Save the NHS From Its Would-Be Killers, Theresa May and Jeremy Hunt: Please Join the National Protest in London This Saturday, March 4, 2017


Comedian (and former psychiatric nurse) Jo Brand showing her support for the NHS and for the national demonstration in support of the NHS on Saturday March 4, 2017.Please support my work as a reader-funded investigative journalist and commentator.


Please join the march for the NHS in London this Saturday!

Four years ago, I was involved in a struggle to save Lewisham Hospital, my local hospital in south east London, from destruction by senior NHS managers working closely with the government of David Cameron. It was an extraordinary grass-roots campaign, at one point involving 25,000 Lewisham residents taking to the streets, and, I’m very glad to note, it was ultimately successful.

Four years on, however, the political situation in the country is far worse than we could have imagined back in 2013, and, it is fair to say, the entire NHS is now at risk. Back then, the outrageous cost of a PFI development in Woolwich had led NHS managers to conclude that they could get away with a long-planned attempt to reduce the number of A&E departments in south east London from five to four, with Lewisham being the intended victim.

In overcoming these plans — which involved a successful judicial review — we were, I think, able to demonstrate that it was disgraceful for the government and NHS managers to suggest that 750,000 Londoners should be served by just one A&E, when Lewisham itself, with a population of 270,000, deserves its own fully-functioning hospital, as does every population centre of a quarter of a million people.

At the time, there were similar threats to other hospitals — in north west London, for example — but it was not yet clear that the entire future of the NHS was in the government’s sights, even though the warning signs were clear — the top-down reorganisation that David Cameron lied about, which was intended to take responsibility for the running of the NHS out of the government’s hands (and into the hands of private companies), and the insane PFI burden (mostly initiated under Gordon Brown) that was taking up far too much of the NHS’s  budget.

Even so, it was still possible to believe in 2013 that the NHS as a whole was too big and too beloved to be felled by the Tories — but now, with the hardest of Brexits being pushed by Theresa May, and being used as a screen to hide anything else that the Tories want hidden, and with May herself revealed — to those who can see beyond the Brexit lies and the endless spinning of the bent right-wing media — as the most dangerous right-wing ideologue in modern British history, it seems reasonable to assume that, with no serious opposition, she will preside over the destruction of the NHS on a scale previously unrealisable, a process which, if not stopped, will actually kill off the NHS, the country’s greatest single institution, paid for through general taxation, which works to save the lives of everyone who needs it, regardless of their income.

The NHS is currently starved of cash to an unprecedented degree, a suffocation explained by homicidal cuts agreed to by NHS England’s chief executive, Simon Stevens, in October 2014, when he suggested, implausibly, that, to address a forecast £30bn gap in 2020 between expected demand and what the NHS could deliver, £22bn could come from efficiency savings.

In fact, the NHS has been struggling to cope within its existing budget, as the year-on-year figures show. A surplus of £592m in 2012-13 had turned into a £91m deficit in 2013-14, and a deficit of £843m in 2014-15. For 2015-16, based on the first three quarters, the deficit is £886 million, and, as ITV News explained in a report just last week, out of 238 NHS trusts, 135 ended the year in deficit. That was 44 fewer than in the same period last year, but these are horrendous statistics for both years, and it is a sign of how heartless and triumphant Theresa May and Jeremy Hunt are that they seem to be getting away with it.

The Guardian, whose coverage of the Tory-engineered NHS crisis is not generally what it should be, last week only ran a Press Association story that, although it featured the BMA talking about how the NHS was at “breaking point” with “a decline in the number of hospital beds leading to delays and cancelled operations,” failed to convey the full horror of what the “breaking point” really means.

ITV News, for example, reported that a senior A&E consultant stated that “the pressure the NHS has been under this winter is ‘the worst’ he has ever known,” and as he explained, “For the first time ever I’ve had to phone the executive on-call to say I can no longer guarantee patient safety. This is down to us being completely overwhelmed.”

NHS Providers chief executive Chris Hopson, speaking of the NHS deficit, said that it was “largely because of winter pressures. Trusts spent more than they planned and they lost income from cancelled operations — both were needed to create the extra bed capacity to meet record emergency winter demand.” He added, “This shows the danger of planning with no margin for unexpected extra demand. We can’t expect to run NHS finances on wafer-thin margins year after year and keep getting away with it. The NHS’s underlying financial position is not sustainable.”

The situation is so bad that, just two weeks ago, it was reported that the latest shake-up for the NHS as part of the ongoing effort to save £22bn — Sustainability and Transformation Plans (STPs) — will involve the closure of 19 hospitals, including five major acute hospitals, and countless other troubling reorganisations. I wrote about the STPs in November, in an article entitled, Save the NHS: Tories’ Own Auditor Finds “Financial Problems are Endemic and This is Not Sustainable” for NHS’s Survival, which I hope you also have time to read.

So please, if you care about the future of the NHS, come along on Saturday, and show that you’re prepared to fight for it. We’re meeting at noon in Tavistock Square, London WC1 and marching to Parliament. The website for the march is here, and the Facebook page is here, and as the organisers — Health Campaigns Together and The People’s Assembly — state:

Our National Health Service is at breaking point.

On the backdrop of continued cuts and closures, private companies seek to gain even more of a foothold within the NHS.

Continued pay restraint has meant the value of NHS staff salaries has fallen by 14% since 2010. There are now 25,000 nursing and 3,500 midwifery vacancies in NHS England alone.

Theresa May’s demands for yet more austerity in the NHS represent a real risk to the safety of patients and the service. The Government’s latest plans for Sustainability and Transformation Plans are in reality just a smokescreen for further cuts and its latest instrument of privatisation.

The NHS is the single greatest achievement of working class people in Britain. We cannot allow it to be undermined and ultimately destroyed. We must march together, sending a clear message to the government; “the NHS will last as long as there are folk with the faith to fight for it.”

Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer, film-maker and singer-songwriter (the lead singer and main songwriter for the London-based band The Four Fathers, whose debut album ‘Love and War’ and EP ‘Fighting Injustice’ are available here to download or on CD via Bandcamp). He is the co-founder of the Close Guantánamo campaign (and the Countdown to Close Guantánamo initiative, launched in January 2016), the co-director of We Stand With Shaker, which called for the release from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison (finally freed on October 30, 2015), and the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by the University of Chicago Press in the US, and available from Amazon, including a Kindle edition — click on the following for the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. He is also the co-director (with Polly Nash) of the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (available on DVD here — or here for the US).

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6 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    When I posted this on Facebook, I wrote:

    It’s my birthday and my latest article is about a cause that is actually more important to me than any other – saving the NHS from the butchers of the Tory Party. Myself, my wife and my son all owe our lives to the NHS, and, as a result of its basis in general taxation, and not in insurance-based greed, we’re not crippled with debt for our entire lives as a result. The Tories are trying to squeeze the NHS’s funding so it collapses and can be handed over to private companies, whose profit motive is, of course, at odds with the provision of a national healthcare service, and it is not scaremongering to say that, if we don’t resist their plans with some collective effort, their wishes will come true. This Saturday, March 4, there’s a national demonstration in support of the NHS, so if you’re in the UK, I hope to see you there!

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    Check out this video of my friend Neil Goodwin doing his Charlie Chaplin impression (as Charlie X) in support of the NHS, prior to tomorrow’s national march and rally for the NHS, “locking on” to the gates of 10 Downing Street, and – wordlessly – getting arrested. Neil writes, “this action is designed to encourage ordinary folk to come forward and to stand up and be counted, to chain themselves up in the best tradition of the suffragette movement, and to fight for the survival of the people’s health service. I’m taking my Charlie Chaplin mime character (Charlie X) out onto the streets of London, to pull funny faces outside government and business places, and attempt to ‘lock-on’ and therefore get arrested for the NHS. Throughout the coming months I’m aiming to do it seven times (once for each of the 7 decades that the NHS has been in existence), ending on the NHS’s 69th birthday on July 5.”

  3. Tom says...

    Hi Andy,

    Speaking of the NHS and all things health related, hope you’re feeling well. I’m dealing with several health problems all at once right now which means I’m currently on disability. Despite that, I try not to get caught up in semantics. Is this condition a “disability” or not? I look at it this way. I have several health problems that I feel are all connected (health being physical and mental) that I’m trying to deal with as best I can. When I lived abroad I had national health coverage which saved me roughly (USD)10,000 (you do the pound conversion) over ten years. So I know first hand the value of something like the NHS.

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks for your thoughts, Tom. I’ve spoken to US friends who, if I recall correctly, were paying between $6,000 and $10,000 a year for health insurance. Here the NHS costs about £110bn a year, which is about £1,800 ($2,500) per person, but of course young, old and poor people don’t pay, so those with money are covering everyone else, but not at too outrageous a cost, it seems to me. I think the direct amount we pay is an 8% tax.

  5. Tom says...

    One thing that Trump and the Republicans aren’t saying about their health care bill (American Health care Act)? It does away with the current ceiling on how much insurance companies can pay (and then write off of their taxes) their CEO’s. Under Obamacare, it was $500,000. No, they’re saying no limit. The average CEO compensation (salary, stocks, etc.) averages between $20 and $110 million. This also includes various perks. Are these perks really necessary? Or just a commonly accepted sign that someone has money and power?

  6. Andy Worthington says...

    Interesting, Tom. Thanks for that. Here’s the opening paragraph of the Los Angeles Times report, ‘Here’s the secret payoff to health insurance CEOs buried in the GOP Obamacare repeal bill’:

    Concealed within the 123 pages of legislative verbiage and dense boilerplate of the House Republican bill repealing the Affordable Care Act are not a few hard-to-find nuggets. Here’s one crying out for exposure: The bill encourages health insurance companies to pay their top executives more. It does so by removing the ACA’s limit on corporate tax deductions for executive pay. The cost to the American taxpayer of eliminating this provision: well in excess of $70 million a year.


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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo and We Stand With Shaker. Also, photo-journalist (The State of London), and singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers).
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