On Sunday the 25th of September the people of Merseyside congregated at the Liverpool Women’s hospital in order to march to show their anger at the proposed closing of Liverpool Women’s hospital by the local NHS trust.
For a while now the Liverpool Women’s NHS foundation trust have been making noises that keeping it open is ‘all very difficult’ as they are claiming that money is running out. This is the same trust that made the decision to burden itself with huge amounts of debt through something called private finance initiatives (PFI) which essentially are big loans off banks at rates which would make your eyes water. This on top of the fact the neighbouring trust (Royal Liverpool and Broadgreen University Hospitals NHS trust) took a decision to knock down Liverpool Royal Hospital in favour of a totally new build shows that the message from the local trusts seems inconsistent. So… let me get this right….there is money for a brand new hospital when the old one was still fit for purpose, but no money to keep open a flagship maternity hospital that is looked upon across Europe as one of the best and effective maternity units across the continent. There is money to pay board members of Liverpool Women’s £100k plus per year, but not enough to fund vital services to the community? The People’s Assembly Merseyside cannot help but feel this could seem like incompetence to the average onlooker, but the more you scratch beneath the surface, the plot thickens. One of the unusual circumstances is that the trust launched a public consultation about closing the hospital and when people turned up and told the trust they didn’t want the Women’s to be shut, then the trust ignored it and launched a less well advertised consultation later on, presumably in the hope of getting a more preferable answer (or silence) from the community. Are we going to allow them to paint silence as consent? We think not.
Liverpool Women’s is one of the best hospitals to encourage breast feeding which is thought to improve the general health of babies not only through infancy but the effects of which are also thought to help improve health of the parent and the child into late adult life by reducing rates of certain kinds of cancer. Is it a coincidence that the chairperson of the trust who wants to close it, owns a large stake in dairy farming? Its seems to us that is a conflict of interest. Also for a number of years now there have been changes to Liverpool Women’s Hospital which have made parts of it private (pay for the service instead of free at the point of use, like normal NHS services) within the same building instead of being properly publicly funded. This is of course partly the fault of successive governments to not properly fund the NHS, but there also appears to be gross negligence (or perhaps malice) in the mismanagement of the trusts funds.
It seems that people who own businesses (privateers) are more interested in circling like vultures to see what easy pickings they can get at the expense of the public and the service to the public. The chair of the trust represents an interest in the private sector. There is a dependence on PFI which represents privateers not only making a profit through their loans from vital public services but likely waiting for a default on the loan so they can re-negotiate terms of the loan to be even more damning for the trust. Also there are private contractors making money off the new Royal Hospital build, and must be laughing all the way to the bank. We wonder if the owner of these construction firms is related to anyone on the Royal’s trusts board? Or if any of them own shares in the company? This remains to be seen, but we should be watching these management boards like hawks and where possible getting on to these boards to ensure the corrupt are held to account, as they rely on us to stay asleep in order for them to pick the public pocket in increasingly complex ways.
When People’s Assembly Merseyside heard about the Save Liverpool Women’s campaign we immediately realised the relevance to all people on Merseyside. In Liverpool most women will have, or will use the services of Liverpool Women’s Hospital at some point in their lives. Those living on the Wirral also rely on services which are linked to those in Liverpool Women’s too, so if Liverpool Women’s goes then the cost of care on the Wirral will also rocket and/or degrade. With Wirral having rejected a private model of home maternity care because it was found to be unsafe for others, positive maternity services are on the brink of being eroded and privatised across the whole region in favour of private models which will never be as effective as they suck money out to subsidise privateers pockets instead of going to the women that need it, something we on both sides of the water need to realise and react against together.
The march on Sunday was reassuring, as it showed how many people are already rightfully angry about what is happening. Whether Liverpool Women’s Hospital will be outright closed, or whether the services will be slashed and placed on a couple of wards in the new Royal Hospital, it is a choice between a vital public service lost, or a vital public services eroded, and a handful of wards can in no way replicate what the current Liverpool Women’s hospital is capable of delivering in terms of supporting the choices of Women and the care and guidance that is needed before, during and after having a baby. People at the march knew this and were willing to take to the streets to show the public their anger in an attempt to show people what is happening. Unfortunately the general public don’t realise there is a problem unless they hear it on the news or unless they see people on the street protesting. Police estimates were that 3,000 people in total marched on that day, a number which is only usually seen on trade union marches or anti-racist marches in the city. The public are increasingly becoming aware of the campaign and are starting to get active about it.
The Merseyside People’s Assembly are going to keep going on this campaign. One of our dedicated volunteers Natalie Denny spoke at the rally before the march, whose positive and informative message was met with much applause. We had many speakers from different anti-austerity groups speak before and after the march. It was great to see that cross party and cross group coordination is possible in Merseyside on an issue as important as this. This is something which the People’s Assembly hopes to build as time goes on. The People’s Assembly is a meeting place for people from various anti-austerity groups, as well as for members of the public who do not have anything to do with politics but rightfully care enough about the issue to want to see what they can do about it. This ability to meet, talk and coordinate people power through direct action will be vital in building the bridges which are required to take on the establishment locally properly and with an overarching strategy to win.
Marches do not change the world in of themselves, but they are a good meeting place for people and they do reassure people that they are not alone in their beliefs. It is the confidence that this brings which is of key, that people realise there is momentum behind the idea and their time and effort will not be wasted in volunteering their time for the cause.
We will keep you updated on the Liverpool Women’s Hospital campaign as we continue to meet with them. What you can do now is search for them on twitter @LWHstays and on Facebook ‘Save Liverpool Women’s Hospital’ or go to their website https://saveliverpoolwomenshospital.com/2016/09/05/why-we-need-a-womens-hospital/ to keep on top of what is happening directly with them. If you want to get more directly involved with the Merseyside People’s Assembly on this issue then please email us on [email protected] and we will be in touch to get some work done on the issue.
On behalf of the Merseyside People’s Assembly