From the 22nd to 29th October campaigners marched around the NHS England 'Footprint' covering County Durham, Darlington, Teesside and North Yorkshire to highlight the huge distances between the major hospitals and the danger to lives if services close due to the proposed plans.
Several members of our campaign gave their support to the Footprints March. Shirley Ford delivered the following message of solidarity on behalf of our campaign:
I bring solidarity from the thousands of people in South Tyneside who have signed the
to Save our Hospital, which is under threat exactly as Darlington's is, as are all of the hospitals in this whole area that the amazing marchers have walked between over the last week. Over 10,000 have signed our petition against the downgrading of our hospital which has already started and is speeding up with this year's
Alliance with Sunderland's hospital trust.
And I want to tell you about three big fat lies and one golden truth, but first I want to talk about your feet - and respect to the marchers whose feet will probably be pretty sore now!
Your right foot represents the STP - better known as
Slash Trash & Privatise - plan for the Footprint in the North of the region, which NHS bosses have decided covers Tyne & Wear, Northumberland and a lump of North Durham (just been shifted). This is the bit I'm from.
Your left foot represents the South of our region and brings together the rest of County Durham with Darlington, Teesside and North Yorkshire, and this is the bit we're all in now.
Now imagine your footprint has three toe-prints - the toe print I'm from is South Tyneside and Sunderland and it's proving to be a very big political bunion!
This is NHS England's big idea: footprints and toe-prints, and the intention is to force these new areas to cut over one billion pounds from our NHS funds in the North East - and that leads me onto the lies:
Lie number one - There's a lie being circulated by NHS England, unchallenged by the BBC and others who have forgotten what investigative journalism is... ...there's a lie that our NHS organisations in our regions are financially bust. This is not true: our region is the only region in the Black - check out the NHS Support Federation website - everywhere else in the UK is overspent, we're the only area balancing the books and we should not be asked to make these cuts!
Lie number two - is that these plans are about improving services for local people. There's absolutely no evidence that this is anything other than the wholesale closure of important areas of our NHS system, from Rothbury in Northumberland to the Friarage in Northallerton, and we're here to fight against these plans and defend our NHS.
These cuts are already taking place and local NHS bosses aren't consulting the public and we need to press them on introducing scrutiny and accountability now. As the marchers have been saying all week, if there is nothing concerning in the plans and they fully intend to consult the public before making any
significant changes, then why can't they publish them NOW?
Lie number three - is that there will be no more top-down reorganisations of our NHS. The Tories fought the last election on a manifesto promising there would be no more massive top-down changes to the NHS - well this is one ...and this arrogant Government has no political mandate to dismantle our treasured NHS.
But there is one golden truth: that if we challenge them and mount community campaigns against them AND we join the dots, like this march has done, we can get all this stopped pretty quickly.
The cracks are widening - with Hartlepool Council expressing serious concerns and bravely publishing the STP for this region, and other councils also publishing their STPs like Birmingham and the London Boroughs Camden and Sutton. I say bravely because the NHS bosses issued an instruction that no one should publish the plans.
We will be continuing to push for the councils in the northern footprint to publish our STP too. Another part of the challenge we face is that these wretched Footprints have been imposed by carving up areas on lines which do not match the Devolution areas - so we have the Tees Valley Combined Authority, signing its Devolution Deal (and electing its new Mayor next May) and yet this NHS imposed Footprint covers a different set of local authorities. It is almost as if they've deliberately tried to make it as difficult as possible to have public accountability?!
As I said, I bring the solidarity of South Tyneside people. We had hundreds of people marching last Saturday to a rally in South Shields addressed by both the borough's MPs, trade union leaders: Unison, Unite and GMB, representatives from political parties: Labour, Green and even a Tory (in a personal capacity). And we had many supporters come to the rally from Sunderland - some of whom are here today! Because they know that these cuts being imposed by the
Alliance of our two hospitals - our toe print - which is really a merger behind closed doors to avoid having to do any public consultation - this Alliance will have a terrible impact on their hospital, as it is already at breaking point!
One of the issues we have been campaigning on is the impact of the cuts on the poorest and most vulnerable in our communities. We have already lost the NHS Walk-in Centre which was located in the centre of the borough, in Jarrow, right next to the bus and metro station. It was being used by 27,000 people, but those people were inconvenient and too expensive. We were told to self-care, go to the chemist - though only the big ones that don't pay their taxes, as the government is about to put the small, independent ones out of business with cuts to NHS funding to them! Or go to the GP - in an area with a shortage of GPs where you already struggled to get an appointment. Don't worry we were told, those 27,000 people would just disappear...
That was exactly a year ago, and before that we lost the children's ward and the mental health ward, and now we are losing the stroke unit
temporarily. People are being told, as they were with the closure of the Jarrow Walk In Centre, that any impact on travel will be
addressed - well a year on and absolutely nothing has been done! We have had people telling us that neighbours have clubbed together to pay for a taxi to enable someone to get to the hospital which is right in the east of the borough, to the new
Urgent Care Hub - basically a room behind A & E!
We've recently handed in a petition about this, signed by over a thousand local people in the west of the borough, and been told by the council they will add in the issue of travel from the west of the borough to the hospital when they look at the issue of travel between South Shields hospital and Sunderland hospital with this
relocation of services. The council leader said to us they are looking at putting on a special direct express bus between the two hospitals - and would look at extending the route west from Shields to Jarrow & Hebburn. But even if we get this, it won't be free! And it will probably be paid for as a subsidised service, paid for by councils, not the bus companies - and certainly not the health trusts or CCGs - whose promises to improve transport when they closed the Jarrow Walk-in Centre - and also provide more car parking and bring down the cost of parking - have not materialised...
All of these cuts mean the smaller hospitals will be reduced to being essentially rehabilitation centres, with a walk-in centre for minor injuries if you're lucky. And of course such hospitals - with no expensive, difficult acute health care will be ripe for privatisation!
There are people waking up and getting angry right across the country - from Rothbury up in Northumberland whose cottage hospital has just been closed (temporarily!) to Devon - where hundreds marched last Saturday as well about plans to cut stroke, maternity and neo-natal provision - and so many places in between where people are campaigning like Grantham and Huddersfield.
38 degrees petition
to stop the
Slash Trash & Privatise STPs, and the
petition to the UK Parliament.
STP that Hartlepool Council have been brave enough to publish
and demand that they are all published now. And push all our councils to take a stand against these evil plans!
We have to shatter the big fat lies the government is telling - or like the
Mr Hunt will disappear the NHS before our very eyes
. All of us depend on the NHS - Health care is a human right! The golden truth is that if we unite and stand together, we can win! We can save the NHS!