Yesterday, I went on the march and rally to save hospitals in West London. For those of you living outside of West London, Charing Cross, Hammersmith, Central Westminster and Ealing Hospitals, are to have their Accident and Emergency departments closed under the government’s plans to
destroy streamline the NHS. All emergency treatment will then be provided by Northwick Park, West Middlesex and Chelsea and Westminster hospitals. For those of us who live in Hammersmith and Fulham or Ealing, these A&E units are too far away and anyone needing emergency care could find themselves dying en route to one of these hospitals.
In the last few months, I’ve used Charing Cross A&E department: once for a badly burned hand and last week, for chest pains…. which turned out to be a muscular-skeletal problem. If that A&E department were to close, I would have to spend an hour getting from my home to the nearest hospital.
Here in Hammersmith and Fulham, the ruling Tory group supported the resident’s campaign and cross-party opposition to the closures. As was reported on this blog and Stephen Cowan’s blog, the Tories later back-peddled and signed off the government’s proposed closure of Charing Cross and Hammersmith Hospitals.
Cllr Cowan says,
It turned out that there has been a considerable amount of disquiet amongst local Conservatives about attacking their own government’s policy of hospital cuts. Many had never wanted to join the residents-led campaign in the first place. When the government offered them a cop out they took it and figured they could use council funds to blanket the Borough with propaganda spinning what they had done.
They have so far spent over £20,000.00 of tax payers’ money telling residents that they have “Saved Charing Cross Hospital.” Nobody who has studied the facts or heard their explanations believes that’s true. In fact, in the panic of trying to explain themselves last week, one Conservative councillor admitted nothing had been finalised and nothing yet agreed – underlining how the Conservatives have undermined their negotiating position.
Hammersmith & Fulham Tories have shot themselves in the foot over this issue and have exposed themselves as hypocrites.
The Hammersmith and Fulham side of the march started at Acton Park. I took my bike with me since it is quicker to get to the park by cycling than to take the 266 bus. I arrived in time to hear Andy Slaughter speak.
There are at least 300 people assembled here. The march starts and we walk down Uxbridge Road towards Acton. I’ve put my bike in the lowest gear and I’m riding very, very slowly at the sort of speed that is alien to London’s legion of bad cyclists. One of the march stewards even compliments me on my control skills. Loads of motorists beep their horns in solidarity as they pass us on the other side of the road.
We arrive at Ealing Common. There’s a funfair. It’s not a great day for fun fairs. The chilly, damp weather has done its best to dampen our spirits but it hasn’t succeeded. We’re here to let our voices be heard. There are more people here than at the dismal Rally Against Debt a couple of years ago. And you know what? You never see anyone from UKIP or any other so-called libertarians at these rallies and do you know why? They don’t care.
I look towards north-westwards and I can see a the Ealing contingent making its way towards us, there must be around 1,000 of them. I can see the banners of the local Labour, Green and Socialist Party branches. The Socialist Workers Party, Left Unity and even the Workers Revolutionary Party are here too. There’s even someone selling the WRP’s paper, Newsline. I haven’t seen that for awhile.
Bob Marley’s song Get Up, Stand Up is blaring from the speakers. It’s an inspired choice. “Get up, stand up. Stand up for your rights. Get up, stand up. Don’t give up the fight”!
This woman’s placard (below) says it all.
One of the leading campaigners from Ealing, Dr Onkar Sahota, who is also an AM for the Greater London Authority, has the task of being MC for the afternoon. Ealing, unlike Hammersmith and Fulham, is a Labour-controlled council and has resisted the government’s plans. Sahota tells us that many people from neighbouring boroughs of Hillingdon, Harrow and Brent are here making their voices heard. Indeed, this is a good turn-out. I can see Ealing’s MP Stephen Pound waiting in the wings, when he does come up to the mike, he comes across as something of a showman (he used to be a boxer). The crowd loves it.
Pound is followed by Tory MP, Angie Bray, who is greeted with a mix of boos and applause. She leaves to the same mix of boos and applause. A woman standing next to me complains and tells those who are heckling Bray to shut up. They’re not listening to her remonstrations and she walks off in a huff.
One speaker from the GMB union reminds us that the Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt authored a book in which he calls for the NHS to be denationalised, but erroneously attributes the words “60 year old mistake” to him. These were, in fact, the words of Lyin’ King when he appeared on Fox News five years ago to lambast the NHS and argue for his coveted small state. Nonetheless the sentiment is the same. In spite of his warm words and vacant expression, Hunt does not like the NHS and like many of his fellow Tories, he wants to cut it to pieces and sell-off the profitable parts to his vulture capitalist friends. Andy Slaughter reminds the rally that under the council’s proposals, 60% of Charing Cross Hospital site will be sold off to private developers. The Tories, despite what they’ve said about ‘saving’ the hospital, have done nothing of the sort.
Dr Thomas Sissons, writing in The Independent in February says,
Hammersmith and Fulham council is the only council out of 11 in London affected by the hospital closures to have supported them, and this is a damning reflection of their interest in what those they govern think. They are stitching up their own constituents, metaphorically but certainly not literally, so that they can play nice with central government. Their decision to release these plans before the official date may have given us some unwitting help though by allowing us some time to organise. What we need to do now is campaign against this ham-fisted reorganisation.
A Lib Dem councillor comes on to speak and at that point, I decide to leave. The Lib Dems have done much to support this Conservative-led government in achieving its ambitions, none of which appeared in their manifesto and for which they have no mandate. A man next to me says, “I don’t want to listen to the Lib Dem, they helped the Tories to do this”. I agree with him, get on my bike and ride home.
The next Save our Hospitals event is a rally at Jubilee Gardens (where I once lamented the passing of the GLC) on 18 May at 1200. If you care about hospital provision in London, you’ll be there. I know I will.
You can find out more about the campaign here.