NHS defence needs to give Hunt a smack in the mouth

HEALTH Secretary Jeremy Hunt has just discovered that conditions for patients in some hospitals are appalling, especially for the elderly. An independent inquiry led by Robert Francis QC has found cases of “shocking care”. Fortunately cases like the Mid Staffordshire NHS are not typical, they are very rare. But that is no thanks to Jeremy Hunt of his predecessor Andrew Lansley.

What is it that turn that turns healthcare professionals, who joined with the intention of making life better for the sick and elderly — it cannot have been for the wages — into cold hearted automatons who do not seem to give a damn? It is profound demoralisation, despair and depression, brought about by endless job cuts that leave those surviving insecure and overworked — along with continual Government-inspired upheavals in structure and management and frozen pay packets that no longer meet the costs of basic survival. Demoralisation in hospitals can be more infectious than MRSA.

But there is method behind Hunt’s sudden discovery. He wants to paint life as a patient under NHS care as awful — and frightening — as possible to make his remedy seem palatable — bringing in more and more of the private sector. He wants to undermine the respect and affection that the working class in Britain has for the NHS.

But the opposite is happening. The more the Con- Dem Coalition cuts the NHS, the more the working class are becoming aware and angry. Of all the cuts that are going on, it is the attack on the NHS that is evoking the biggest response from the working class. That is because every working class person has had, or will have in the future to look to the NHS to look after us when we are injured, ill and vulnerable. We all know at least one person whose life has been saved by the NHS and for most of us it welcomes us into the world and looks after our last needs as we leave it.

Marches in support of threatened hospitals and specialist units have brought hundreds of thousands on to the streets who would never have dreamed of joining a demonstration for any other reason. It is a starting point for the dawning of political awareness; the realisation when people on the march for the first time find themselves among neighbours and workmates. There is a real kick in being part of a huge and powerful movement; the realisation that in sufficient numbers we really can be powerful.

But it is a mood that can be lost all too quickly if there is a lack of leadership or if huge marches are ignored or there is no follow through to higher levels of action. At the moment it is the unions and trades councils that are playing a leading role. And at a local level they are doing great things.

If we are to save the NHS the union leaders must lead; anti-union laws must be defied and unions from different sectors must give each other real solidarity action and support. They must follow up these huge marches with stepping up the action to higher levels — general strikes and all-out strikes must be considered. It needs leaders with courage who are ready to take risks and raise everyone’s morale.

Jeremy Hunt wants a long debate on the future of the NHS. We all know where he wants to take it. We must enter the debate with a smack in the face to Hunt, Cameron, Clegg, Osborne and all with the force of a million fists behind it.