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Why we’re marching to save our hospital today

From 11.30am today, demonstrators will assemble at Highbury Corner in north London, to march to save the Whittington Hospital. Here, the Defend Whittington Hospital Coalition explain why:

In 2010, our massive campaign overturned the government’s proposals to get rid of our Accident and Emergency, Paediatrics, Maternity and Intensive Care services at the Whittington Hospital. Everyone in the area is angry and anxious about the current threats to our hospital.

Under current health legislation the board of the Whittington Hospital has to apply for Foundation Trust status, within an inadequate budget. Their plans include selling off one third of the site, closing masses of beds and services and getting rid of at least 570 jobs. And they are shortening stays in hospital and selling off services to private companies. This last bit is already happening.
Currently the Whittington does not have enough beds; it is operating at 94% occupancy. This is a dangerous level. What if there was a terrible local accident or mass flu epidemeic? Where would people be treated?

Disgracefully, the board tells us it’s a good thing to reduce hospital stays and that people don’t want to go to hospital. But people don’t want to be ill, and when they are ill they want to be able to go to a hospital. We know what community care can be like, especially privatised community care with underpaid staff with insufficient time to treat their patients.

The problem is underfunding and privatisation through the establishment of individual hospital trusts. The problem is government underfunding of the health service. They can find billions for Trident weapons, and millions for war – they will pay for death and destruction and not for health. We need a fully functioning NHS. We have a wonderful community campaign with hospital staff and their unions, patients, local newspapers and the community actively engaged in leafleting, helping to steward the demonstration, tweeting and facebooking to make our demonstration a fantastic success.

While our government awards a contract to BAE Systems of £3 billion to develop a new Trident fleet of submarines and weapons, it asks hospitals across the country to find £20 billion of cuts up to 2015 at a time of an ageing and expanding population. There are plans to establish a new fleet of Trident submarines costing up to £25 billion and the government spends £37.5 billion on defence annually.
The costs of wars across the world do not include the costs for the mental distress caused to soldiers and the costs to the health service of their terrible injuries. One in ten of the prison population were recent serving soldiers on the battlefield of Iraq and Afghanistan.

Not only is the government cutting the health budget, it is privatising health through the so-called health and social care legislation, whereby all hospitals have to become Foundation Trusts by 2015 so that they can be separate business units, and as such can be run by private health care companies. This is already happening to services within hospitals and across the NHS.

At our local hospital the impact of this privatisation, cuts and prioritisation of death over health means that in their application for Foundation Trust status the Whittington Hospital is planning to sell off one third of its buildings – lost forever to the NHS – lose at least 570 jobs, including 220 nurses, and get rid of wards and beds.

In their desperate efforts to sell the plan to us, the hospital board tell us we do not need hospital beds these days, so they are also going for a policy, which they have started to implement, of very early discharge, promising us excellent care in the community. This care in the community is provided by private health companies, with non-NHS staff, employed on far worse private health conditions.

The plan for bed closures is dangerous. Already there is a bed crisis in the area. The hospital has a bed occupancy rate of 94%, where the recommended figure is 84%. There are currently ‘red alerts’ with insufficient beds for hospital care needs. If there was a large-scale accident at one of our local institutions or tube stations, where would the injured be treated? The hospital and the government will have more blood on its hands.

This is why the Whittington community is marching in their thousands on today to tell the hospital board to stop the sell off of buildings, beds and jobs and to join us in a wider campaign to stop the privatisation and decimation of our NHS across the country. Please join us!

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