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Conference Demonstration Against NHS Privatisation

pinkolady | 30.09.2013 02:20 | Health | Public sector cuts | Workers' Movements

It was big, it was loud, and it drew people from everywhere between Glasgow and Devon.

There was an expectant quiet in the city centre when I arrived, early, for the NHS demonstration. I hadn't been sure I wanted to go on another A to B march against the Tories. But this one was impressive, and it was on a theme which gets too little publicity: NHS privatisation.
Many people will not be aware that some NHS services in their area have already been privatised. Where I live, in Oldham, the ambulance service has been sold to Arriva (and has attracted 111 complaints in less than a year), the hospital cleaning service has been sold to G4S (also involved in a workfare scheme in the area) and the cancer treatment centre is partly privately funded. Privatisation almost always produces a worse service at higher cost. Many people are also not aware that the Health Reform Act, which was passed last year, removed the Health Minister's responsibility for ensuring even health care provision across the whole country. Before long, what you get will depend on where you live. If you can't get the treatment you need - well, you can always pay privately. The Tories intention (though it has to be said, they are following on from what the Labour Party originally started) is to sell off or contract out NHS hospitals and services piece by piece. And this creeping privatisation is in addition to cuts in the health service budget.
The front of the march was occupied by Unison and PCS, with the PCS Samba Band in the lead. Although the theme was NHS privatisation, there were other groups with their own beef about Tory policies. So after the health service unions came the Fire Service union, UCU, GMB, anti bedroom tax protestors, an anti fracking group (with placards asking the Tories whether they really think Blackpool is 'desolate' enough for fracking not to worry anybody!), Women Asylum Seekers Together, and legal aid lawyers.
I watched the parade go along Deansgate and the whole march took an hour and 15 minutes to pass by. It was intended to end in a rally at Whitworth Park on the university campus. I didn't myself get that far. When the demonstration reached the conference centre and the Midland Hotel next to it, where some of the Tories may have been holed up, they couldn't resist stopping to chant and heckle and boo. A trickle of protestors carried on along the road, but others blocked it. Any Tories in the vicinity were not going to be allowed a quiet afternoon. This went on for about fifteen minutes, then I thought the police were going to try a kettle - I could see them forming up - so I slipped down a side street with a few other people. We doubled back to Oxford Street just as the police were clearing the road block.