Hundreds of trade unionists last night (April 23) rallied to Save the NHS at Leeds Town Hall.
The event was organised by Unions Together, the campaigning voice of the 14 trade unions, including Unite that are part of the Labour Party. Prior to the start the large audience was entertained by the Unite brass band.
Rally speakers included Labour leader Ed Miliband, Andy Burnham, Labour parliamentary candidates, local councillors and NHS campaigner’s Harry Leslie Smith and Unite member Callum Stanland.
Labour created the NHS on July 5, 1948. Before World War Two only 43 per cent of the population was covered by the National Insurance Scheme and over 21m people, mainly women, children and sick, were not covered at all.
As 91-year old Barnsley-born Harry Leslie Smith remarked, “My childhood was mixed with love and the bitter fruits of hunger, sickness and death.
“In 1926 my sister contracted tuberculosis. As we couldn’t afford to move from our slum house or to pay for a doctor or medicine or a sanatorium she died in a workhouse. Thousands met a similar end because they entered a world where the NHS did not exist.”
It is a service millions benefit from including 21-year old Unite member Callum Stanland, a laboratory technician from Grimsby. He is undergoing treatment for a rare form of liver cancer at St James Hospital, Leeds and has experienced what the NHS means for anyone requiring serious medical care.
Matter of life or death
“It really is a matter of life or death for me but fortunately I have received amazing care from dedicated staff employing state of the art technology. If we had an American health care system I doubt I would have obtained any treatment.”
Small wonder the NHS is the most cherished British institution. Consequently, David Cameron had to promise the electorate in 2010 that it would be safe in his hands. Once in Downing Street the reality was very different with the health secretary Andrew Lansley introducing unnecessary radical change that wasted billions.
The Health and the Social Care Act 2012 ended 65 years of universal health care in England in the form of equal access to comprehensive care irrespective of personal income. Now, the health secretary only has to promote rather than provide health care by allocating resources.
Seventy MPs and Peers, almost all Tory, with connections to private health care firms voted for the change. Seventy per cent of NHS contracts now go to private firms.
The situation facing the NHS is extremely worrying. In response Ed Miliband has announced that a Labour government would award fewer NHS private sector contracts and impose a profit cap on them.
The Labour leader last night reiterated that he intends “spending an additional £2.5bn in funding to support an extra 20,000 nurses, 8,000 GPs, 5,000 care workers and 3,000 midwives by 2020…The funds will come from a mansion tax and a clampdown on tax avoidance.” He was roundly applauded and received a standing ovation when he ended his passionate speech.
Meanwhile, Andy Burnham, who also presented Callum with an award for the electoral work he has undertaken for Labour over the last few weeks, stressed Labour’s pledge “to repeal the Health and Social Care Act as soon as we are elected, thus ending the market experiment within the NHS.”
“I don’t want my past to be your future so vote Labour on May 7. It is the only party that will save the NHS and make life liveable for all of us,” said Harry Leslie Smith.