GROWING fears over the future of the NHS prompted a call to action by Swindon activists to save the health service.

A sold-out screening of documentary Under the Knife showed a packed Swindon Arts Centre audience the history of the NHS and how it has changed over the decades.

The film argues that the NHS is now overstretched by high demand and low staff levels while simultaneously being dismantled by private companies.

It says bloated administrative costs caused by inefficient management consultancy teams and a chronic lack of funding during the past few years of austerity have led to extra pressures.

Labour’s prospective Parliamentary candidate for south Swindon Sarah Church said: “We all viscerally love the NHS because we know how much it would cost for care if it was not available but we must not take it for granted.

“The insidious rise of privatisation and the dreadful Private Finance Initiative schemes that pay for hospitals but are costing us more money in the long-term must go. We should be able to buy back PFIs if they don’t deliver on what is promised.

“Hundreds of millions of pounds of public money is spent on management consultancy which has made hospitals less efficient.

“We are at a crossroads and must put the NHS back together before it breaks irreparably. We need to see people who have never been out on the streets protesting before joining us and saying enough is enough.”

Ms Church highlighted IMH’s disastrous management of five Swindon GP surgeries as a prime example of what happens when private firms step in to support struggling practices.

Integrated Medical Holdings no longer looks after any of the surgeries following a surge of complaints from patients and the intervention of the Swindon Clinical Commissioning Group.

Ms Church added: “Because of the way that primary care is run and GP shortages are at such a high level, these surgeries chose to take on a private provider to do its administrative work.

“The fact that these services had to be put out to tender puts the NHS at a disadvantage.”

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Under the Knife by Keep Our NHS Public was made by veteran medical journalist Pam Kleinot, narrated by Alison Steadman and directed by Susan Steinberg.

Part of it highlighted outcry over the proposed closure of Lewisham Hospital in 2012 and how vocal opposition led to it being kept open.

The co-founder of the successful protest campaign was in the screening’s audience and during the Q&A urged Swindon people passionate about helping the health service to echo concerns raised in the documentary.

Interviews with Labour and Conservative politicians, junior doctors, nurses who saw the start of the NHS and the improvements it made to poorer people’s lives, and former NHS executives talked about their first-hand experience.

Keep Our NHS Public’s Swindon branch co-founder Samantha Watten talked about issues closer to home.

She said: “Our hospital in Swindon is very small, especially as the town keeps growing. 15,000 people waited over four hours to be seen last year and there are many staff vacancies. People are suffering and potentially dying needlessly and it’s taking its toll on the staff. The NHS does not need reorganisation, it needs cash.

“It’s been a political choice by the government not to properly fund it over the last few years. The NHS was first established during austerity after the Second World War, so if we could afford it then, we can afford it now.

“We are a cross-party group and back who we feel would do best with the NHS.

“We’ve just had the worst summer figures ever in terms of missed targets despite staff doing a fantastic job and we are looking at the worst winter figures coming up so it’s now a year-long crisis.”

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