Letters - FRFI 265 Aug/Sep 2018

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 265 August/September 2018


King’s College Hospital – special measures threaten further crisis

It is now over six months since King’s College Hospital (KCH) was placed in special measures by NHS Improvement (NHSI) and the chair, Lord Kerslake, resigned. Staff are feeling the pressure more than ever – the workload remains impossible but is now accompanied by underlying worries of further cutbacks, staff losses and worsening equipment shortages. The details of the financial recovery programme will be outlined in the coming months and until then we only have assertions that staff must ‘help’ and that management are ‘strengthening’ the ‘systems and processes’. As staff committee chair Irene Pilia said: ‘The last five years have been bitingly difficult for KCH staff […] The effort of keeping a world class hospital functioning so magnificently while being asked to pare financial costs to the bone has taken its toll. Trust-wide, staff are exhausted. Stress and sickness levels are high. Being placed in financial measures could be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. At the very least, it will further demoralise incredibly hard-worked human beings.’ All of this has a devastating impact on patients – the trust has been more than 100% full, having to use meeting and storage rooms for space. It failed to meet four-hour A&E waiting targets and cancer waiting times according to reports.* The anger of staff is palpable under the sheer exhaustion, tears and endless apologies to patients for a system that is on the edge.

The deficit is much higher than even the highest earlier predictions, standing at £132m in May 2018. As of the end of March, the Trust owed the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) £677m, plus interest at a criminal 6%, rather than the usual 1.5 or 3.5%, because of special measures.

The response of the Trust has been like others in this position – to hire phenomenally highly-paid temporary managers and extortionate private advisory companies. Ian Smith, interim chairman, was previously chief executive of General Healthcare Group, the UK’s largest private hospital group. He is an Operating Partner at private equity firm Trilantic Capital Partners and retains interests in care company Four Seasons Healthcare following his time there as chair. Meanwhile interim chief executive Peter Herring, appointed in May, has experience in moving Sherwood Forest Hospitals Trust out of special measures and was paid £40,000 per month to do so. He was widely criticised in 2015 for retiring for a day from Shrewsbury and Telford NHS Trust, before resuming employment there, to gain a £252,000 sum in addition to his yearly salary of £185,000.

These men are the executioners, working to the wider targets of the NHSI and DHSC. The day-to-day pressures will be left for the staff to deal with, knowing things are only getting worse. The full impact of the so-called recovery plan will be seen in the months to come.

A King’s healthcare worker

  • See ‘King's College hospital put “patient beds in storage space” amid health crisis’ London Evening Standard, 17 Jan 2018.

Saint’s bones

In a review of the ‘centenery’ exhibition at the Southbank Centre in London of the life of South African ANC leader Nelson Mandela, born 100 years ago (Steve Rose, 24 July 2018), The Guardian newspaper mentions that it would be ‘mean-spirited to even try to assess it critically’. Nonetheless, in an age where fake news and lies are the order of the day, it is necessary to tell a few home truths. Alongside nonsense items like the pickaxe supposedly used by Mandela to hew rocks on Robben Island during his imprisonment, the exhibition has a specific purpose to promote the memory of Mandela as a ‘peace-loving, wise and genial statesman’, unlike today’s world leaders. Quoting Barack Obama, the reviewer notes: ‘Giving the annual Mandela lecture, he contrasted the progressive democratic triumphs of the 1990s – such as South Africa and the collapse of the Soviet Union – with the present climate of tribalism, resentment and “strongman politics”. … “We have to follow Madiba’s example of persistence and of hope”.’

It is always the intention of bourgeois historians to rob the oppressed of any memory or recognition of their own leading role in the struggle for freedom, and that is what is happening here. This is a Mandela without the militant revolutionary movement against apartheid, without the vibrant anger and hatred of apartheid shown by the youth in the townships who rose up against intolerable racism, without the political clout and commitment of communists and revolutionaries within the ANC, South Africa and internationally. These are the bones of Saint Mandela, exhibited around the world like medieval relics to bemuse and pacify the faithful.

Some former supporters of the Non-Stop Picket of the South African embassy in London have welcomed the inclusion in the exhibition of a leaflet announcing the start of the picket. The theme, after all, is meant to be the role that Londoners played in Mandela’s lifelong struggle. Usually the last remnants of the Anti-Apartheid Movement (AAM), which was totally opposed to the City of London Anti-Apartheid at the time, make sure to studiously exclude all mention of City AA’s political standpoint and activities. Surely the display of such a leaflet is to be welcomed as a token of honest accounting? I am not so sure. In a moment of clarity, The Guardian reviewer acknowledges a major weakness of the exhibition: ‘You could also argue that as South Africa’s former colonial oppressor, Britain was responsible for much of the injustice Mandela had to overcome in the first place. None of these aspects are addressed here.’ Sadly this was also the overwhelming weakness of the AAM’s activities at the time. I, for one, do not want to be party to a fake history of this struggle.

Carol Brickley

Formerly convenor, City of London Anti-Apartheid Group

Venezuela still polio-free

Despite the constant media war against Venezuela, FRFI readers will be pleased to know that the World Health Organisation have categorically refuted the claims that polio has returned to Venezuela, clarifying that ‘Tests carried out by the specialized global laboratory for genetic sequencing have ruled out the presence of both wild poliovirus and vaccine-derived poliovirus (VDPV)’.  Acute flaccid paralysis was diagnosed in a 34-month-old boy in the Orinoco Delta prompting press rumours of a return of polio (eg The Economist, 16 June 2018), however such a diagnosis can be caused by several underlying factors. The viral trace is likely to have been caused instead by an immunisation programme from other children inoculated in the region. Needless to say, press outlets jumped on the opportunity to portray Venezuela as a country wracked by disease, requiring humanitarian intervention. The economic crisis is surely taking a large toll on healthcare provision but let’s not forget that despite severe shortages of medicines and equipment, multinational pharmaceuticals Pfizer, Merck and P&G have increased their import invoices ten-fold while decreasing their imports by 87% – what we are seeing is an economic war against the Venezuelan population for daring to determine their own destiny.

Shannon Rogerson


Southwark council harasses homeless centre

Divine Rescue is a volunteer-led humanitarian charity in south London that has been supporting homeless and vulnerable people for thirteen years. It operates out of Thurlow Lodge on the Aylesbury Estate – one of Southwark Labour Council’s targets for regeneration. So, despite providing meals, clothes and support to more than a hundred people a day, including homeless people, ex-offenders, vulnerable people and those experiencing a crisis in their lives, it has faced constant harassment from the council. Two years ago, Southwark attempted to evict Divine Rescue from the premises; it was seen off by a vigorous campaign and occupation led by the charity and supported by housing activists from the Aylesbury Estate, as well as political groups including the RCG. Now Southwark’s new head of regeneration, Simon Chambers, has taken Divine Rescue to court on unsubstantiated charges of being a focus for anti-social behaviour. No-one at the centre has any knowledge of the incident to which he is referring, and which has been used as pretext for severely restricting the centre’s opening hours. It can no longer, for example, accept food donations from local retailers in the evenings, putting its ability to provide daily meals and food parcels at risk.

It is clear that Southwark wants to see the centre closed, in case it stands in the way of its plans to continue socially cleansing and demolishing the Aylesbury Estate. No doubt, in Southwark’s rush towards gentrification, it also feels the visible presence of homelessness, poor and vulnerable people who have been failed by the council is something of a blot on the shiny landscape of newly-built, unaffordable private flats on the edge of Burgess Park.

Divine Rescue is in court again on 22 September. It will be holding a march to Southwark Town Hall and protest on 17 September. Please also write to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and demand an end to the harassment of a vital support centre for the borough’s poorest and most vulnerable people.

Zola Giacusi

South London


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