Report on several November 1992 demonstrations and a ward occupation by nurses, against proposed hospital closures.
A government sponsored report on the health service in London has recommended the closure of at least four major hospitals and ten or more smaller units. If the Tomlinson report is implemented, 2500 hospital beds will be lost immediately, and 20,000 hospital workers may lose their jobs. The Tomlinson report argues that there are too many hospitals in London, even though there are 130,000 people in the city on waiting lists for treatment.
On Tuesday November 17th, 2000 people joined a torchlit protest against the closure plans in Trafalgar Square, central London. The demonstration blocked Whitehall, stopping traffic outside 10 Downing Street (the home of the Prime Minister). Hundreds of workers marched from St Bartholomew's ("Bart's") Hospital to join the protest, which was attended by health workers from all over London. The demonstration was organised by rank and file activists in the London Health Workers Co-ordinating Committee. Union leaders have so far refused to organise demonstrations or strikes.
At the threatened hospitals, there have been various protests. On November 27th hundreds of people marched round Bart's hospital in the City of London, which could be the first major hospital to close. The health service is also under attack outside of London, with hospital wards being closed, and waiting lists for treatment growing. For instance in County Down in the north of Ireland, hospital casualty departments and other services have been threatened with closure, which would force patients to travel 35 40 miles to Belfast for treatment. In September, 20,000 people took part in a demonstration through the town of Downpatrick in protest at these cuts.
So far, the most determined opposition to health cuts has come at University College Hospital in London.
Nurses Stop Ward Closures at University College Hospital
Nurses occupying a ward and on indefinite strike at University College Hospital in central London have succeeded in preventing ward closures. They began their action when it was announced that a quarter of the hospital was to be closed down within a month. The first ward to be closed down was a general surgical ward. Nurses responded by occupying the ward, and going on indefinite strike (with emergency cover). When management threatened to move an unconscious patient from the ward, porters refused to move him and nurses linked arms to form a human chain around the door. Within a week of beginning the action, management had backed down. On 30 November they announced that the wards due to close would be reopened on 4 January.
During the strike, nurses won the support of patients, relatives, and other groups of workers. Post workers, bus drivers, teachers, telecom and council workers all visited the picket line. They did not get support from union leaders however, who refused to make the action official.
contact: Health Workers Co-ordinating Committee, c/o C. Flood, NUPE Office, Charing Cross Hospital, Fulham Palace Road, London W6 8RF. (tel: 081 846 1522/3).
European Counter Network, December 1992. Taken from the Practical History website.