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Hundreds in Seaton Carew for the Save Hartlepool Hospital protest walk. Photo: Teesside PA

Hundreds have marched against plans to close Hartlepool's hospital

North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust plans to transfer services to Stockton. This decision is strongly opposed by local residents and their elected representatives.

Consultation meetings have attracted so many people concerned about their future access to healthcare that venues were full.

The protest walk on Saturday went from Seaton Carew to the University Hospital of Hartlepool, a four and a half mile trek in the rain.

Campaigners who walked three hundred miles from Jarrow to London last summer to protest NHS privatisation were reunited to support the people of Hartlepool, along with activists from Teesside Solidarity movement and the People's Assembly.

Nationally, the scandal over A&E waiting times and the withdrawal of Circle from managing Hitchingbrooke, the first hospital to be run by a private company, has increased political pressure on the Tory-led government.

Strikes by NHS staff take place on January 29th and Febuary 24th, with work-to-rule and an overtime ban throughout the month. Though the dispute is about the government's failure to respect an independently-awarded pay deal, it raises the question of how the health service operates - and who gains.

Patient care or shareholder profits?

The restructuring of the health service in England was sold on the promise of local control - lofty rhetoric about freeing doctors and nurses from bureaucracy masked the reality of privatisation.

Rather than reducing expenditure on administration, the internal market and privatisation increases the cost of operating the health service.

The Labour Party has pledged to end privatisation, but shadow health secretary Andy Burnham's call for the market to be taken out of the NHS have not yet been matched with legislative proposals to that effect.

If Labour form the next government, health campaigners will have to take action to push for an end to the costly commissioning model and Private Finance Initiative - both policies of supported by the last Labour government, which the party's leadership has yet to repudiate.

A sick explanation for cuts - blame the migrants.

Across the country, campaigns against cuts to the NHS are attracting activists from parties contesting the general election in May.

Whilst support from members of Labour and the Greens are to be expected, UKIP activists and councillors are seeking to capitalise on what's happening to the NHS.

Since the government pledged to protect spending on the NHS, an explanation offered about cuts and closures is that there's "too many foreigners" - this, despite the significant numbers of NHS staff who were born outside of the UK. And it is the UK government, not the EU, which has decided to privatise NHS services.

Days of action on the NHS offer the opportunity to take the focus away from blaming migrant workers and emphasise how solidarity, not scapegoating, can improve our lives.

Feeling the love

Last year's People's March for the NHS raised the profile of ongoing privatisation, leading to politicians having to explain the consequences of recent "reforms".

It drew in people from other campaigns - CND activists took part with "NHS not Trident" t-shirts, members of 38 Degrees were mobilised over the impact of the trade treaty TTIP on the health service.

For many of those who marched the distance last summer, the protest walk against the closure of Hartlepool's hospital is the start of a year of campaigning against privatisation and cuts.

On February 14th, street stalls and protests are being planned, in towns and cities across England, to pin the blame on the real sickness - putting profits before patients - and express love for the principles on which the NHS was founded: public ownership and free universal provision of care.

999 Call for the NHS has proposed a convention to bring together activists from the many different campaign groups and health service union branches.

The next planning meeting is on January 24th in Stafford. The convention will be held on February 28th in London and aims to build momentum up to and beyond the general election.

Tagged under: NHS 999 Call for the NHS
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