By Marcus Leach
Just days after half a million people marched through London on the TUC's March for the Alternative to protest against government spending cuts and public service 'reforms', union members and supporters of the health service will be out in force again today (Friday), in defence of the NHS.
Under the banner All Together for the NHS, unions, professional bodies and other campaigning groups are calling on the government to think again about the huge changes it intends to impose on the health service, as set out in the Health and Social Care Bill.
In towns and cities across the UK today, campaigners will either be visiting MPs in their constituency offices or holding lunchtime protests outside local hospitals to draw attention to the proposals which they believe will force NHS patients to the back of the queue and create a huge postcode lottery of access to treatment, where the poor and vulnerable will be the hardest hit.
The All Together for the NHS campaign - a joint campaign co-ordinated by the TUC and bringing together unions and campaigners from across the health sector - says that the government's proposals risk taking up to £3 billion away from patient care when the NHS is already being asked to make £20 billion in 'efficiency savings'. Big cuts in staffing and longer waits for patients will inevitably result and are already becoming apparent, says the campaign.
TUC Deputy General Secretary Frances O'Grady said: "The speed and scale of these changes is huge, and while private sector companies stand to make a mint by cherry picking services, patients and staff will be big losers.
"Many of the speakers at our March for the Alternative rally in Hyde Park last weekend warned of the damaging impact this huge re-organisation of the NHS would have, coming as it does hard on the heels of cuts to front line services.
"The challenge now is to maintain public concern about the impact of spending cuts but also to make clear these 'reforms' will alter the NHS that we know and love out of all recognition.
"So-called 'efficiency savings' are already costing jobs and damaging services, and these proposals will open up every bit of the NHS to any private company willing to have a go at running a service. We are seeing the beginnings of a contract culture where only lawyers and management consultants are the winners. No-one voted for these changes which will simply direct taxpayers' money into the hands of company shareholders, and away from patients."