On the 24th April, the Health and Social Care Board headquarters in Belfast was the focus of a protest organised by the Stop the Cuts Campaign against the Assembly Executive’s health cuts. Around 50 trade unionists and anti-cuts activists sent a clear and vocal message of opposition to Health Minster Edwin Poots’s health cuts and privatisation agenda.
Pat Lawlor, Stop the Cuts Co-ordinator welcomed people to the protest. He highlighted how we are now into the fifth year of the Westminster and Assembly Executive’s health cuts, that has seen 25,000 health jobs cut across Britain and Northern Ireland. Pat went on to give some horrific examples of the cuts and closures to health services and jobs to date – the worst examples resulting in two deaths in two separate A&E units with the most recent being a child in Antrim A&E. Both cases were directly related to increased waiting times as a result to cuts in hospital services. Pat reported that in the last year every A&E unit across the North had breached its 12 hour waiting time! Pat emphasised the cuts that we seen have only been trimming around the edges and we have not seen the deepest and severest cuts yet adding “The purpose of these cuts is to lay the foundation for mass privatisation as this is at the heart of the Assembly Executive’s agenda”.
Guest speaker Dee Maguire, NIPSA Branch Secretary from the Belfast Trust congratulated and give support to the Stop the Cuts Campaign for initiating the protest. Dee said “The Assembly’s health proposals under the guise of Transforming Your Care will devastate care provision for the most vulnerable in our communities. The importance of this protest and a need for a real campaign against health cuts was made even more real” as he reported that “today the Northern Trust has released the news that they were closing all their elderly residential homes leaving hundreds of elderly people without a place to live”.
Lucia Collins, NIPSA Vice-President and spoke next. Also commending the Stop the Cuts Campaign for organising the protest, Lucia reminded the protest that “all these cuts across the public sector are being imposed onto workers to bail out the bankers and rich”. Lucia drew comparisons with the cuts in health and attacks on other services such as the Assembly’s agenda for mass school closures and the proposed dismantling and sell-off of the Housing Executive to the private sector. Lucia spoke of the importance of how some workers, families and supporters have begun a fight back to save their schools such as the campaign for Dundonald High School.
Pat Lawlor concluded the protest stating “We must do all we can to support all anti-cuts campaigns and link them together as it is only by standing together can we win. It is now time for the trade union movement to build towards a national 24 hour general strike of public and private sector workers in opposition to Westminster’s and the Assembly Executive’s austerity”.
The successful protest ended to chants of ” Edwin Poots can you hear, we don’t want your health cuts here”!