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The Doctors, the Politicians, the People and the NHS.

Location: UK » London » N

On March 15th the British Medical Association met for the first special representative meeting in 19 years to discuss the health bill.

The meeting was telling of how angry many doctors are over plans to privatize the NHS. At the same time a group of protesters, a mixture of pensioners, medical students, student nurses and students from other disciplines congregated outside. Their message was clear, ‘We don’t want a privatized NHS, we want our NHS, a world class public service that cares for all’. Medical students from UCL held a lottery, highlighting privatization of the NHS.

At lunchtime text messages were sent around, one said 99% of doctors voted to call on Lansley to withdraw the health bill and to not support the damaging and unjustified shake up of the NHS. We were hopeful that the outcome would be firstly a unanimous vote against the bill and secondly a call for strike action. 

Instead the evening text messages shocked and confused us. At some point between the afternoon and evening the BMA had an about turn and some of the 99% that voted to oppose the bill, changed their mind. At the decisive moment we had very little power.

Instead a few people, not representative of the population made a decision that affects us all. One GP said the decision taken by the BMA could mean the end of the NHS by the summer. Whilst a few GPs said it had been a set-up.

So where do we stand? At the time of writing 38 Degrees has collected 189509 signatures in its campaign to Save the NHS. It’s target for the end of the day is 250000 signatures. 

Over the weekend the Lib Dems, ‘overwhelmingly passed a motion calling on the government to refashion the reforms away from competition and marketisation’ (The Guardian) meaning no privatisation. ‘A group of Tory MPs tabled a motion urging ministers to listen to the concerns of patients groups, professional bodies and independent experts.

The cross-party motion signed by four Tory MPs – Dr Sarah Wollaston, Charles Walker, Douglas Carswell and Anne Main – urges ministers to work with these groups to achieve a strengthened NHS. The motion, in the form of an amendment to a Labour motion due to be debated in the Commons on Wednesday, is a sign that Tory MPs are starting to become concerned that Andrew Lansley, the health secretary, is not taking health professionals with him in his radical reform plans’ (The Guardian).

In this light is the BMA’s vote representative of public opinion? If the BMA had voted against the bill it would have been unworkable. The few GPs who changed the BMA’s vote believe they can negotiate with the government. 

But let’s be clear about this. The unanimous vote against the bill by the Lib Dems got a luke warm reception. Lansley said, ‘only minor changes would be made’. In 2010 the government’s handling of the student fees, they didn’t listen to 52,000 students and when the heat was on they brought the vote forward, gives some insight into the government’s position on negotiation.

At the time of writing there have been little or no negotiations and it would be fair to say that those in the BMA who changed their vote have given the wolf the reins.

At a TUC conference a Labour MP, who will remain unnamed said, ‘the new Tories now in power scare me. They are not interested in the democratic process. All they want to do is push through their ideas and they want to do it quickly before they are forced out of power’.

We can see this happening now with the NHS health bill. The bill without a mandate is already being pushed through. At the time of writing Barts Hospital is set to lose 630 jobs and 100 beds. £15 million cuts are being made at the Homerton hospital.

King Georges A& E that serves 500,000 people is fighting closure. Leyton Health Clinic that has a children’s clinic and serves the community is fighting closure. District nurses and midwives have been sacked. Speech therapists went on strike because of job redundancies.

In Camden two mental health hospitals have closed. False Economy’s web site has a live feed about what is happening to the NHS now and what I’ve just described is happening across the country.

NHS staff have been warned not speak out publicly about cuts to services and jobs. So how do we know what is happening? In London there are local NHS anti-cuts meetings.

At these meetings held in pubs and community centers GPs, nurses, ambulance workers, and health workers, feel safe enough to speak about the cuts happening now.

The question is what kind of system do we live under that creates fear amongst health workers, fear which stops them from speaking publicly about what is happening.  Normally systems that instill fear in people are called undemocratic in the west or dictatorships in the east.

As a privatized system the NHS will no longer be under public scrutiny. Once ‘NHS money flows out of public bodies such as PCTs and the new GP commissioning consortiums into the private sector, it’s very hard to work out how it’s being used and who is profiting from it. The Freedom of Information Act does not apply to private companies, the National Audit Office has no powers to require data from them, and past experience suggests that NHS bodies will claim that the details of contracts with private companies are commercially confidential. So we may never know who makes how much money from these reforms’ (The Guardian).

The ball is now in our court to stand up for our NHS. We can do this alongside the GPs in the BMA who voted against the bill and all of those from every sector. United we can put an end to this bill. The situation is critical, not only are services disappearing with little or no discussion, the future for medical students and student nurses looks bleak.

At a recent lecture at Kings College to student nurses, a government health worker told them that their future training lies within the community. In London cuts by councils has seen vital services close and we are expecting 50,000 health worker redundancies. So where will our future nurses get training when services are closed?

The simple answer is no one knows and the government is playing a political game with people’s lives.

Statements from GPs, service users and medical students.

Jacky Davis, BMA Council, Member and co-founder of Keep Our NHS Public -  ‘We voted to throw out every part of the bill except for GP commissioning which we argued we could have without legislation. We voted to ask Mr. Lansley to withdraw his bill. This bill is now in tatters and Mr. Lansley needs to take his own advice and listen to doctors. Withdraw this unwanted legislation’.

Dr. A Kumar, GP - ‘The motions were debated through an excellent mediator throughout the day in an extremely democratic process. Every motion that supported the bill was rejected almost unanimously on every count. However when it came to rejecting the bill in its entirety a few key speakers perhaps and maybe some agendas, altered what would have been a natural progression from the meeting.

It will be interesting to now see how our conservative profession negotiates our way through and against a resounding voice from the Profession that says the bill is unacceptable’.

Dr. David Wrigley, GP in Lancashire - ‘I am opposed to the bill because I can see more big businesses coming into health care. It means profits before patients. Keep fighting to stop the NHS being privatised’.

Eileen from Keep Our NHS Public - ‘I am extremely disappointed with this decision by the BMA. I believe there has been bribery by private health care firms and I believe that politicians are now corrupt and do not have morals and principles. The health care service is not tradable’.

Poppy Redman, second year medical student UCL – ‘We are very disappointed that the BMA changed it’s position on the bill. In the afternoon 99% voted to call on Lansley to withdraw the bill. Yet in the evening the BMA changed it’s mind. They are one of the few groups who have a voice large enough to make a difference. They have failed the people that trust them to represent their views, health workers, medical students, students, pensioners, welfare recipients, disabled people and other members of the public’.

We are of the opinion that fundamentally they agree with us, but unfortunately the majority seems to naively believe that they can negotiate with the Conservative government.

As a medical student I am terrified about what the NHS will look like after four years time when I have graduated. Will there even be an NHS? I do not want to work in a privatized health service. I do not want to work in a health service that will result from Lansley’s bill’.

Krishna Sivakumaran, UCL medical student - ‘The BMA delegates passed almost all the motions either condemning segments of the bill or calling for urgent amendments to it and even went as far as voting with an overwhelming majority to call on Andrew Lansley to withdraw the health and social care bill.

Unfortunately, when it came to crystallizing the BMA’s position on the bill, the representative meeting narrowly failed to outright oppose the bill as it believed it would be better served by continuing its approach of engagement with the government in the hope of securing some of the numerous amendments it has tabled.

I only hope that this approach turns out to be justified and if not, that the BMA has a contingent plan in case the government continues as it has for the last six months, to completely ignore the desperate concerns of all those who are to be involved in the enactment of this bill’.


March 23rd NHS direct action are planning an action for budget day.

March 26th TUC march. NHS health workers, medical students and student nurses will be meeting at different locations. Contact Keep Our NHS Public to find out about meeting places. Build for the next big NHS protest.

March 30th. Meet at Guy’s and Royal London to march to Deutsche bank to demand the banker donate his bonus to oncology at Guy’s hospital. Contact savethenhsnow@gmail.com and Keep Our NHS Public.

April 1st TUC CALL FOR NATIONAL DAY OF ACTION TO SAVE THE NHS FROM PRIVATISATION. Mass lobbying. Pensioners have called for mass occupations. Contact savethenhsnow@gmail.com and Keep Our NHS Public.

Report and photographs by Corine Dhondee




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