A small group of healthcare professionals and supporters gathered at The Fountains on Saturday (February 26) to rally public support for the NHS.
Bristol’s Protect Our NHS group were acting as part of a national day of action SOS NHS, organised by a coalition of groups dedicated to protecting the NHS from privatisation and advocating for greater protection for workers.
Tony Horwood, executive committee member of Keep Our NHS Public who was present at Saturday’s demo, said: ‘NHS staff and their patients are facing the hardest winter ever in health and social care.
‘This day of action, aptly called SOS NHS, has been called as we must act now to safeguard services for patients and service users, boost staff morale and tackle the mental health crisis among health and care staff. Emergency funds must be secured now to avert disaster,’ he said.
Around 12 people were present to leaflet the public and gather signatures on a petition calling on the government to provide £20bn in emergency funding for the NHS, protection for a fully publicly-owned NHS and pay justice for NHS staff in the form of a 15% pay rise.
The NHS is facing a staffing crisis, hamstrung by under-funding and haemorrhaging staff at a rate of 400 per week due to overwork, burnout and mental health issues. Pay rises at rates consistently below inflation have left staff thousands of pounds a year worse off compared to a decade ago.
There are also fears in the NHS about the new Health and Social Care Bill currently making its way through Parliament, which opponents say will increase private companies’ access to the NHS, undermining it as a public service.
Tony said the current problems with the NHS have been a long time coming.
The introduction of the internal market – first in 1990 and supplemented by the 2012 Health and Social Care Act – laid the groundwork for future privatisations, with the ultimate goal, Tony said, of ‘putting private companies deeper into the very structure of the National Health Service.’
The new Health and Social Care Bill introduces a further turn of the screw via Integrated Care Systems, decision-making bodies responsible for the care of patients in a given region. The new Bill would allow private companies much greater access to and control of these systems resulting, said Tony, in a greater focus on ‘selling off more services, putting more profit into the private sector.’
Such issues come against the backdrop of Brexit which, Tony said, has left many in the NHS feeling unwelcome in the UK, and the pandemic with its test and trace system that ‘barely worked’ outsourced to the tune of £37bn.
Present at the demo and speaking to the public was Peggy Woodward, a retired midwife who spent nearly 50 years in the NHS and has seen the impact of privatisation and underfunding on patient care and staff morale.
Many midwives are now voting with their feet and leaving the profession, she said. The continuous lack of funding and resources leaves young nurses and doctors feeling they can’t provide the level of care they would like to.
Peggy spoke strongly against privatisation in the NHS. The 2012 Health and Social Care Bill divided NHS Trusts against one another, she said, and turned patients into customers in a market.
‘Calling people consumers when they’re ill is not right,’ she said.
As she spoke, Joni Mitchell’s “Yellow Taxi” played on a stereo nearby.
‘That’s the NHS,’ said Peggy, referencing the song’s lyrics: ‘You don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone.’
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