Today I joined the demo on Westminster Bridge to stop the NHS Reform Bill which, if it goes through will hand over portions of the NHS to privatisation and radically alter healthcare provision as we know it. On one side of Westminster Bridge is Parliament. On 7th September, MPs in the Commons voted for the end of the NHS as we know it. Yet the coalition’s Health and Social Care bill was not in the Lib Dem manifesto. It was not in the Tory manifesto. None of us voted for this.
On the opposite side of the bridge is St Thomas’ Hospital, one of Britain’s oldest medical institutions. If the bill passes, hospitals like St Thomas’ will be sold to private corporations, the staff put on private payrolls and beds given over to private patients. Despite the government’s lies, this bill represents the wholesale privatization of the NHS and, with it, the destruction of the dream of comprehensive healthcare provided equally to all.
On October 11th, the bill moves to the Lords, and a huge Liberal Democrat rebellion is brewing. Lets hope they hold their nerve this time.
Tory health minister Andrew Lansley is pushing a health and social care bill through parliament that will force NHS hospitals to compete with private firms. The bill is due to be debated in the House of Lords this week.
Many protesters stressed that the bill would lead to a privatised health service and “the end of the NHS”.
Paul Howarth, a Unison union member, has worked for the NHS for 22 years and travelled from Nottingham to join the London demo. He told Socialist Worker, “A lot of people know the Tories’ bill is a bad idea, but they don’t understand the significance of it.
“It will be the end of the NHS if it goes through. We won’t have a universal system free at the point of need. We’ll have an insurance-based system instead.
“The Tories have told lie after lie after lie about the state of the health service to justify their changes. But they’ve had to be so underhand about it because they know the NHS is so well-supported.”
Alan Green travelled to the protest with a group of people from Weston-super-Mare. He told Socialist Worker, “I had a road accident and at one point I had no pulse. If it wasn’t for an NHS ambulance, I’d be dead.” Many said the bill would make inequalities in health worse and leave the most vulnerable without essential care. “There are already problems with accessing everyone, such as refugees or people who don’t speak much English.
“The bill will make things worse and will mean that some people get better care than others.”
There was also anger at the government’s support for banks and bosses while they target services for ordinary people. One placard read, “Governments must serve people not banks” while another asked, “When did a bank deliver a baby?”
Douglas Green, a GP in Hackney, east London, said the Tories wanted to shift health care towards “profit-making”.“The same forces that wrecked the economy are queuing up to take over the health service,” he said. “We don’t need that in the NHS. “I don’t know any doctor who isn’t vehemently against it.”Some of those on today’s demonstration, which was called by UK Uncut, plan to protest at London’s stock exchange next Saturday.