On Saturday 27th January, over 1000 people marched through the centre of Southend to protest against the ‘Sustainabilty & Transformation Partnership’ (STP a.k.a. Slash, Trash & Privatise) plans for ‘rationalising’ services between Southend, Basildon and Broomfield hospitals. It was also in protest at the merger of the three hospitals which was sprung upon everybody during the STP ‘consultation’ process. The protest was called by Save Southend NHShttps://www.facebook.com/SaveSouthendNHS/ Check out their Facebook page for frequent, accurate and to the point updates and bulletins about the campaign and the implications of the STP.

The aim of the protest was to draw the attention of the wider public in Southend to the threats posed to NHS services by the STP plans. Threats which if not challenged, will lead to a two tier service with those that can pay getting a better standard of treatment followed by eventual privatisation and the loss of a free at the point of use health care.

The full implementation of the STP with the re-location and ‘rationalising’ of services relies on having the capability to transport patients swiftly between hospitals. One you start reading what Save Southend NHS have found out, it’s very clear that Southend, Basildon and Broomfield hospitals do not have the vehicles, let alone the staff to provide this capability. Even if they did have the capability, they would have to deal with a road network in the region that more often than not is congested. Congestion that in an emergency blue light situation could in some cases be the difference between life or dying in the back of an ambulance.

The STP also relies on patients and their families, friends and carers accepting that more often than not, they will have to travel a lot further for treatment and visits. Even in this day and age, not everyone drives and having to endure a journey on a series of buses to get halfway across the county is going to be a stressful and distressing experience for many. All of this shows that the STP plans have nothing to do with improving services for patients and everything to do with cost cutting and privatisation.

As for the march and rally, we felt it did the job of getting the message across to the public about the threats posed to NHS services in the region by the STP plans. What was good was that it was a lot more than just the ‘usual suspects’ with a good number of ordinary people joining the march and rally. One of the strengths of Save Southend NHS is that it’s a broad, community based campaign that doesn’t have a party political agenda. One of their other strengths is the network they’re building up with other campaign groups across the region and beyond. Both of these will be essential in dealing with the inevitable games of divide and rule that those behind the STP plans will try in their desperation to thwart opposition to them.

All in all, the march and rally were a great success in that they brought people together, boosting the morale of campaigners and supporters in the process and sent out a clear signal that opposition to the STP plans is growing. The organisers certainly deserved their celebration in The Railway afterwards! However, a march and rally is just one tactic on one day in an ongoing campaign and there’s a lot more work to come in the future. Here at the Stirrer, we’ll be doing what we can to support this fight.