Fight to defend the NHS, know your enemy.

In their attempts to destroy the NHS the Government have established local organisations under the guise of local accountability, but in reality these bodies are part and parcel of the privatisation and fragmentation agenda. If we are to effectively  campaign to save the NHS we need to understand the role of these bodies. Most people have no idea what these shadowy groups do.

The most important of these groups are the CCG`s (Clinical Commissioning Groups), they exist in every locality and are responsible for spending about 80% of the national NHS budget. They consist of groups of local GP`s and commission most NHS services, it is they that are responsible for outsourcing medical services to private providers. For example in Bracknell when the NHS Minor Injuries Unit closed at Heatherwood Hospital it was the CCG that commissioned a private provider to replace it. Sometimes there could be a clear conflict of interest with GP`s both commissioning services and being themselves providers of private services. In Bracknell we have established a Peoples Heathwatch and we attend all public meetings of the CCG questioning and challenging their actions.

Another important local body is the Healthwatch, which is meant to be the local independent, health watchdog in behalf of patients. It is neither independent or democratic, it is funded by the government via the local authority, although the money is not ring fenced. HW is commissioned by the Local Authority in spite of themselves being responsible for Public Health, there is a clear conflict of interest here. Again in Bracknell our HW is supportive of all the governments reforms, including privatisation of Dementia Services by Bracknell Forest Council, in fact they castigated us for demonstrating against the privatisation. This is why we have launched Bracknell Forest Peoples Healthwatch, which is democratic, accountable and fights against NHS privatisation and calls for openness and transparency in the NHS.

There are a number of other equally questionable local health bodies including Health and Wellbeing Boards, PPG`s ( Patient Participation Groups) and Health Overview and Scrutiny Panels. In Bracknell we participate in all these groups through our Peoples Healthwatch, we intervene in these groups in defence of patients and to defend the principles of the NHS.

We have recently organised a survey asking people what do they know about these bodies, early indications are that most people have never heard anything about any of them, yet they are the organisations running the NHS at a local level. We will publish these results and use them to expose the lack of openness and transparency in the NHS.

Whilst mobilising the trade unions nationally to fight the government privatisation of the NHS is vital, it is also important to build local struggles as well. Here in Bracknell we have built a united front against the government policies, involving trade unionists, pensioners, anti cuts campaigners, political activists and patients. We think that to defeat the government we must first understand their strategy. Whilst the local NHS bosses do not like us they have learned to respect us, after all we obtained 25,000 names opposing closure of our local hospital and they were forced to back off.

Terry Pearce

Chair, Bracknell Forest Peoples Healthwatch (and NSSN Steering Committee)