Fields rally to help our underfunded NHS

Unions and campaign groups call for a £20bn one-off payment

Friday, 4th March — By Tom Foot

Luke Daniels with partner_8426

Luke Daniels and his partner

HEALTH unions and campaign groups united under a single banner in Highbury Fields on Saturday.

NHS SOS has been launched to help save hospitals that are buckling because of a staffing shortages crisis exacer­bated by the Covid pandemic. They are calling on the govern­ment to make a one-off £20billion payment to the NHS to bring the health service back up to speed nationally.

Despite the focus of attention on the atrocities in Ukraine, the rally heard that the govern­ment should not be let off the hook for fatal failures to properly fund the health service.

An under­funded and unprepared NHS caused the death of thousands of people – particularly immigrants and front-line workers – during the early stages of the Covid pandemic.

Luke Daniels, president of Caribbean Labour Solidarity and Islington Pensioners’ Association, told the rally: “We abhor the criminal waste of our resources that this government has squandered on their friends to supply useless protective equipment.

“I’m also aware of unfair treatment meted out to immigrant communities in the NHS, workers and users of the NHS. The pandemic has highlighted the huge discrimination living in the most deprived areas, often in over-crowded housing, making us more vulnerable to the spread of disease.

Jeremy Corbyn and Simon Pearson

“On the frontline were bus drivers, bouncers, tube station workers, supermarket staff, health workers. More BME doctors died at the beginning of the pandemic because of the lack of PPE. Charging immigrant women for maternity care to women is an outrage none of us should stand for. The miserly pay rise for nurses is an absolute insult. Find the £20billion now.”

The Highbury Fields protest was one of dozens taking place across the country. There had been one in Queen Square in support of Great Ormond Street security guards earlier that day.

Andrew Berry, who works in social care at Islington Town Hall and was speaking on behalf of Islington Unison, said: “Lots of social care workers who work in the private sector will now not have any pay if they go sick, at least for the first few days. It is shocking that people will have to choose if they infect service users, or starve, or go hungry. We have to campaign for a national care service, that looks after them and pays them full sick pay.”

He added that statutory stick pay was £96 a week in this country, the worst rate in Europe.

Dr Jacky Davis

Whittington radiologist Dr Jacky Davis, an elected member of the British Medical Association council, said: “Over 180,000 died during the pandemic. That’s the equivalent of a plane coming down every day. But it has been normalised by the government. Every one of those people was a loved one. Their family suffered. It didn’t happen like this in other countries. Why did we do so badly?”

Dr Davis is writing a book, Commercial Break – NHS Under Siege, answering this question.

She added: “We had a PM who boasted of shaking hands with patients and then caught it. He has always treated it as a joke. He has always put the economy ahead of people’s health.

“You cannot find out how many NHS staff died. There’s at least 1,500 on the front line. This is an occupational disease and we need to be fighting for compensation for their families.

“Half of the deaths were in care homes. The disabled died in disproportionate numbers. They didn’t look after the vulnerable.

Driver Alex Gardner

“We need to seize this moment and build society back fairly. We need a government that will protect you going forward.”

Others included Terry Conway from Unite Community, council leader Kaya Comer-Schwartz, former deputy leader Janet Burgess, mental health worker Joseph Croft, Green Benali Hamdach, Royal College of Nursing member Gay Lee, Professor Sue Richards from Islington Keep Our NHS Public and Andrew Berry from Unison.

Cllr Comer-Schwartz said: “The NHS is one of Labour’s greatest achieve­ments. I can’t think of a better example of socialism and equality.

This Tory government is bent on privatisation and we must do all we can to stop them in their tracks.”

The Raised Voices and Camden and Islington NHS Foundation Trust choirs sang protest songs.  Jeremy Corbyn, MP for Islington North, said: “The Borders and Nationality Bill will take away the nationality of thousands of people who work in our NHS. That’s the gratitude we are showing to people who support all of us.”

Kaya Comer-Schwartz

“When the NHS is under general attack, people don’t see the urgency of it. Yet when the Whittington was under direct threat of closure in 2010, thousands of local people came out onto the streets. We saved the Whittington hospital by our actions and by our campaigning.”

He added that he would “defend the NHS to my dying day”, adding: “Let’s at the very least ensure all health workers get a 15 per cent pay rise, and the lowest paid get far more than that. We can’t have a health service that relies on the goodwill of its workers. Pay them properly, give them more than a clap and support the principle of the NHS.”

There were widespread commiserations for Anjna Khurana, who had learned the day before that the judicial review against the Centene takeover of surgeries in Islington she had brought to the High Court had been rejected.

Professor Richards appeared at the protest in scrubs having been out in an ambulance, hired for the campaign launch, touring streets calling on people to come to the demo from a loud hailer.

Driver Alex Gardner said he had just made the protest after driving from Cornwall in the morning on set filming this year’s Christmas special of Doc Martin.

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