Wednesday 23rd May 2018

Taking Our Fight to Westminster

Marching for the cameras at Westminster

On Wednesday 23rd May, SSTHC took its fight to Westminster. We left by coach at 5am from our first pick-up at Jarrow and returned at 12.35am on the last drop off. There were 30 people on the coach, 6 travelled by train owing to other commitments, but they came back with us. We had a half hour delay, which was our fault, but the Cramlington drivers were brilliant and got us there safely.

Because of the work of Emma's office some 16 of us were able to go late into Prime Ministers Questions as they were starting. As we entered, it was fitting that Jeremy Corbyn was challenging Theresa May over the government's handling of the NHS. His question was about the massive sums being outsourced to the private sector in the NHS today with the latest news that £1.5 million given to Virgin care without any services provided in Surrey. He asked: 'In 2010, £4 billion of NHS services were outsourced to private companies. How much is it today?' The Prime Minister gave no answer to this simple question in her long winded reply.

Massive outsourcing to the private sector

Emma Lewell-Buck rose several questions later to state our concerns robustly:

"Despite a groundswell of opposition from public, staff and clinicians, this Government are actively supporting the removal of vital services from South Tyneside Hospital. Will the Prime Minister tell the 149,000 people who rely on our hospital why?"

Theresa May replied:

"...it is for the local NHS to make decisions about the future of local health services, these matters are not determined in Whitehall."

However, she then went on to claim that:

"Local commissioners did consult the public and they agreed a number of service changes in February, which will improve services for patients."

This time she didn't add her usual mantra from the dispatch box claiming that you can't have an NHS without a 'strong economy' - which strongly implies that the NHS is a cost and a burden to government and not an asset to the economy.

Why is the government supporting the removal of services?

What was so striking is that there was no conception that government is responsible for the NHS. No conception that the NHS is part of the economy and contributes essential value to the economy, which should be claimed for - taken back from - the big corporations that profit from a healthy work force, healthy families and a healthy society.

What was also striking was that other MPs, from all parties, were raising concerns about the loss of NHS services, lack of funding, the privatisation agenda and so on. For example, Tracy Brabin MP for Batley and Spen spoke on the strike action against the transfer of staff to the wholly owned private subsidiary company.

As a result you felt that there was no sense that people have a real say, and that our campaigns are to be ignored by the government as a matter of course. There is something very wrong when countless health campaigns come to Westminster and are ignored by government when they try and press their case.

However, our case was heard and heard very loudly in Parliament. it was a remarkable day for everyone, and Emma's office and Stephen's office organised a very memorable day for all of us.

We can't thank - Emma, Simon and Josie, Emma's office in South Shields, Stephen, Paul and his staff from Jarrow - enough. Thanks to Kevin Maguire of the Mirror for attending as well (which Paul and Stephen organised).

We had two meetings organised. One in a parliament committee room and one in Portcullis House (see video below). This gave us an opportunity to meet and discuss with not only our MPs, but Sharon Hodgson Shadow Minister for public health, Caroline Lucas Co-Leader of the Green Party and John McDonnell Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer. Sunderland activists also met with their MP Julie Elliott. A very big thanks to them.

We also had our time on Parliament Green with our banner to publicise our fight: