The NHS, the cuts & us

This article is part of the NCAFC Women & Non-Binary zine being distributed at this week’s NUS Women’s Conference. You can find the whole zine here.

By Lina Nass

Banner on protest: "SAVE OUR NHS"What the Tory government is doing to our NHS can be conveniently summarised by this quote from one of the catchiest protest songs of the last year: “Jeopardising patients welfare to push through private health care.” The government is cutting money in every areas of the NHS.

We have to keep two things in mind. Firstly the cuts are not the fault of the hospital staff, who often work in horrendous conditions to save patients lives but the Tory government has taken deliberate and calculated steps towards dismantling the NHS services. Secondly, it is women who are affected by these cuts more than men – and working-class, disabled and migrant women even more so. Austerity hits women the hardest and the NHS is just another sad example.

It’s not just obvious incidents like the 20 million pounds cuts to domestic violence services over three years, but maternity clinics and mental health services have been getting less and less money and the worst is yet to come. Last year, the Tories took on junior doctors with contracts that had them working more hours for less money and student nurses by cutting their bursaries – as a result, applications for nursing degrees dropped by 23% – in times where we desperately need more nurses. The government wants to close hospitals and centralise certain vital services like A&E departments.

The NHS is the biggest employer in the UK, 80% of its workers are women, and BAME people (especially women) are overrepresented. It is women who predominantly work zero-hour contracts, are underpaid and chronically overworked. But it’s not just the workers who suffer – there are endless newspaper articles reporting how hospitals can’t guarantee patient safety and pictures of patients sleeping in overfilled corridors or aren’t even given any treatment. When hospitals close and health care is being privatised and thus made unaffordable for large section so society, caring responsibilities will have to be taken over by families – also read as: predominantly women.

What we, as as feminists and socialists have to do now is fight back – join the hospital workers, join organisations like Sister Uncut who take direct action against those cuts and join demonstrations like #OurNHS where three weeks ago tens of thousands of people marched on Parliament. Until we all stand together and recognise how these cuts affect the most disenfranchised in our society, the Tories won’t stop.

Read the rest of the zine here

Callout: #BursaryOrBust – Join the Walkout and Die In!

bursary or bust profileAs part of their ongoing fight against the scrapping of NHS bursaries, NHS funded students all over the UK will walk out of their placements for two hours on Wednesday 6th April at 10am. This follows a successful walkout in February as part of a nationwide week of action and will be done in coordination with the latest action called by the Junior Doctors, a 48 hour strike which begins that day. Nurses are calling for non-NHS students to meet them in the lobby of two London hospitals, St. Thomas’ and Whitechapel at 10am, and walk out with them in solidarity. At 12pm, they will then head to the Department of Health for a die in.

The die in will highlight the number of NHS students that will be lost due to the cuts to NHS bursaries, as well as the way the government’s programme of cuts, marketisation and privatisation is killing the NHS. Most NHS funded students are from non-traditional backgrounds: a large proportion are mature students or students who have already completed a first degree, and they are disproportionately women, working class, BME or students with caring responsibilities. We know that these are the groups that are hardest hit by debt, and many could not have even contemplated the course without the bursary: following the 2011 hike in tuition fees, there was a massive drop in applications to higher education from mature students. The NHS bursary is vital for a fully funded and well-staffed NHS, and scrapping it will mean that NHS funded students will be forced into debt in order to work for the NHS. According to the Royal College of Midwives, midwifery students will graduate with a debt of £65,000 after a three year course, despite the fact that NHS students work alongside their degrees, often doing unsociable hours which make part-time work impossible. In effect, the removal of the bursary would force prospective nurses and allied health professionals to pay to work.

The campaign to save NHS bursaries is the fight to save the NHS from further cuts, marketisation and privatisation, but also for free, liberated and accessible education and universal living grants, funded by taxing the rich and big business. Fighting alongside NHS students should also be a priority for feminists in the student movement – cuts to NHS bursaries are a feminist issue which must be placed in the context of the imposition of the junior doctors’ contract. If imposed, the new contract is likely to widen the gender pay gap in medicine, and is essentially a penalty for care work, as women tend to spend more years in training than men in order to balance caring responsibilities and their job.

Non NHS students need to fight alongside prospective nurses, midwives and other health professionals – here are some things you can do:

  • Join NHS students in the lobbies of St. Thomas’ or Whitechapel hospital in London at 10am on Wednesday as they walk out of their placements.
  • Join them at the Die In outside the Department of Health at 12pm.
  • Join junior doctors and NHS students on your nearest picket line on Wednesday.
  • Link your free education group with NHS students on your campus and walk out with them!
  • If you’re a delegate at NUS Women’s Conference, vote for motion 307 #BursaryOrBust and Amendments 1 and 2.