Sunday, November 12, 2006

Hospital staff rally against cuts

BBC South Yorkshire

Tony Blair has said "necessary" changes are taking place

Hundreds of hospital workers have marched through Leeds city centre to protest against NHS cuts.

Nurses, cleaners, porters and clinical staff took part in the rally to protest against the impact of cuts on hospitals across the region.

Andy Freeman, Unison regional officer, said NHS staff in Leeds and surrounding areas were facing a "bleak future".

Prime Minister Tony Blair has defended the government's record on reforming the NHS and cutting waiting times.

But hospital staff have been outraged at plans by the Leeds Teaching Hospital Trust to cut £84m over the next three years.

Unison said it wanted the rally to provide a focal point for patients and members of the public across the region concerned about the future of NHS services in their area.

Mr Freeman said: "Ward closures, bed reductions and staff redundancies are already taking place and staff are extremely concerned about the impact on patient care.

"Cuts in the NHS in Leeds of this magnitude will impact directly on patients in the area and any denials to the contrary are just a smoke and mirrors exercise."

The march through Leeds city centre culminated in a rally, with speakers including Bobbie Chadwick, deputy president of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN).

Speaking at the rally, Kevin Austerberry, RCN regional director told the BBC: "I think we have got to the stage now where people want to take to the streets to really express how frustrated and concerned they feel.

"We are losing jobs in a serious way at the moment, we need more nursing jobs, not fewer nursing jobs."

'Necessary' change

Earlier this month, health workers from across England rallied outside Parliament over NHS cuts and privatisation.

After being challenged by Tory leader David Cameron about the protest, Mr Blair said "necessary" changes were taking place.

He said: "Of course, there are changes taking place, rightly because there are more cases being done on a day case basis, new technology is shortening waiting times and specialist care is being developed.

"All of this is part of necessary change.

"The only way the NHS is going to improve is keep the money coming in, not cut it back, which is your policy, and make sure we make the reforms, which add value for money."