Tens of Thousands Demonstrate to Protect Britain’s Heathcare System
Stuart Tuckwood said participants call on the government to fund the NHS properly and to end the move towards privatization
KIM BROWN: Welcome to The Real News Network in Baltimore. I’m Kim Brown.
At least 50,000 people are expected to demonstrate in defense of the United Kingdom’s National Health Service to keep it as a public service for the people. Health Campaigns Together, which is a national network of NHS Campaigning Organization and Unions, called for the demonstration to be held on March the 4th.
Health Campaigns Together is an initiative of Keep Our NHS Public, which is a grassroots collective of over 60 organizations. Keep Our NHS Public warns that “The people of Britain are at a precipice. The National Health Service has been severely damaged by under-resourcing and privatization. The healthcare system that for 60 years has provided cost-effective universal coverage, free to the-point-of-need is being dismantled.”
And joining us today to discuss his national health-service advocacy and the 4th of March demonstration in defense of the NHS is Stuart Tuckwood. Stuart is a nurse and he’s also a Green Party activist in Cambridge.
After leaving school Stuart spend several years doing community work in South America and caring for people with learning disabilities in Aberdeenshire. So, Stuart, we appreciate you joining us today. Thank you.
STUART TUCKWOOD: That’s all right. It’s a pleasure.
KIM BROWN: So, Stuart, can you describe your advocacy and talk about your activism regarding the NHS. Because I understand that you are part of the Cambridge Health Emergency Group that seeks to prevent cutbacks and privatizations at, I believe it’s Addenbrooke and the Rosie Hospitals in Cambridge. So, talk to us about that, please.
STUART TUCKWOOD: Yeah, sure. It’s Addenbrooke Hospital in Cambridge where I work. Yeah, I’ve been working for the NHS for a few years now and I was a student nurse in the NHS in Scotland before that. And I think many people who work in the NHS recognize the deterioration in services that we’ve been able to provide in recent years and how badly things have gone for the NHS.
So, it’s led to quite a huge amount of people beginning to get involved in activism and standing up for services and for our communities.
In Cambridge that’s taken the form of working with campaign groups like Keep Our NHS Public. For example, you had Margaret Ridley talking to you this week. We work quite closely with those campaigns to try and scrutinize plans for the local NHS and to make sure that things are hopefully done for the benefit of patients and for services to be provided as well as they can be. And it’s also about doing national work such as the demonstration in London tomorrow to call on the government to fund the NHS properly and to end the privatization of services, which no one ever voted for and which the public have never given their consent to.
KIM BROWN: Yes. We had a very illuminating with Margaret Ridley.
STUART TUCKOOD: Yes, she’s fantastic, yeah.
KIM BROWN: And if I understand this correctly, you are the steward with UNISON, which is one of the UK’s largest trade unions. So, can you talk about how you feel the NHS is being undermined from a union perspective and also the perspective of someone who works at the NHS?
STUART TUCKWOOD: Certainly, yeah. UNISON, we’re the largest trade union representing healthcare staff in the U.K. We represent over 400,000 people working in the health service.
From a union point of view, we desperately want to see NHS staff be supported properly so they can do their jobs properly. And so that they’re paid well and have a good work-life balance. And that’s something that’s been under threat more and more by the government in recent years. All NHS staff have faced a pay freeze for the last six or seven years, which has meant they’ve taken around a 15% real-terms pay cut. Their working life conditions have deteriorated as it’s become more and more difficult to provide care to more patients with more complex conditions than ever before. Obviously, we want to see the best level of services provided to patients as well.
Since the coalition government came to power in 2010, they’ve led a privatization agenda towards the NHS, which has meant a huge amount of NHS services being sold off to private companies and private contractors, which has led to an inevitable deterioration in these services. NHS has been under-funded for years and especially in the area of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, where I work. And there’s a chronic underfunding which means that there’s been a rationing of services. More people are on long-term waiting lists for operations than ever before. And the standard of care provided is deteriorating. It’s been described by the Royal College of Nurses as “the worst conditions NHS has ever faced.”
So, from a union point of view, we’re desperate for the government to support NHS staff rather than constantly attacking them and to invest in services properly so that we can run the best health service that we can for the patients we look after.
KIM BROWN: So, what are some of the most serious issues facing staff that work at the NHS? What are some of these challenging conditions that you’ve been describing?
STUART TUCKWOOD: Well, hospital occupancy rates are the highest they’ve been in a long time in the NHS. A recent report by the Care and Quality Commission covering the whole NHS in England has just come out highlighting the fact that occupancy rates, which should be around 80% to 85% to be able to maintain safe care for patients, are actually a lot higher than that and have been for a good while now. And quite often there’s just simply too many patients coming into hospital because of underfunding of social care and preventative health, which means that there’s more and more patients per head, per nurse for the amount of doctors that there are in the hospital. Often patients are being placed around the hospital in areas that aren’t their correct specialty, which means they might be getting care that’s unsafe or treatment that isn’t as good as it should be.
And so, we need to see more investment to create better levels of hospital beds per head of populations simply so that we can provide more care to those patients and also an end to the selling off of NHS contracts to private companies, which will lead to worsening of services in the long-run.
KIM BROWN: Stuart, we were informed that the hospital that you worked at was deemed to be under-performing and thereby under threat of privatization. So, what precisely does it mean to be an “under-performing hospital” and why would that result in privatization? And how were your staff able to turn things around there?
STUART TUCKWOOD: Well, fortunately, the hospital that I work at has now been deemed as “good” after several years where we were rated “inadequate” by the Care and Quality Commission, the healthcare regulator in the United Kingdom. Basically, what being “inadequate” meant was that there weren’t safe levels of staff in the hospital; that people, for example, on out-patients lists waiting for operations and things in the hospital weren’t being clinically assessed and prioritized based on risk. And it was a whole number of factors which led to the hospital trust where I worked being rated as inadequate. Luckily, they said that the staff working in the hospital were outstanding and compassionate and they put in a huge amount of work to turn the hospital around in the last couple of years.
In reality, what being in “special measures” meant was the NHS bodies and regulators had much more of a say over how the hospital was run. There was never any immediate threat of privatization of services at the hospital where I work at.
But at another hospital in Cambridgeshire near where I work, Hinchingbrooke Hospital was actually the first hospital in the NHS to be run by a private company several years ago, which resulted in a deterioration in services and a building up of debt which then had to be taken back into the public sector afterwards.
KIM BROWN: So, the big demonstration is happening on Saturday, March 4th, which is tomorrow. Will you be attending? And, if so, what are you going to be calling for in terms of changes?
STUART TUCKWOOD: Unfortunately, I can’t personally attend myself. I’ve had an event which was scheduled long before the march was even planned, which I need to be at tomorrow. But I’m sure there’s going to be plenty of people, plenty of NHS staff, doctors and patients there, to do the talking up on my behalf, which means I’m sure there’ll be a huge demonstration.
What people will be calling for is an end to the chronic underfunding of the NHS. We need to point out repeatedly that the NHS in the U.K. is simply under-funded. It gets roughly 7% of the U.K. G.D.P. spent on health in this country compared to 11% and 12% in other advanced economies.
We’ll also be calling for an end to the privatization of the NHS and the NHS internal market, which has been created by successive governments costs around 1.5 billion pounds a year to administer and something like 3.5 billion pounds worth of NHS contracts have gone to private companies in recent years. So, we need to call for an end to those privatization of services and an end to the internal market as well.
And I think people will be calling for more support for NHS staff as well. As I’ve said, they’re under huge pressure. They donate huge amounts of their own time in unpaid overtime to help their services keep going and they need more support from the government and an end to a pay freeze, which has been going on now for far too long.
KIM BROWN: We’ve been joined today with Stuart Tuckwood. Stuart is a nurse. He’s also a Green Party activist in Cambridge and we’re talking about the big rally that is planned tomorrow, the marching protest in the U.K. where tens of thousands of people are expected to attend. Also, this is coalition of dozens of grassroots organizations all vying to try to keep the National Health Service public and free from privatization.
Stuart, we appreciate you joining us today. Thank you.
STUART TUCKWOOD: It’s been a pleasure. Thank you.
KIM BROWN: And thanks for watching The Real News Network.