2016 has been an eventful year for Health Campaigns Together, which held its first activist conference in January, with support from UNISON, Unite and GMB, flagging up the looming threat of a further reorganisation of the NHS through Sustainability and Transformation Plans (STPs), and assembling almost 200 people at the London Welsh Centre. Our platform included national officers of UNISON and Unite, along with Junior doctors, campaigners against scrapping NHS bursaries, supporters of the NHS Reinstatement Bill that is now supported in Parliament by Margaret Greenwood MP, Keep Our NHS Public, and more.

NHS will last as long as there are folk left with the faith to fight for it

It was at that same conference that we launched the first printed issue of Health Campaigns Together newspaper, with an initial circulation of 5,000 copies (free online). We have had to progressively increase that print run, to 15,000 by issue 4, which came out in November. We are delighted to have had trade union branches, local TUCs, and campaign groups purchasing bundles for distribution to their members and as part of local campaigning. The paper has only been possible with financial support from Health Emergency and practical assistance from Keep Our NHS Public.

The Health Campaigns Together stall at UNISON’s Health Conference in Brighton did brisk business distributing information, 800 newspapers, and badges, gathering stories and information, and spreading awareness of our new initiative to link campaigning with the health unions.

Throughout the year our website has gained in breadth and coverage, promoting events, carrying the latest updates on STPs, privatisation, local events and the fight against cuts and closures as well as current and back copies of the newspaper. We have launched a busy STPwatch page, which now has all 44 STPs readily downloadable along with other information and analysis, and invites updates and information at stpwatch@gmail.com.

A second national Health Campaigns Together conference, for activists, and centred on analysis of the content of the emerging STPs was held in Birmingham in September and attracted another large audience of up to 200, with a greater concentration of trade union activists, notably from the health sections of Unite.

The following month came our first, extremely vigorous regional conference, for Yorkshire and the north, attracting a much larger than expected participation in Leeds, from almost the whole of Yorkshire and even Greater Manchester: again the event was supported by the unions, with delegations and participation from a range of health union branches and trade union organisations.

November and December have centred on the eventual publication of the STPs, with growing public debate over the extent to which these often vague and evasive documents will in practice be at the centre of local cuts and reorganisation to attempt to tackle trust and CCG deficits and bridge the £22 billion “gap” which Simon Stevens identified between £8billion of “extra” money from the government and a projected £30bn mismatch between demands on health services and resources by 2020-21. The publication of the STPs confirms that the “do nothing” funding gap they are attempting to bridge adds up to over £24 billion – although many of the projected savings seem unlikely to materialise, and the latest analysis from the Health Service Journal suggests that NHS England may be recognising that the STPs may not be the ideal vehicle to secure the kind of cuts and savings they need, and are already being talked about not as “plans” but “proposals”.

Nonetheless it’s clear from plunging performance levels and early winter bed crises across the country that the NHS is facing the biggest-ever challenge to its existence, with the situation worsening each month of the brutal spending freeze in place since 2010.

In response to this, and fresh support and involvement in Health Campaigns Together, notably from Hands off the HRI (Huddersfield Royal Infirmary) campaign, we agreed to a proposal to call for a national demonstration against cuts and privatisation in London on March 4, and the March 4 NHS campaign has gone on to win support for this from Unite the union, the PCS civil service union, three UNISON regions, the Peoples Assembly, Momentum, and many local campaigns, TUCs and trade union bodies across the country. Even in December we are hearing of campaigns planning how to mobilise, and coaches being booked for the demo – 3 months ahead.

All this is possible because the formula of Health Campaigns Together is very simple: we are an open organisation with a straightforward agenda – facilitating joint action.

We want to work with all those campaigns and organisations that want to fight to defend the NHS, its services, its integrity as a public service and the ethos of an NHS that is tax-funded from general taxation and free at point of use.

Health Campaigns Together as an initiative is dependent first and foremost on financial support from campaigners, and as yet we have no large-scale financial supporters – so affiliations, donations and subscriptions are all very important to us in continuing to grow the campaign.

Health Campaigns Together welcomes all those trade unions and campaigners who want to make common cause, want to share information, use the resources we have developed, spread the word, and build a broad, inclusive movement that can challenge the austerity-driven attacks and the ideologically driven fragmentation and privatisation of the NHS.

We welcome those who want to work with us, and stress that there is no obligation to support every position adopted by Health Campaigns Together or its component parts. Organisations which have reservations over for example the detailed analysis of STPs or the detail of the NHS Reinstatement Bill are free to hold back from support on these questions, but still participate in our March 4 demonstration.

We don’t spend our time navel gazing over the past, or demanding those who have made errors recant: we don’t demand or expect agreement with or follow the line of any political party, although we are happy to work with members of progressive political parties who want to campaign in defence of the NHS. We aim to link up all those who want to fight now, for an increase in NHS funding, for a halt to any further contracting and privatisation, and to roll back the wasteful, inefficient competitive market and bring privatised care back into public ownership and control.

To meet the challenges of 2017, we will need to gather more resources, and redouble our efforts. We have established a quarterly newspaper and managed to cover all the costs of publication and distribution for four issues in 2016 – and we would love to be able to guarantee quarterly publication again in 2017, and expand the newspaper to give more space for local reports, columns from trade union supporters, comment and analysis.

Our January issue of the newspaper will obviously have to focus strongly on promoting the March 4 demonstration, and developing the themes the demo will be built upon.

If we could raise £1,500 by early January we could double the size of the paper, adding a further 8 tabloid pages of news and information, cartoons and pictures. Here’s two ways you could help us do this:

  • Buy Health Campaigns Together a Christmas/New year drink, or even a round of drinks – not literally of course, but in the form of a donation. This time of year many organisations and individuals quite rightly hold parties and celebrations to thank and entertain members and activists, or simply relax and enjoy the season with friends. If we could raise the equivalent of 100 pints of beer that would add £500 to our resources: 100 ‘rounds’ of drinks at £20 to £25 each could bring £2000 to £2500 – and make a significant contribution to our resources for the printed newspaper and the costs of the demonstration. Obviously more generous donations are also always welcome, from individuals or organisations.

We have no paid staff, no costly offices or overheads – every pound donated is used for building the campaigns and initiatives of Health Campaigns Together.

  • Or advertise your support. If your trade union, Labour Party or campaigning organisation supports the demonstration and plans to be there in force, why not take out a full page advert in our print and online newspaper for £500, a half page for £260, a quarter page for £150 or a 1/8 page for £75? You can use the space as you wish to raise the profile of your organisation, and feature the local or wider issues your organisation supports, with text, logo or photos or graphics of your choice: you could send us your artwork, or we could design it to your requirements. To plan the finished paper we need your commitment to take out an advert no later than January 7.

Obviously we also welcome early orders for the January and future issues of the paper: the rates advertised (or the specific bundles we negotiate with you on request) are charged PER ISSUE, so if you want all 4 issues in 2017, the cost should be 4 times the published rate: but PAY IN ADVANCE for 2017, and we will send all 4 bundles for the price of 3, a massive 25% discount for ensuring we have the resources up front for regular publication.

You have our guarantee: any money above and beyond the costs of the newspaper will be used for Health Campaigns Together campaigning, initially the March 4 demonstration, which is our biggest and boldest initiative – and the most expensive. Of course that’s not just about the events on March 4: the local campaigning to mobilise people onto coaches and into London on March 4 means raising awareness in towns, cities and rural areas across England – awareness of the local cuts and privatisation that threaten services and the national austerity squeeze and ideological drive for privatisation.

By the 2020 election massive damage could be done to the NHS unless we unlock the budgets for health and social care and end the wasteful bureaucracy of Lansley’s market system. We need to be working with as many others as possible, to build a MOVEMENT, big enough to shake and challenge Tory politicians and change the course of Theresa May’s shaky government.

With your help, we can do it! Thanks for all your support so far: now please give us more, to ensure we succeed!

Cheers, seasonal greetings – and have a happy and successful New Year!

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