Labour Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell and Shadow spokesperson for health Heidi Alexander were told by campaigners on Wednesday (13 April) that the NHS must be the top priority for Labour – or it will disappear, alongside much of Labour’s support.
The meeting, lasting an hour and a half and with around 40 campaigners present, stressed again and again that something needed to be done now; that the NHS was already undergoing a ‘massive reorganisation’ (reflecting Heidi Alexander’s stated reluctance to accept the NHS Bill as a solution because of her fears over this) but in the worst possible way, as private companies cherry-picked their way through the service nation wide; that staff had had enough (two of those present, hardened campaigners and NHS professionals, were moved to tears describing how patients were dying as a result of the Tories’ callous and heartless obsession with the market system and what it was doing to the NHS); and that unless Labour heeded these words the NHS would continue to die figuratively as people died as a direct result. Along with much of Labour’s new-found public support.
The Labour MPs, for their part, gave the sincere view that Labour had to face political realities and accept that it was not going to be able to regain power until 2020, so the timescale for getting the priorities for policy right was around the next 18 months. They stressed that they were opposed to privatisation and wanted above all for this to be the start of an ongoing dialogue with the NHS campaign movement. A think-tank was proposed as the way to do this, and interest was shown in developing that via Health Campaigns Together – and Keep Our NHS Public would be involved.