The Keep NHS Public protest at the MMH hospital on the 5th July was a major success with 100-120 people from diverse communities when the organisers had only expected 30-40 in attendance. There was a very positive response from passing traffic and most comrades held pro-NHS placards. A special poster demanding a government takeover of the hospital was stapled to posters we had obtained from the national NHS demo on the 30th June. We marched a short distance to the entrance to the hospital, I spoke on behalf of Bham TUC noting the massive profits made by PFI companies under the Blair/Brown era and the shift of the Coalition/Tory governments in recent years limiting the excessive profits on the schemes. I asked where were John Spellar, the local Labour MP, and Tom Watson, Labour deputy leader, and why were they not campaigning on this issue?
Bob Piper, a local Labour councillor, explained how some local Labour party members had opposed the PFI schemes going back to 1997 but local right wing Labour MPs were fully behind the PFI rip off schemes!! Birmingham Keep NHS Public group (originally launched by Birmingham TUC) has had a long opposed the PFI scheme organised by the government to replace two existing hospitals in West Birmingham and Sandwell.
John Lister, now editor of Health Campaigns Together newspaper, wrote a union funded report a year ago questioning the viability of the PFI scheme. PFI schemes heavily promoted by the Blair/Brown Labour governments provided a series of vastly overpriced hospitals which is burdening the NHS with massively expensive debts.
To highlight the ridiculous situation where a half built hospital is rotting away without any protection for 6 months, a protest was organised at 5.30-6.30 pm Thursday 5th July (the anniversary of the NHS’s foundation 70 years ago). It is estimated that the collapse of Carillion has increased the cost of the hospital by £100-£120 million and the minimum period of completion of the hospital has been delayed by four years until 2022.
The local Labour MP John Spellar, a notable right wing figure in the Labour Party, has raised questions with the Prime Minister, but has totally failed to develop a public campaign in the local area to bring the government to account. Equally the media-savvy West Midlands Mayor Andy Street has made a number of vague statements but has taken no action. In contrast many members of local Warley LP have been active in building this protest.
Both the regional offices of Unite and Unison promoted the event and Unite in particular has been very helpful reproducing the Keep NHS Public leaflet and providing an official rep Sue Lowe from Unite to speak at the protest. The speakers at the protest were as follows:
- Sue Lowe Unite
- Bearwood Labour councillor, Bob Piper
- Patrick Highton Keep Our NHS Public
- Stuart Richardson Birmingham TUC
- Ann Gallagher community activist
- Jae Robinson Unite Community branch and Disabled People against the Cuts
The campaign to oppose PFI schemes needs to be stepped up and this protest is a first step.
Below is the press statement issued by Birmingham Keep NHS Public.
Keep our NHS Public Birmingham Press release 4th July 2018
Local protesters’ NHS birthday party message to the Government – “fully fund our hospital building now!”
Local health campaign group Keep Our NHS Public (KONP) Birmingham is reiterating its demand that the Government step in immediately with a publicly-funded solution to the crisis at the Midland Metropolitan Hospital in Smethwick, by planning an NHS 70th Birthday celebration this Thursday night – July 5th5:30-6:30pm – with a public protest outside the site of the uncompleted project left by the collapse of building firm Carillion.
Their demand echoes that of the Hospital Trust’s Chief Executive, Toby Lewis, who has said that “exploring a public finance solution” (1) is one of the options now left to resume building the hospital, which the Trust has said is now going to be delayed until 2022.
Local campaigners are angry that the promised new hospital has been delayed by the complex private finance arrangements which they criticised in their report “The Right Hospital and the Right Size” by Dr John Lister published in Summer 2016 with the support of Birmingham Trades Union Council. (2)
A building industry specialist publication has already revealed last month that the Treasury has cancelled the existing PFI/2 contract (3) when the banks backing the project pulled out earlier last month.
KONP Birmingham said that this was now a “golden opportunity for common sense to prevail” and get the building work restarted using public finance as a “government-procured construction job” (4). This would then ensure that any company taking on the building work avoids what Dr Lister in his report calls the “questionable assumption of transferred risk”. (5).
A spokesman for Keep our NHS Birmingham said:
PFI/PF2 was supposed to result in a transfer of risk to private sector, but we have ended up picking up the pieces. We are celebrating the NHS’s 70th Birthday this Thursday – July 5th– to demand that the Government brings the Midland Met Hospital project back under proper public control, with sustainable financing. It was always going to be cheaper to build this hospital using Government financing and a better way to borrow the money at current interest rates, so let’s get our new local hospital up and running quickly. This is a golden opportunity for common sense to prevail and to provide improved services to the patients of Sandwell and West Birmingham.
(1) Chief ‘increasingly concerned’ over hospital build hit by Carillion collapse – Nick Carding, Health Service Journal, 5 April 2018
(2) “The Right Hospital and the Right Size?” Dr John Lister for Keep Our NHS Public, Birmingham and Birmingham Trades Union Council, March 2016
(3) “Treasury agreed to terminate PFI on Midland hospital “David Price, Construction News 25 June, 2018
(4) ibid Price D, Construction News, 25 June 2018
(5) ibid J Lister, p.16
Keep our NHS Public Birmingham
We are a local action group affiliated to Keep our NHS Public which campaigns against the privatisation of NHS and opposing cuts to NHS services.
We can be contacted by e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org and on 07799 415279
Midland Metropolitan Hospital, Smethwick
The Midland Metropolitan Hospital was due to open in Smethwick in 2018. It is planned to bring together teams who provide acute and emergency care from both Sandwell Hospital and City Hospital Birmingham. It was the first hospital in the country to be financed under former Chancellor George Osborne’s modified PFI (Private Finance Initiative) arrangement PF2 (Private Finance 2).
The new hospital is designed to offer maternity, children’s and inpatient adult services to half a million people. Midland Met remains the closest adult hospital to the busy centre of Birmingham. The new hospital is being built with ‘room to grow’. In addition, there are retained buildings and wards at Sandwell for future development.
Many services currently provided at Sandwell and City will remain in those locations such as the Birmingham Treatment Centre and the specialist eye hospital Birmingham and Midland Eye Centre (BMEC). An Urgent Care Centre, able to look after 35,000 people, is planned to replace the current A&E at Sandwell – and the general hospital will become a Treatment Centre offering local outpatient, diagnostic and short stay surgical care.
Creating the Midland Met lies at the heart of the “Sustainability and Transformation Plan” (STP) for the local Black Country NHS.