Royal Free Hospital demo over health ‘privatisation’

Health campaigners manned a picket line outside the Royal Free Hospital to protest about privatisation of the NHS, cuts in services and charging for essential healthcare on Monday (April 23).

Members of Trade Union Socialist Party, a coalition of socialist and trade union organisations set up 18 months ago to oppose public cuts, handed out mock NHS credit cards to staff and patients at the hospital in Pond Street, Hampstead.

The cards contained the message “Top up this card to pay your NHS charges: �50 GP appointment, �200 x-ray, �2,000 hip replacement”.

Eamann Devlin, a public health service manager and campaigner, who lives in Glenmore Road, Belsize Park, said: “I have spoken to a couple of senior consultants. I gave them our cards and showed them some leaflets and they are upset about what they are hearing.

“We want to get more doctors, nurses and ambulance staff involved with our campaign. We are trying to raise awareness. We want people to be asking the questions about what this legislation is going to mean for them.”

Members of the Trade Union Socialist Party, which is fielding candidates in the London mayoral elections, fear that the Health and Social Care bill is a step towards privatising the NHS by putting services out to tender to private companies.

Mr Devlin said: “With regards to cuts in services, commissioning care for GP’s means that they can decide what they want to offer.

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“This means that in Camden, for instance, you may get a whole range of services that someone on the opposite side of the street may not get.”

He added that this would pave the way for charging and said: “How charging will work is gradual and piecemeal. The principle of the NHS is free at the point of access but the legislation moves the goalposts on this.

“It will work like dentistry does now - you either go private or pay a top-up fee for an NHS service.

“The most likely charges to begin with will be for non-emergency services such as x-rays, GP appointments and breast screening.

“What each area will charge for will differ from place to place. It will no longer be a national service, and postcode lottery will be massively expanded.”

He predicted a gloomy future and said: “We are heading back to an austerity NHS.”

But a Department of Health spokesman denied privatisation under the Health and Social Care Bill, which has been passed into law.

He said: “We are not privatising the NHS, and the very first clause of the Health Act clearly says the NHS will continue to be free to use.

“What we are doing is handing power to GPs, putting patients at the heart of the NHS, and reducing needless bureaucracy.”