Protestors at Tower Hamlets GP protest. Demotix / Peter Marshall. All rights reserved.
On Saturday 5 July the NHS turned 66 years old. In East London we celebrated - but also demonstrated against the cuts and closures the government is inflicting.
Having attacked hospitals in the name of ‘efficiencies’ the heat is now being turned on general practices.
NHS England predicts that 98 surgeries are likely to be in such serious financial trouble they are at risk of closing, thanks to government-imposed funding changes - and the British Medical Association believes this is the tip of the iceberg.
In the east London boroughs of Hackney, Newham and Tower Hamlets, 22 GP surgeries are at risk and every surgery is at risk of large cuts to their basic income. Services to patients will be reduced, patients will seek other practices and the pressure on GPs and staff will rise. It’s often difficult already to get an appointment with your GP so the cuts are simply daft (or callous). But GPs and local people are now fighting back.
Practices and community campaigns in east London have been rallying and holding demonstrations throughout June.
After a rally last Saturday in Stratford, campaigners took to a open top battle bus for a a leafleting tour of Newham. The bus took campaigners to a rally in Whitechapel, where hundreds had already gathered. We all then marched to a third rally in Hackney.
Protestors were addressed by local MPs Rushanara Ali and Diane Abbott, the Mayor of Tower Hamlets Lutfur Rahman, Unite the Union’s Deputy General Secretary Gail Cartmail and myself in my role as Chair of the Medical Practitioners’ Union - Unite. The Chair of the Royal College of GPs, Dr Maureen Baker, and respected health academic Dr Allyson Pollock also took part in the rallie.
The cuts are part of changes to a funding top-up known as the Minimum Practice Income Guarantee (MPIG). This vital income stream for GPs is being scrapped over the next seven years. As well as the 98 practices onnational contracts (GMS) identified by NHS England as at risk, practices on ‘local’ contracts (PMS) are also to have their funding ‘reviewed’ - code for cuts. The cuts mean a drop in income of up to 30%, making already hard-pressed GP practices simply financially unviable.
The campaign in East London has involved health workers, patients and community groups with strong backing from organisers from Unite, the largest trade union in the country which has over 100,000 health worker members. Campaigns in Newham, Tower Hamlets and Waltham Forest have already formed a joint campaign against cuts being made to Barts Health, the PFI-stricken mega-Trust which has taken over District General Hospitals in the three boroughs
Campaigners aim to spread the Save our Surgeries campaign across London and beyond. They are poised to launch a Pledge for the NHS which they will require all Councillors, MPs and prospective MPs to sign up to if they are to receive any support from local campaigns.
Having bled the hospitals dry the government is coming for our general practices. When the public find out, Cameron, Clegg and Hunt will wish they hadn’t meddled with the cornerstone of the NHS.