Bedford Riverbank Ward car convoy

“If you want to privatise something and destroy it, a standard method is first to defund it, so it doesn’t work anymore, people get upset and accept privatisation. This is happening in the schools. They are defunded, so they don’t work well.” ~ Noam Chomsky.

The same could be said to be true of our NHS.

Bedford Hospitals pediatric unit at the Riverbank Ward has been subject to cuts and closures in recent weeks and the local community in Bedford have taken part in successive and successful demonstrations and protests to highlight their strength of feelings towards them. The most recent of which was a cavalcade procession from Bedford hospital to the Luton and Dunstable hospital (L&D), to highlight the journey that families will now face for their children aged up to 19.

The event was created by concerned residents of Luton from the Luton People’s Assembly, they said the drive behind mobilising to aid the Save Riverbank ward group was based on the fact that if a stand is not taken today for this ward, tomorrow it could be another ward and soon, the L&D. These cuts and closures have been part of a steady stream of attacks to undermine the NHS in the UK, perhaps the single most amazing thing this country has ever produced. The mainstream media (MSM) have been drip feeding horror stories regarding NHS trusts, nurses and doctors relentlessly for months now, trying to convince us that the NHS fire sale and privatisation proposed by Jeremy Hunt and his cohorts is not such a bad idea. This attack on the pediatric unit is just another part of that onerous plan.

The group met at 9am at Bedford Interchange retail park and before long were confronted by the police, concerned that the journey would be at an obstructive pace. Once they were assured that this would not be the case they decided to follow us in any event, but had to be away at 10:30am for another appointment. There were about 30 cars at the start, all decorated in a variety of creative ways and numerous trade union banners on display, the highlight of which was a trailer, complete with hospital bed, toy doll symbolising a sick child, with some doctors thrown into the mix.  People from all parts of society came together under one common goal which was refreshing to see.

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The route took the group through Bedford town past the hospital where the convoy stopped to make plenty of noise. This was met with waves from the windows as patients looked out in support of the people demonstrating. The convoy then slowly made its way down the A6 through Barton-le clay and into Luton town via the L&D before pulling up at Lewsey Park where a short rally was held. The main message was the need to keep up the pressure and reminding those in attendance of the recent decision to over turn the closure of Lewisham A&E because of the actions taken by the local community. There was also a presence from the new group of firefighters campaigning against austerity ‘We Save People Not Banks’ who reminded the crowd that the small actions of dedicated people can and do make change if they want it.

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What next for Riverbank Ward remains to be seen, rumour has it that there have been plans in place for a number of weeks designed to appease the campaign group to settle their dispute, but anything less than the full restoration and safe guarding of their NHS service will be acceptable. For the wider movement to defend our NHS there is the mass rally and demonstration called by the TUC on September 29th in Manchester looking to form a quarantine around the Tory party conference. The event is being supported by unions and activist groups from across the country and you are encouraged to attend and add your support to defend our NHS. For more info go to the People’s Assembly page.

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Be the change

In July this year it was announced that there would a series of cuts to Bedford Hospital’s River Bank Ward that will affect anyone with a child under 19. The public will now have to use the hospitals at either Luton or Milton Keynes.

As of August 1st 2013 there was to be no:

– Planned overnight inpatient care (on Riverbank Ward) for children having planned (elective) surgery, or planned medical procedures or care. Children will be cared for by their Bedford consultant at Milton Keynes Hospital (or another neighbouring hospital) 

– Emergency overnight inpatient care (on Riverbank Ward) as there will be no emergency admissions from 31 July

 – Children’s Accident and Emergency (children brought to hospital by ambulance will go straight to the next nearest hospital. Children (those aged up to 19) should not be brought to A&E as walk-in patients from 1 August.

– Children’s Assessment Unit, for children requiring short-stay observation following attendance at A&E (as there will be no emergency admissions from 31 July)

The Trust explained that they would continue to provide the following services:

Children’s outpatients services (all children’s outpatients clinics will continue to run as normal)

-Nurse-led ambulatory care for children with chronic or long-term conditions whose care can be managed by specialist paediatric nurses

-Day Unit (on Riverbank Ward) with day case care following planned surgery, or for planned medical procedures or care

 -Maternity services and neonatal services are unaffected and continue to run as normal

-All other services, including adult A&E remain as normal.

These announcements lead to a very vocal demonstration being launched at short notice as, around 500 people took to the street in protestwith some 5000 people in two days signing a petition against the closure and their message is clear; that these proposals are outrageous and as always the case, they impact the poorest the hardest and with children, they target the most at risk and most vulnerable group. As a child who spent many a Sunday morning or evening at the local hospital recovering from a variety of sporting related injuries, I know first hand the impact some of these proposals will have on families. There are rumours or mumblings of concessions or plans to resolve the discontent of the Save Riverbank Ward Facebook group, but half measure should not and will not be tolerated.

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There are a succession of protests and art performances being planned to oppose these disgusting closures, one of a long line of attacks on our NHS service across the country to date. A march is being held on August 24th, starting at 12:30pm at Horne lane in Bedford and on the following week, August 31st starting at around 10:00am there will be a cavalcade procession, making their way from Bedford Hospital to the Luton and Dunstable Hospital, to highlight the issue of the journey, with a sick child (not a real one!) being wheeled on a bed and loaded on to a vehicle and taken slowly down the road to their final destination. This has been championed by the Luton’s People Assembly, buoyed by the reversal of the decision to close Lewisham A&E, who realise not only the risk this attack on the hospital in Bedford poses for the future of the L&D, but for the very real hardship some families will face with the logistics of having to transport children to Luton or Milton Keynes. All are cordially invited to attend and make both events something to be proud to be part of. This may not be something that directly affects you today but in time it can and perhaps will. Lewisham has shown us that if we take a collective stand, in enough numbers, we can be the change.

There is no justice, there is just us
There is no justice, there is just us

August 24th also marks the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s speech ‘I have a dream’ in Washington, but perhaps his finest speech was his last, now affectionately referred to as ‘At the mountain top’. In this speech he explained how the biggest question he faced was not what would happen to him if he stood up for the sanitation workers, but what would happen to them if he did not stand up for them. This is as relevant today with all the attacks being faced by the public from this government, whatever the issue, be it bedroom tax, pension attacks, NHS closures and privatisation and attacks on the disabled, these are all as a result of ideological austerity being driven by corruption in our parliament and bad banking practices. They are right when they say we are in this together, but we can only turn back the tide by taking a collective stand across all issues and not just laying back on our laurels once our own individual issues are resolved.