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THE NHS is facing a ‘winter of discontent’, media reports claim. More than 200 trusts, 40% of the total have ‘overspent’ half-way through the financial year. The trusts’ total deficit of £1.18 billion is almost £300 million higher than three months ago.

Leigh Wilks and Alan Turner, Leeds Socialist Party

As a consequence, over 20,000 nursing posts have been frozen or cut, wards closed and services withdrawn but it has not stopped the overspend according to the NHS’ convoluted, market-inspired finance system. But there is a fight-back against the threatened cuts in jobs and services.

Leeds held its first large NHS protest march and rally, organised by UNISON and the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), on 11 November. Huddersfield Socialist Party branch secretary Mike Forster’s chant of “Public health not private war, save the NHS!” was taken up by most of the march, attracting cheers from the general public.

Speakers from the RCN and UNISON denounced the huge cuts in health sector services for the greater Leeds area. Socialist Party member and Huddersfield Save our NHS councillor Jackie Grunsell’s devastating expose of cuts and privatisation attracted wide support from the largely union-based crowd.

Leeds city has one of the highest health budget deficits. The leaders of UNISON and the other health unions have, so far, dragged their feet. However, a RCN delegate made it clear, at least in her opinion, that they were here “not just to demonstrate. We’re here to fight, and we’re fighting to win for our members, our patients and our communities.”

Leeds could face £84 million of cuts in NHS services in the next three years, including losing 430 jobs and 40 hospital beds.

Newly qualified and desperately needed nurses and physiotherapists are leaving both of Leeds’ universities with no jobs to go to.

Leeds Health Trust pays accountants PriceWaterhouseCooper £107,000 each month to find cuts in the Leeds NHS budget. Yet the Leeds Trust Director still predicts that their so-called “savings plan” won’t prevent a £7.5 million deficit by the end of April.

Inevitably, this will lead to more job losses and cuts in essential services.

This march, organised through pressure from rank and file union members, proved that the unions can act, even if only half-heartedly. But considering the level of cuts and local communities’ anger in when they hear the figures, if the unions don’t take up the fight, then ordinary working-class people will.

Socialists are pushing for a national demo to save the NHS. All health campaign groups are urged to attend the coordinating meeting called by People United Saving Hospitals (PUSH) on 2 December in Nuneaton.

This plans an inaugural day of action on 15 December that can act as a springboard for a national demo in spring 2007.