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Proletarian issue 35 (April 2010)
Defend our NHS; save the Whittington A&E
The campaign to save a vital A&E department in north London is doubtless the first of many defensive battles to come if healthcare services are to be retained.
Regular readers of Proletarian will be aware of our view that it’s virtually impossible, and thoroughly pointless, to try to distinguish between the three main capitalist parties, all of which are committed to maintaining the state power of their masters, the monopoly bourgeoisie. The job of all three is to manage the day-to-day exploitation of the proletariat, the ordinary working people who create all the wealth in our society. “Long live capitalism!” they chant in unison.

Nonetheless, in the interests of ‘democracy’, and especially in the run-up to elections, these three parties must be seen to differ (and sometimes in a superficially major way) on at least some questions. If not, why bother to vote?

Is the local authority going to continue funding your community centre or not? The answer depends on what goes on there. If it’s a question of learning Turkish or Urdu, Labour will support you as a token gesture of multiculturalism. The Tories would prefer embroidery classes for the blue-rinse brigade and, if the LibDems had their way, funding would be dependent on the amount of greenhouse gases produced by heating the room for a geriatric chess competition.

It’s surprising then, if you happen to live in the London borough of Islington, to find that all of your local councillors are thoroughly united in opposition to the closure of the Accident and Emergency Department (A&E) at the Whittington Hospital.

The A&E at this world-renowned and world-class health facility, upon which fully 80,000 people depended last year, is facing the threat of being shut down by September of this year.

Technically speaking, three alternative ‘cost-cutting’ measures, innocuously labelled as ‘restructuring’, are on the table. All of them, however, would result in the loss of the Whittington’s casualty department as it now stands – and promises of public consultation, made at a public meeting to discuss the future of the hospital, have subsequently been downplayed by NHS bureaucrats. Perhaps the emphasis is on the first syllable: ‘CON’ rather than ‘sultation’. It wouldn’t be the first time, in Islington or anywhere else in our capitalist society.

Reaction by the borough council has been unanimous. The closure has been publicly opposed by Tories, Labour councillors, LibDems, the sole Green and the lone Independent Liberal.

Why? Because it was clear from the very beginning that the people of Islington and neighbouring boroughs – a huge working-class constituency – were “not f***in’ ‘avin’ it’” as a local resident succinctly told Proletarian.

And opposition to the proposed closure does seem to be pretty much universal. So much so, in fact, that leadership of the campaign has been opportunistically claimed by the Trotskyites of the Socialist Workers Party, the local LibDems (under notoriously arrogant and self-important MP Lynn Featherstone), the Greens and Jeremy Corbyn’s Islington North Labour party.

While Corbyn has, indeed, been chairing the public meetings organised to galvanise opposition to the A&E closure, the sight of Labour rosettes in a meeting to defend fundamental working-class interests tends to provoke nausea. Is it a Tory government seeking to close the Whittington A&E? We don’t think so.

Members and supporters of our party recently played an important role in the first demonstration organised by the Defend the Whittington Hospital Coalition, having been specifically invited as a party to take part in the campaign.

The demonstration was reported in the Islington Tribune, a local – and famously progressive – weekly newspaper, which, having used its columns to oppose the A&E closure from the very outset, has far more claim to leadership of the campaign than either the main bourgeois parties or the Trotskyites of the SWP, who show up everywhere working-class people are in struggle in order merely to recruit.

The paper said that the demonstration had “exceeded expectations as what seemed like a never-ending trail of people stopped the traffic from Highbury Corner through Holloway and on to Highgate Hill.

It included politicians from all mainstream parties, patients and live musicians including Red Jen Matthias’ band and the Whittington Wildcats jazz band. There were famous faces from the stage as well, as actors Bill Patterson and Juliet Stevenson seized placards ...

Behind the scenes, doctors are understood to have been implored to stay away from the controversy, but the BMA [British Medical Association] has said it will ‘support groups that speak out against this. This is not a time to be without a union. We need a pan-London coalition’.”

As an integral part of the coalition, the CPGB-ML – along with other forces campaigning to defend the local National Health Service in north London – feels obliged to make a number of observations at this point.

Claims that ‘restructuring’ the health service and ‘rationalising’ the local NHS in Islington are necessary in order to make the service solvent are entirely bogus. The money is there, and even more of it would be available were NHS administrators and managers to be stripped of their obscene salaries and agree to accept an amount of money more in keeping with that received by clinical staff (junior doctors and nurses, for example). These, not the bureaucrats, are the people we depend on for health care.

The closure of the Whittington A&E would result in no out-of-hours emergency health cover for the better part of 200,000 people. The alternative of local polyclinics – where primary care (and primary care only) would be offered by a combination of GPs and alleged specialists – is simply no alternative; they would close at 8.00pm.

Local people, those living in the London boroughs of Islington, Haringey and Camden, continue to rely on the Whittington A&E. The plan to close it, engineered by accountants, agents of central government and vastly overpaid NHS bureaucrats, is not going to wash in north London’s working-class communities.

The CPGB-ML pledges itself to continue fighting to rescue the Accident and Emergency Department at London’s Whittington Hospital, along with the National Health Service as a whole.

We urge all those readers of Proletarian living in the Whittington catchment area to get on board this campaign. And, given the leaked threat to target a dozen more A&Es in London alone, we think we’ll be seeing many of you on demonstrations and picket lines in other parts of the capital, as well.

Defend the Whittington A&E!
Save the NHS from capitalist greed!

> Save the NHS From Capitalist Greed - Book
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