Ealing Hospital is a pretty busy place on an average day, but today’s demonstration of a community’s united outrage was anything but average.
Having massed from 10am in Southall Park, two thousand people marched East along the Uxbridge Road today to protest against further proposed NHS cuts, including A&E closures at Ealing, Central Middlesex, Charing Cross and Hammersmith. Meeting a further horde who had gathered at Acton Park and taken the same road West, the full contingent then joined together for a huge rally at Ealing Common where there were speeches from MPs, community leaders, and live music to round off the proceedings.
These are not a few disgruntled Labour supporters who simply abhor change, this is an entire community comprised of all different ages, races, faiths and backgrounds standing shoulder to shoulder to tell the Con-Dem(n) government that they have gone, and are continuing to go, too far. Feet from where I was, Ealing Gazette reporter Rupert Basham tweeted that there was a “strong sense the community is all in this together, and that these closures are a matter of life death”. I agree wholeheartedly, but standing outside Ealing Hospital with my colleagues and neighbours today – on my 30 min break from my NHS day job on the very same site – I was given pause, moved by the camaraderie and commonality of purpose but equally saddened that mutual anger and outrage are the ties that bind us.
Unfortunately I had to return to work, but the crowd – which included babes in arms and pensioners on mobility scooters – carried on marching, shouting and waving their banners a further three miles to Ealing Common. Once there they were addressed by the leaders of Ealing’s three main political parties, Julian Bell (Labour), David Millican (Conservative) and Gary Malcolm (Lib Dem). There were also speeches from GMB President Mary Turner, Ealing MPs Steve Pound and Angie Bray, Shirley Franklin from ‘Save Whittington Hospital’, and Dr Onkar Sahota (Ealing’s representative on the Greater London Authority).
The fact of the matter is that, despite its ever-increasing cost, the NHS is the jewel of Britain. Forget the Royals and forget the Olympics, if you ask someone from another country what the best thing about the UK is they will tell you (often at length) that it is our health service, which still just about holds on to its original aims of providing universal healthcare that is free at the point of use. They see what we cannot, that once lost the NHS will never ever be rebuilt – certainly not if the Conservative party have anything to say about it. Yes, it’s expensive, but what would be the social cost of it disappearing into the ether? Those that have least will suffer most – as seems to be the case with every new policy under our incumbent government – and it will impact most severely on the elderly, who in a wonderful sense of irony have contributed most in the way of taxation in their lifetimes. Do we really want an American system where the first question on arriving at Hospital is not “how are you feeling” but “who is your insurer”? I think not, and judging by today’s display of solidarity I am not the only one.
Almost six years of working for the NHS has made me realise that, although it is not perfect, it is full of people who are doing their absolute best to help the wider community. Money, or lack thereof, is the primary reason for all the health service’s problems and deeper and deeper cuts are overtaxing staff and short-changing the taxpayer.
In the mental health sector, where I work, chronic understaffing and the removal of ‘non-essential’ staff (whether they are essential or not depends whether you are talking to the patients or politicians) is hitting us hard. In an environment where staffing costs are 75% of our total budget, colleagues, service users and the wider public are feeling the impact of the financial squeeze. Therapy groups, essential to rehabilitation, are cut down to the bare minimum with rumours of more to go. Staff have less time to spend with their patients as they are so overstretched, and when someone is very unwell this can result in assaults and injuries to both staff and patients. This unfortunately is always a possibility given the nature of the place we work, but the situation is exacerbated with every fresh slice into the budget – how can we care for people with both hands tied behind our backs?
But don’t worry – if you get assaulted you can go to A&E…for now.