More than one hundred residents and campaigners have come together in Greater Manchester to fight against the potentially devastating changes to the NHS that `even Thatcher did not dare to impose'.
The Greater Manchester Health Emergency summit brought members of the numerous NHS grass-roots campaign groups set up across the region together for the first time to attempt to build a united front against hospital unit closures, privatisation of services and cuts.
The meeting, organised jointly by the Greater Manchester Association of Trades Union Councils (GMATUC) and Manchester Keep Our NHS Public, discussed how to inform the public of impending changes and threats to services, many of which are being ushered in underhandedly, and how to organise effectively to reverse them.
A banner inscribed with Aneurin Bevan's famous motto, that "the NHS will last as long as there are folk left with the faith to fight for it" provided a needed morale boost in the wake of the recent confirmation of the closure of Trafford Hospital's accident and emergency unit.
Attendees proposed a commitment to encouraging widespread community involvement in campaigns, helped by an intention to set up a Keep Our NHS Public region-wide network to link campaigns and pool resources.
Participants also backed plans to co-ordinate days of public action including Greater Manchester-wide participation in the national demonstration scheduled for the 4th May, and bring more young people into campaigns who will bear the long-term impact of the far-reaching overhauls.
One of the speakers, GP John Lister, urged the need to act fast against the Coalition's regressive changes to public healthcare brought about by the massive £20bn of proposed savings and the 2012 Health and Social Care Act. He spoke of the importance of mobilising the community into action, forcing the Labour Party and councils to resist the policies, and getting unions to do more.
"These changes are what even Thatcher didn't dare impose!" John said "We have only seen the tip of the iceberg of cuts so far. We have to mobilise quickly so that people don't die as a result of them."
Up to five local A&E units across Greater Manchester face the threat of closure or downgrading to `urgent care' centres under proposed financial cuts and changes in the `Healthier Together Review' into how local NHS services are provided. Included is Trafford General where downgrading was confirmed three weeks ago and where Aneurin Bevan founded the NHS in 1948.
Salford has already seen its maternity unit cut, proposed reductions of 750 jobs between 2010 and 2013 and massive pay cuts including up to a £6,000 reduction for pathology staff at Salford Royal Hospital.
Changes to improve `efficiency' and re-structure Salford's mental health services have also been the subject of a continued campaign by members of the United Salford Users Committee who claimed that the Council was initially reluctant to involve service users in consultations.
"I think increases in home visits, reduced staff and the farming out of workers on tender to private companies could lead to people losing out, becoming more isolated and maybe even risk lives" said Susan Wright a former service user.
Elsewhere 500 jobs face the axe at Royal Bolton Hospital Trust whilst walk-in services in Ancoats and Wythenshawe have been closed as part of a substantial continuing drive to concentrate health services in fewer sites.
Massive worries were also voiced about changes to the NHS brought about by the 2012 Health and Social Care Act. The ousting of Primary Care Trusts (PCTs), the executive bodies that commission health services for their area, and their replacement with Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) (run by practising doctors and other health professionals), and the push towards foundation status for all hospital trusts by 2014 have been criticised as fast-tracks to privatisation.
George Tapp of the Salford Pensioners Association came to the Conference to express worries over the future of day services in the city who are currently under review for council `savings' of £816,000 by 2013.
"People rely on these services for simple things like keeping warm and ensuring they get a decent meal" he said "If they can't afford heating at home any potential changes to these could affect their health."
Ron Marsden, a member of Salford Against the Cuts came because of the "lifesaving" amount of help his family has had from the NHS over the years.
"It appals me to think what could have happened to them if the same access and standard of services wasn't available" he said "I think what the Government is doing risks sacrificing these very things."
Greater Manchester Association of Trades Union Councils (GMATUC) and Greater Manchester Keep Our NHS Public are planning another public meeting for the end of the month. For more details keep checking the Manchester TUC website http://www.manchestertuc.org/.
Salford Against the Cuts will lobby the Labour group for action on 25th February and the full council on the 27th at the Civic Centre. More information here: http://salfordagainstthecuts.blogspot.co.uk/ and here: