Building the NHS campaign with John McDonnell MP, Ian Byrne MP, and Margaret Greenwood MP

(This video starts with some noise distortion but settles quickly)

We have an excellent healthcare system in the NHS. Its battered and bruised but still worth its weight in gold.Our campaign is for a fully funded public service providing all the treatments and to everyone The NHS is not only in the middle of a pandemic, in the middle of delivering millions of vaccines and in the midst of major staff shortages, it is also facing a fundamental political reorganisation by this government. This reorganisation is spelled out in the NHS Whitepaper, a reorganisation which will ration services, ramp up profit for private companies. and pay the corporations to cut our services. It has significant implications too for NHS staff. The NHS is being split into 42 very different areas Ours is Merseyside and Cheshire.

As ordinary people we have to do our best to spread the word of what is happenning and give people the chance both to be informed and to take action. We were delighted to be joined in a zoom meeting by two local MPS. Margaret Greenwood MP and Ian Byrne, and by John McDonnell MP

Our June 22nd 2021 meeting started with an introduction to our local campaign. Our campaign is for a fully funded public national health service providing all the treatments for everyone. Nothing less.

Report to public meeting from Cheshire & Merseyside Campaign 22 June 2021

To date, we have written to hundreds of council candidates in Wirral and in West Lancashire before the local elections in May asking if they were prepared to oppose Integrated Care Systems.

In the last 3 weeks, we have written to every councillor in the footprint of the Cheshire & Merseyside ICS, that’s 9 councils comprising 579 councillors from all parties. The headline under which we have written to them is “Not on Your Watch”. We sent them detailed briefings explaining ICS and the implications of the white paper. We have offered to provide more information, to speak at council meetings or party groupings and to work with any council or councillor and any party willing to engage with us.
We have had some replies but not many considering the number of emails sent. The replies we did receive range from automated replies, to replies saying that they are not responsible and directing us to some other councillor, to saying they are planning a meeting to discuss the meaning of ICS, to saying they do not understand, to disclaiming responsibility for waving through this remodelling and claiming they are trying to mitigate the effects, to some who are supporting our campaign and want more information.

In particular the green party group in Wirral council are interested in learning from us and have invited us to meet with them.

Cheshire West had invited Felicity, on behalf of the local trades council, to speak but have now postponed that meeting until the Bill is published when they will have very little time to oppose it if the rumours are true that it will be rushed to a second reading by the end of July.

The ICS restructuring is made to sound complicated, using misleading vocabulary, ignoring traditional boundaries and local historical arrangements. The chief officer of the Lancs & Sth Cumbria ICS was one of those in Davos with Simon Stevens when McKinsey drew up their plans for the NHS. L&SC was one of the early vanguard ICS and so has been grappling with the restructuring and new ways of thinking for some years. In January 2020, Amanda Doyle also took over as chief officer at West Lancashire CCG (she was already chief officer of two other CCGs) and the tension in the room was palpable. Previously CCG meetings had been fairly relaxed affairs, the former chief officer sat off to the side, was mostly quiet throughout and was softly spoken when he did contribute. However, under the new regime it was clear the boss had entered the room, she sat centre stage and took control. She does the same at ICS level and often reminds committee members that they are straying into the old ways of thinking and they need to forget boundaries and CCGs borders. They talk about getting the “right people around the table” especially from local authorities because they have “difficult decisions to make” – one difficult decision is how to make £300m of cuts across the ICS, £ 200m of it in one year was their original aim. They have spent a fortune on bringing in consultancy firms to re-educate NHS staff and others to think in the ICS way and to persuade the public to change our way of thinking about what the NHS is for and what we should expect from it, e.g., our GP-patient relationships are being broken down. They talk about “winning hearts and minds” and admitted in one meeting that they are “not quite there yet” in persuading clinicians. So, it is no surprise that councillors and the public find the concept difficult to understand. We have access to speakers from our collective campaign and also from other organisations and we will return as many times as necessary to speak to groups until they have grasped the ICS model and its implications. We really want to keep the dialogue open.

Some councillors have claimed they are mitigating the worst excesses of the bill and claim to have reached an agreement in C&M whereby each of the 9 councils will have one councillor on the ICS board. However, the recent government guidance is that there will be one councillor from the ICS footprint and that councillor will not represent their local government sector. Who or how will the 9 councils decide which councillor is the chosen one or is it the ICS chief who can bestow such gifts?

We are not looking for mitigation or amelioration, to quote our very own Dr Alex Scott-Samuel that is just rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic. What we are calling for from councillors is wholehearted, loud, and vocal, public opposition to ICSs particularly labour councillors just like the uproar we heard from football fans in the 48 hours it took them to turn around the involvement of US corporations and the European Super league. If we do not want US global giants like United Health and Centene running our football, we certainly do not want them running our NHS.

We will be following up our letters to councillors reminding them that this wholesale destruction of the NHS is happening on their watch, and it will go down in the history books as the biggest theft perpetrated against an entire population.

Another campaign action over the last 3 weeks was the distribution of 5000 leaflets to NHS staff at their shift changeover mainly at 7am. Our campaigners were outside The Royal, Aintree, Liverpool Women’s, Arrowe Park, Alder Hey, Southport and also at a picket with striking Biomedical Scientists at Burnley General Hospital. Greg will speak more about the industrial action in Burnley. We handed out the KONP leaflet aimed at NHS staff, and it was very well received by them. We could see them reading it before their shifts, as they came off shift and during their breaks.
For the last month, campaigners have been holding stalls in West Kirby, Wallasey, Ellesmere Port, Crewe and Chester with a good reception and causing merriment by handing out leaflets via fishing nets to ensure social distancing! These stalls will continue, and we are planning stalls across Sefton, Knowsley, South Liverpool and also in Blackburn over the next few weeks. Please get in touch if you can do a stall in your location, the idea is to have them all over the footprint and beyond. We can supply you with leaflets and posters or alternatively let us know if you want to join us on a stall. Everyone is most welcome. Bring your fishing net!
For over a year we have been producing our own artwork for posters, having them printed and laminated and putting them up in prominent locations around the C&M footprint but mainly across Merseyside. For example posters were put on railings in Sefton Park, Otterspool Prom, County Road, Walton Vale, Ellesmere Port and many more places like parks, shopping areas,and in shop and café windows. Members have also encouraged the public to take the posters home and to put them in a window. We have electronic posters in distinctive vivid blue and yellow which we use for social media posts and for banners to create a recognisable colour scheme and message. Our posters are being used by other campaign groups. Let us know if you would like a poster for your window.

Other work we have undertaken is to speak at as many meetings as we can with organisations, campaign groups, political party meetings, union branches, Trades councils, Area Activists meetings, North West health committees and privately with a wide range of union officials and MPs and supporters. This is getting the message out, building the body of people who understand what the whitepaper threatens and who can in turn speak to colleagues at work and at home to spread awareness, and aids us in getting the ICS motion passed and pushed through the layers of parties and unions. Our aim is to bring people on board with our campaign and it has spurred some on to start their own campaigns. We have learned lots of new skills, made new friends and built up relationships and it has to be said we have also ruffled a few feathers which is exactly the aim of our campaign. We need people to feel uncomfortable about what they are waving through. Zoom has enabled us to reach audiences we may never have reached before.
We want all unions and all sectors talking about this attack on the NHS not just health unions and health branches. These plans put patients at risk, risk jobs and leave staff at risk particularly when being expected to work beyond their competencies. We all need the NHS and we need properly trained and properly paid NHS staff.

Our efforts are gaining momentum and as we speak to each group, they are horrified to learn what has happened to the NHS and the way it has been restructured without any political mandate nor any statutory authority to do so.
Our campaigners also attend CCG, ICS, Trust Board meetings, council O&S and Health and Wellbeing meetings. We raise Freedom of Information requests and hold them to account where we can.

We are building a movement – anyone who can help with any of these actions, who can write letters, use social media, write articles, use technology etc is urged to get in touch. We need any skills you can bring to the campaign.

Our campaigning against the NHS restructuring did not just start this year, it has been going for years including resisting the closure of the Liverpool Women’s Hospital as part of the ICS restructuring which is an ongoing battle. Two years ago, we mounted a mass campaign over the course of 2 weeks against the MyChoice NHS price list at Warrington Hospital Trust, giving out 5000 leaflets, getting signatures on petitions, lobbying MPs, getting articles in the Daily Mirror and The Echo and forcing Simon Stevens to have to speak about it in a House of Commons committee meeting. We got that pricelist paused but it is part of the restructuring of the NHS so it will come back on the agenda and indeed it was forced through in other parts of the country.
But the point is, we CAN do this if we build enough pressure from the ground up so that those in positions of power cannot ignore us. They have to take notice. Just like people did in the poll tax campaign. It just needs us all to do our bit however small.

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