The battle for the future of our healthcare is being taken to the street, reports David Bailey
Three weeks ago Jeremy Corbyn asked for a National NHS day of action on Saturday 26 November; that’s all my friends and I needed to act, and within 12 hours we had come up with the genesis of an idea. Our group formed out of mutual political activism which began around the fight to get Corbyn re-elected as leader the Labour Party (LP).
Our focus were the STPs (Sustainability and Transformation Plans), which have been prepared in secret by local Health Commissioning Groups, Health care providers and NHS England. The NHS in England has been divided into 44 footprints, each of which have to take a share of £22bn of cuts to NHS services. Our ‘footprint’ includes Buckinghamshire, Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire.
We discovered what these cuts will mean for Oxfordshire when Reading Council leaked the local STP two weeks ago. This means cuts of £146m and includes £62m to staffing. The biggest group to be affected will be nursing. The 9 Community Hospitals will most probably be shut and 100s of acute Hospital beds closed; the Horton General Hospital will be downgraded and probably have its A&E closed.
The impact on patients will be potentially deadly, with waiting times for emergency and elective care increasing significantly, and journey times to acute care meaning outcomes for patients suffering heart attack or stroke fatal. The NHS will fail following this final financial attack, and will leave it ripe for private companies to ‘come to the rescue’. We recognise this, and it gives energy and impetus to our activism.
We decided we would organise our first demonstration, marching along Cowley Road, the multicultural heart of Oxford, to Carfax in the centre of the City. We engaged with local NHS Campaign groups (Hands off the Horton, Keep Our NHS Public and Save Wantage Community Hospital Campaign), the local Labour Party and Momentum, the Green Party and charities.
The engagement would prove frustrating at times, with some openly negative. We were not to be discouraged; if anything this made us more determined. We set up a Facebook page and Twitter account, calling ourselves Hands Off the NHS, sharing and tweeting our event as far and wide as possible. We sent out a press release and contacted local newspaper and TV news companies.
Another valuable motivation came when we discovered Corbyn would be attending a meeting in Oxford, and was to visit Cowley Road to talk to volunteers at a local Mental Health Charity and LP members. Our plans went well; we had a full size coffin delivered with NHS and our group logo on the top and sides. We sourced a PA system and jazz music to ensure atmosphere.
On the day, we turned up to hear Corbyn speak about the NHS, leafleted beforehand, and were able to discuss further action. From there we met with the media, having interviews with the Oxford Mail and BBC South Today. Two hundred campaigners joined us and our procession took a slow, noisy amble down into town. We shouted ‘Don’t take pictures! Take action!’ and ‘Whose NHS? Your NHS!’
We were visible and engaged the public. Speeches were made passionately and articulately about the issues faced by local and National NHS services. We ended the day exhausted but energised by what was a successful, effective protest. How do I know this? By the excellent coverage in the local media and the public as a whole.
David Bailey is an NHS worker, photographer, socialist and an activist. He has organised and participated in convoys to Calais with Oxfordshire Refugee Solidarity. He also works with the People's Assembly and Stop the War and is a member of Counterfire.