an informative article entitled, “The Lib Dems must not stand for any more lies over the NHS,” in which she noted how NHS dissent over the Health and Social Care Act was only quelled through public assurances from ministers that there would be no enforced privatisation of services, which “seemed convincingly cast-iron.” Read the rest of this entry »
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