Earlier this month it was announced that two NHS A&E and maternity units serving South West London and Surrey will have to close as a result of the 24% cuts to NHS services in the region being imposed by the coalition government. Why is Epsom hospital now being threatened in this way? For all of us in danger of losing local healthcare, is there an alternative to these cuts or do we simply have to accept Tory hypocrisy and the rise of expensive private healthcare? Ben Gliniecki reports.
Earlier this month the Better Services Better Value (BSBV) review board recommended that two NHS A&E and maternity units serving South West London and Surrey will have to close as a result of the 24% cuts to NHS services in the region being imposed by the coalition government. According to the regional secretary of Unison, it is the units at Epsom hospital that are currently most seriously under threat.
Demand for A&E and maternity services in Surrey is as high as ever and the Conservative party made a clear and concrete promise in the run up to the 2010 election not to cut the NHS. So why is Epsom hospital now being threatened in this way? For all of us in danger of losing local healthcare is there an alternative to these cuts or do we simply have to accept Tory hypocrisy and the rise of expensive private healthcare?
The BSBV review was set up to enforce £370m of cuts to NHS services in South West London every year until 2017. When asked why the NHS is being cut, despite an election pledge not to do so, the Tories cynically respond by saying that the NHS budget has not been cut from the 2010 level, but neither will it be increased from that level for seven years despite soaring costs. This equates to a 24% cut in real terms to the NHS budget by 2017.
Epsom hospital has been brought within the scope of the review as an afterthought at the same time as police, fire and library services in Surrey are suffering under the strain of cuts being imposed as part of the Coalition’s austerity agenda. All of this is taking place even before the agenda for the cuts in Surrey has been fully developed, let alone implemented. The future for public services in Surrey is not bright.
The cuts in Surrey reflect the austerity under which the rest of Britain is currently struggling. We are told we must stomach this austerity in order to reduce the country’s deficit; yet no effort is made to recoup the £900bn of public money spent bailing out the banks and no effort is made to close the deficit by making the bankers and bosses pay for this crisis. Why does the Coalition prefer to lower corporation tax, thus handing more money to the richest corporations, whilst capping the benefits of the poorest in society and cutting the public services relied upon by the majority of people?
For those of us who are unhappy about what is happening to services in Surrey, what can we do about it? Chris Grayling, Tory MP for Epsom and Ewell and Secretary of State for Justice is leading the campaign to ‘Save Epsom Hospital’. Is Grayling a man we can trust to protect our services in Surrey?
As a member of the coalition cabinet, Grayling has approved the enormous cuts to the NHS budget. It seems strange and deeply hypocritical that such an enthusiastic supporter of the austerity policies of Cameron and Osborne should then complain when the direct consequences of those policies are felt in his own constituency. If Grayling really wanted to save Epsom hospital, surely he wouldn’t have approved the cuts in the first place?
Furthermore, in November last year Grayling gave public support to a new private medical imaging centre in Epsom, an institution that operates in direct competition with Epsom hospital. By cutting the NHS budget and supporting local private healthcare enterprises it seems that Grayling is in fact guilty of doing everything he can to destroy public healthcare in Epsom.
The labour movement in Surrey
So to whom should we turn to defend services in Surrey? Historically, when the rights of ordinary working people have come under threat they have turned to the trade unions and their political representatives in the Labour Party. The labour movement in Surrey has historically had a small presence, with a small trade union presence and just one out of eighty councillors on Surrey County Council being a member of the Labour Party.
However, the union and party structures do exist and could be used by working people to organise ourselves into a cohesive and powerful movement that could mobilise a significant campaign to save services in Surrey. Such organisational structures should be used as much as possible so that, as the people most affected by the cuts, we are able to organise ourselves to fight our own battles rather than being forced to place our trust in a cynical Tory MP to fight our corner for us.
Such campaigns would not take on the stereotypical character of the Tory leadership – that of backroom deals and unprincipled compromise – but the character of a struggle of the mass of working people through public meetings, demonstrations, pickets and strike action.
Such a movement is only possible through the pre-existing structures of the trade unions and the Labour Party in Surrey, and must be linked to a nation-wide campaign by the labour movement against the coalition government and their programme of austerity. This movement is also only possible with a clear and coherent political programme that identifies the state of the modern economy as a crisis of capitalism. Capitalist crisis necessitates cuts to public services relied on by the majority of people to appease the tiny minority of bankers and businessmen who control the world financial markets.
The Labour and trade union movement must demand a break with this anarchy of the capitalist system, to be replaced by the democratic and public ownership of the commanding heights of the economy, to be run for societal need, not profit. In short, to effectively defend Epsom hospital and other public services, both in Surrey and across Britain, we need our trade unions and the Labour Party to fight for a socialist programme.