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Ian Burge

Another Hospital Under Threat

(September 1978)

From Militant, No. 421, 1 September 1978, p. 6.
Transcribed by Iain Dalton.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Following hard on the heels of the government’s final decision to convert Bethnal Green hospital into an exclusively geriatric hospital comes a similar threat to St. Nicholas’s, Plumstead. Staff at “St. Nicks” are preparing to save the hospital.

Ian Burge, Secretary of the Joint Shop Stewards Committee, the London Hospital, Whitechapel, reports after a visit to St. Nicks.


St. Nicholas Hospital, Plumstead, South East London, was once threatened with closure. Then following a vigorous campaign, David Ennals (Minister of Health) granted a reprieve. He said, however, that five other local hospitals might have to close instead. Now the plans seem to have gone full circle, with a new threat hanging over the hospital.

The new plan seems to be to reduce the 288-bed general hospital to an 85-bed ‘community’ hospital. The inverted commas are necessary because ‘community’ seems to have become a euphemism for “stripped-down”.

The timetable for the run-down has now been speeded up. The resignation of one of the two consultants with beds at the hospital is being used as an excuse. There is to be a general reduction in staff by about a third, with 95 to 105 less nurses required.


There are about 80 nursing jobs vacant in the Area, and nurses at St Nicks are being blackmailed into applying for these before September 30th or else they will be without jobs. The full run-down is expected to be complete by next March.

Like all other areas, this one has long waiting lists. There is no doubt that the beds at St Nicks are urgently needed. Yet management are to close them down.

One reliable source has revealed a plan to convert the accommodation into offices for Area Officials – at a cost of £3¾ million.

The service which will no doubt be mostly missed is the Accident and Emergency Department. A large number of local workers depend on this at the moment should there be any accidents at work, or travelling to work.

Local industries include a large chemical works and a Ford factory. These are the places where the hospital unions should be seeking massive support. It is these workers who will really miss the services. They are the ones who will suffer when they have to be taken to the next available unit – at Greenwich General, about five miles further away.

The Action Committee at the hospital are now organising a conference for local stoppages to save the hospital. This is along similar lines to the campaign presently being organised by Tower Hamlets shop stewards, with respect to Bethnal Green Hospital and the cuts in Tower Hamlets.


The TU blacking of conversion work at Bethnal Green Hospital has meant POEU members refusing to cut off the phones and the turning away of deliveries of special geriatric beds and cement for building work.

These conferences are for TU delegates, convenors, shop stewards etc. from the localities. They are to discuss arrangements to be made for borough-wide stoppages in the two areas to save the health services.

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Last updated: 10 July 2017