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The Health and Care Bill needs to be stopped

NHS staff are rising up against a Tory move to open up our health service to privatisation. Join them, support them — or lose the NHS for good, writes HELEN O'CONNOR

UNIONS across the NHS are at various stages of balloting for strike action. GMB is running a full legal strike ballot and we are urging our members to check their post and vote for industrial action before December 15.

Why is militant action necessary in the NHS? It’s necessary because it is clearer than ever before that the Tories are intent on selling off our NHS for good.

The Health and Care Bill should be called “the privatisation Bill” — if it is implemented, the NHS as we know it will be gone within the next decade or so. The opening up of the NHS to privatisation has been a disaster for both patients and staff. The Bill is now on the third reading and set to become law; this will give the government unparalleled powers to degrade staff roles, outsource more NHS core care services and reduce services.

The Health and Care Bill will affect NHS staff directly. Nursing as a distinct, highly skilled professional role is under attack because the Tories want bring in fundamental systemic changes that will mean anyone can claim the title of nurse without the three-year degree-level training necessary to be fully competent.

This level of deregulation has not been seen before and it will be deadly for patients. The inevitable result will be to further demoralise staff, deepen the NHS recruitment crisis and increase the risk of harm to patients.

The news stories of patients dying before emergency help arrives and ambulances queuing up outside hospitals are just the tip of the iceberg. On a daily basis NHS staff are being put in intolerable situations and they are being asked to carry too much risk by tiers of management intent on swelling posts at directorate and business administration level whilst cutting and restructuring front-line services. The Health and Care Bill will lead to an acceleration of a culture where highly paid jobs for friends and family are prioritised over safe service delivery.

For the past 40-odd years there has been a political consensus that there is no alternative to cuts and privatisation of the NHS, with a brief respite under the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn. But it now seems as if this consensus has been re-established. We must be firm on the principle that a properly funded, well-resourced NHS is the only real alternative.

If we are to save the NHS, which we can and must, then it will require a co-ordinated strategy, political, industrial and social, in order to do so.

We must start our defence of the NHS by establishing the idea that everyone, whether they are a Labour Party politician, a trade unionist or a community campaigner, must fully oppose the Health and Care Bill and all cuts and privatisation in the NHS.

How many times do we have to say this? Privatisation is the legalised theft of our assets and of our public services and there never has been and never will be “good privatisation.”

Strikes and protest action by NHS staff themselves have traditionally been frowned upon. It remains difficult to remove the barriers to NHS staff linking up with community campaigners and vice versa in a robust defence of the NHS utilising a variety of tactics up to and including industrial action.

It is no accident that clinical NHS workers are ramping up their involvement in the struggle to protect the NHS. NHS staff are the “canary in the mine” and they are mobilising in large numbers because conditions in the NHS are at a critical point. The demand for a 15 per cent restorative pay rise for front-line staff is being ignored by a government which pushes gestures like clapping when NHS staff are falling into poverty and reliant on food banks. The midwives marched across the country last weekend because newborn babies and their mothers are suffering significant harm due to shortages of trained midwives.

NHS staff backed by the GMB union are marching on Parliament on December 10 to send out a message that the deterioration of pay, terms and conditions are inextricably linked to the slow and deliberate removal of free healthcare. Let’s join this  protest in large numbers and get fully behind these NHS staff because they are at the sharp end of toxic government NHS strategy and they are not just fighting for themselves — they are fighting for an NHS for all of us.

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