The 5th of July marked the NHS's 65th birthday with ringing endorsement from the public who have continued to voice high praise for the service - alongside fears about the dangers of it falling into the hands of the private sector.
Public Sector Alliance coalitions across the North East organised parties and protests on the 5th to celebrate all that's good about the NHS and highlight the seriously negative impact moving further down the path of privatisation and profiteering will have on this flagship service. A further rally is planned for the 27th July in Darlington (assembling at 12pm near the Joseph Pease statue) aptly entitled '999 Call for the NHS'.
During the last general election campaign David Cameron reassured voters that the NHS was safe in his hands and promised to cut the deficit, not the NHS. All these promises have proven to be empty and worthless. We have recently seen the biggest top-down reorganisation of the NHS, costing the taxpayer billions of pounds and ignoring the overwhelming opposition of the medical profession.
Nowhere is austerity more damaging, more demoralising and more dangerous than in our NHS. It is facing £20 billion of so-called efficiency savings and a top-down reorganisation nobody wants and moreover, nobody voted for. Privatisation and structural reform has left the NHS exposed and it is clearly beginning to crack under the pressure of cuts, with thousands of NHS jobs being axed and many more threatened in our region. Often those jobs which were previously occupied by trained, experienced and permanent staff are replaced with low-paid part-time jobs reliant on benefit top ups in an attempt to survive the growing prevalence of 'in work' poverty.
UNISON head of health Christina McAnea recently said "More than ever before we need a functioning NHS that is free at the point of use and still holds true to the principles that Nye Bevan laid out in 1948."
In response to the increased concern of members, medical professionals, patients and the general public there are plans underway for a TUC organised mass rally in defence of the NHS at the Tory Party conference in Manchester - ironically the birthplace of the NHS.
Trade Unions are calling for:
minimum staffing levels to ensure that patients and staff are safe
proper funding - NHS funds should be protected rather than siphoned off in "efficiency savings" to the Treasury
patients not profit - taxpayers' money to be spent on improving the quality of patient care, rather than paid to management consultants or company shareholders
These principles are not new or radical; they are merely a reminder of the tenets that form the very heart of the NHS. Our NHS is envied across the world as a system where quality healthcare is a right and not the privilege or preserve of those who can afford it.