I attended the AGM as a delegate of Southend KONP. There were up to 150 people present. I thought it was a very good conference with lots of discussion, in fact there was not enough time for branch reports and that session had to be extended. The organisation is growing with a number of new branches formed. In dealing with the activities of KONP during the year, the issue of amendments to the constitution was raised. To further democratise the organisation, an amendment was submitted to allow affiliated groups to send a representative to the steering group. The steering group are to consider changes to the amended constitution and then resubmit it to the organisation. A position statement was produced, to defeat the current government at the next election while not giving up our status as not aligned to any party. The position statement could be used by local KONP groups to run hustings, get signatures or refusals to sign from the candidates and publicise the results. NHS funding and not only privatisation was included in the statement.
In the discussion on reports of the KONP groups, among the many issues raised were attacks on GP practice and funding and the failure to ensure proper care for patients when discharged from the hospital into community care. Also raised are the proposed closure of hospitals in London such as Ealing and Charing Cross and major emergency centres or their downgrading as in Shropshire. Then there is the privatisation of community care to private companies such as Virgin. At Barts, they have a PFI hospital with huge debt and services being cut and staff downbanded in other hospitals within the trust to balance the books. In Cornwall, the NHS trust hospital is faced with losing the contract for a large number of its services to a private company with total disregard for its viability as a trust. The KONP groups are fighting back. In Tower Hamlets the KONP has mobilised throughout the community including the Bangladeshi community to defend GP services. In Hackney they organised a referendum among local GPs on the contracts awarded by their CCG to private companies. And then of course there are the national campaigns such as the Jarrow marchers walking to London in August, early September in defence of the NHS.
There was a rousing speech from John Lister of Health Emergency. He discussed the marketisation of the NHS and flatline budget for the last 4 years with plans by George Osborne to make this a ten year flatline with no real increase until 2021. This means the Con Lib coalition are having to run down and close hospitals. In Lincolnshire there are plans to reduce the number of A& Es from 4 to just one .
The supposed expansion of care in the community to cope with shorter hospital stays, is not taking place. In any case, there is no evidence that money is saved by such a strategy. The NHS is being throttled and more of the NHS budget is being diverted to private services. The policy on the NHS is being ideologically driven, aimed at reducing public services to the neoliberal vision of the “small state”.
The resistance against this attack on the NHS must be focused on a campaign up to the 2015 election, aiming to replace the Con Dem government: but this also means building pressure on a timid Labour Party, demanding that they commit to increased spending on the NHS, abolishing the Health and Social Care Act and plugging the hole in the public finances by collecting the estimated £120 billion tax which is owed by wealthy scroungers and tax-dodging businesses, but simply unpaid each year. This would enable the NHS to be restored without any extra taxes on working people.
There were a number of workshops. I attended the one on drafting media releases and being interviewed on broadcast media. There were other workshops, such as “How to influence your CCG-Practice Exchange” and “ Campaigning on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership”. Altogether, I would say that it was a successful conference with a call to arms to defeat the Con Dem government, using their efforts to destroy the NHS as a key issue in the 2015 election campaign.