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Around 60 people from all across Leeds attended the meeting

On Thursday 21st June around 60 people attended a public meeting opposing the governments reforms to the NHS jointly organised by Leeds Hospital Alert and Leeds Keep Our NHS Public.

Iain Dalton, Leeds North West Socialist Party

The key speaker was Dr. John Lister from London Health Emergency. He opened by stating the dire situation that the government is putting the NHS in. £billions of cuts are planned – partially through the current pay freeze, not filling vacancies in hospitals as well as closures of some services – and NHS managers have the cheek to tell us that despite these so-called ‘efficiency savings’ “patient care will not be affected”! He also pointed out that in some areas some relatively basic operations such as hip and knee replacements or cataract removal are now not available unless you’re classed as an emergency or you go private!

But big business is licking its lips at getting its hands on some of the NHS budget – there is a conference next weekend in London entitled “Should We Abolish the NHS?” One document that has been produced ahead of this conference refers to suggestions including the abolishment of licensing of doctors and other ultra-free market suggestions.

The terrible role played by the private sector in the NHS can be seen from what has happened with contracts for cleaning. Dr Lister specified one contract he saw that alloted 29 secs each to clean 6 baths, such cost cutting without regard to consequences has lain behind the rise of MRSA and other ‘super bugs’.He also gave other examples, such as the market for support services to the new GP consortia are around £1.3bn, as well as the huge repayments due on PFI hospitals such as in Mid Yorkshire NHS where 15% of the trusts turnover is cosumed by this. West Middlesex has paid back the £7m cost of its PFI twice over and still has 20 years of repayments left on the contract!

Dr Lister called on people to use all methods of protest to defend the NHS. The Socialist Party believes they key to stopping and reversing the privatisation of the NHS is building a mass movement, a key component of which are trade unionists in the health sector. So far the role of the leaderships of unions like UNISON has been token gestures, rather than mobilising a serious campaign to defend the NHS and their members working within the health service. A key demand would be for the health unions to call for a national demonstration to defend the NHS as a step towards national strike action. Such a demonstration would give confidence to health workers the majority of people are opposed to Andrew Lansley and the Con-Dems reforms and will back industrial action taken by them to stop him and his private health care chums tearing our health service apart in their quest for new sources of profit.

Leeds Keep Our NHS Public are organising a protest outside the Virgin store on Commercial Street in Leeds at 12 noon on Saturday 30th June to protest against the growing involvement of private companies in the health service.