By refusing to properly fund the NHS, the government is making a clear statement of its values, argues SARAH CARPENTER
SINCE the idea of a national demonstration in support of our NHS was first mentioned in late 2016 by Health Campaigns Together and the the People’s Assembly, Unite has been a proud and active supporter.
We have over 100,000 members who work in the NHS but the rest of our 1.4 million members rely on the NHS in some way, shape or form to support their health and the health of their families and friends.
So when we fight against closures of A&E departments (such as the one at the Huddersfield Royal Infirmary), or of specialist units (like the Children’s Heart Centre at the Glenfield in Leicester), we fight for the staff and the patients.
And when we hear about plans to cut health visiting services in the West Midlands, we stand up and speak out about them, not just to save jobs but to protect the long-term future health of our children.
Unite cannot, and will not, sit back while this government takes the NHS and demolishes it. By refusing to fund the NHS to the level that it really needs, the government is making a clear statement about its values — and they are not ones that we share.
The national demonstration on March 4 is not the end of our battle but it is an important moment for thousands of Unite members and thousands of others who are passionate about our NHS to come together to show our support.
We will shout and sing and make a noise. We will share stories, carry banners and get angry together.
But when we end the day, we will carry on making the noise and channel our anger.
We are currently speaking out loudly about the 44 Sustainability and Transformation Plans (STPs) that are being drawn up across England and how these plans — which we have called “Slash, Trash and Privatise” — are effectively cutting services locally without local people being aware of them.
STPs have been tasked to deliver more integration between health and social care, at the same time as save money. This is an impossible task.
Without the proper funding for the NHS this is doomed to fail.
The basic premise is that there should be a shift from relying on hospital-based care to community-based care where more people have access to “self-help.”
We are seeing proposals in the STPs to save money over the next three to five years (with such plans as closing A&Es, reducing specialist services, centralising “back office” functions and seeking to cut terms and conditions for staff) but nothing tangible about how the community-based care can be delivered, other than mere aspirations.
In these circumstances, what you have is no National Health Service and what little you do have left in terms of services can easily be privatised and sold off to the lowest bidder.
Unite is getting angry about STPs, along with many other health campaign groups. We have produced briefings for MPs and local councillors and our activists are speaking up at public meetings across England.
We are encouraging everyone to read their local STP (and these are all available here online at healthcampaignstogether.com/STPplans.php) and start asking questions about what these mean for health services.
We are also clear that there are more than just STPs to get angry about.
Health visiting and school nursing services are being attacked across the country — and this is due to those services now being the responsibility of the woefully underfunded local authority sector.
Councils are probably not as familiar as they should be with the work that these staff undertake, given that councils have fairly recently become the commissioners of these services, not the employers in most instances.
In tough times, councils make decisions about services and they make cuts. The cuts that some councils are making to these services will have a huge impact on the most vulnerable in society.
Once again, Unite is making a noise. We have campaigns called Love Your Health Visitor and Love Your School Nurse, which are about sharing information on the vital work of the health visiting and school nursing services — services that are (at the moment) given to all children and teenagers from 0-19.
Unite members have been running local campaigns and this will step up a level when they come to lobby their MPs in Westminster on April 26.
They are angry about the impact of cuts on families, and they will be making their voices heard.
Unite members know that the NHS is always there for them when they need it.
They know that they must now be there to support the NHS. As Nye Bevan said: “The NHS will last as long as there are folk left with faith to fight for it.”
Sarah Carpenter is the Unite health sector national officer. If you want to find out more about STPs, the Love Your Health Visitor/School Nurse campaigns or any of Unite’s health campaign work, please visit mstar.link/UniteSaveNHS. If you want a Unite speaker about health issues at a local group, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.