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International Health Workers for People Over Profit
In This Issue

Click on the titles below to read the associated reports:

100,000 defend public services
NUHW victory at CPMC
$42 million for the Queen, Cuts for the NHS
Medicalizing the menstrual cycle
Nurses fight hospital secrecy
Why health workers should run the health-care system

 

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Vol.3 No.4
May 21, 2011

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100,000 defend public services
  
                    by Sergi Raventós - Catalonia

Sergi's article 2
On May 14, 100,000 people came out to defend public services in Barcelona.

This event was preceded by weeks of strikes and other workplace actions in hospitals, health centers, schools and other public services against the anti-social policies of the 4-month-old Convergence and Union (CiU) government.

Since the economic crisis erupted in 2007, almost all European governments have adopted budgets that slash social programs and attack public sector workers.

The May 14 manifesto for the demonstration reads:

"It is well known that the culprit of the crisis has been the same financial system which, with the complicity of national and international authorities, has ensured that European Union reforms are designed to prioritize interest payments to banks and other financial institutions..."


This is outrageous!

The impact on healthcare is already clear in longer waits for medical care.

Proposals to cut 10 percent of the health budget include a 5 percent pay cut for health workers in the public sector.

There will be no replacements for sick and retired workers. No more hospitals are being planned, and existing hospitals are being closed. Medical services and operating rooms are being closed in the afternoons, primary-care centers are being closed...the list of cuts goes on and on.

More than 200 organizations and trade unions worked together to organize the May 14 demonstration. Signs sporting slogans like, "Hands up, this is robbery" indicate how people view the policies of this right-ring government.

We need to organize more demonstrations, and to build them bigger each time.

Our rights are at stake, rights we won with great sacrifice. We must fight not only for ourselves but also to protect the coming generations.

Sergi Raventós  works in a geriatric mental health facility and is studying for his doctorate in Sociology. He is a member of Dempeus and International Health Workers for People Over Profit.
 

NUHW victory at CPMC 

                               by Eileen Prendiville - USA

Eileen's article 2At Sutter/California Pacific Medical Center (CPMC) in San Francisco, excitement grew as it  became increasingly evident that the National Union of Healthcare Workers (NUHW) had garnered enough support to win the May 10 election against SEIU-UHW.

Healthcare workers at CPMC had petitioned the National Labor Relations Board over two years ago to decertify SEIU-UHW after the International placed the local into trusteeship and fired their union leadership, who responded by forming a new and more democratic union (NUHW).

SEIU-UHW stalled continually to prevent the election date from being set, in the hopes of gaining time to convince workers to stay with SEIU.

Shortly after the trusteeship, SEIU-UHW negotiated a contract full of takeaways for it members – benefits that the previous leadership had worked for years to attain. SEIU-UHW also agreed to a healthcare plan that the California Nurses Association (CNA) had fought against in court.

Worst of all, SEIU-UHW agreed to lobby for CPMC’s long range development plan, which included a massive new hospital at Cathedral Hill and downsizing of St Lukeʼs Hospital which serves a mostly low income and immigrant community.

The Sutter Health network of hospitals and clinics in Northern California is one of the most profitable in the country. Sutter’s strategy includes luring well-insured patients to gain market share so that it can charge higher prices while closing less profitable hospitals and services, leaving vulnerable communities without care.

During the union elections, CPMC sided with SEIU, leading many workers to view it as “the bosses union.”

Managers held staff meetings urging UHW members to vote for SEIU. SEIU staff were given free access to the facility and provided with hospital ID badges and meeting rooms.

In contrast, NUHW staff and volunteers, and CNA staff visiting their represented members, were threatened with arrest if seen in any patient-care area including staff break rooms, hallways or elevators.

Unlike Kaiser and other Sutter facilities where NUHW recently lost elections, healthcare workers at CPMC had conducted a 57-day strike against their employer in 2005. The steward network remained strong as the (now) NUHW activists provided ongoing support and education of members throughout the medical center.

Solidarity built on the picket line helped NUHW win at Davies, Pacific and California hospitals (384 - 237).

At St Lukeʼs Hospital, SEIU-UHW prevailed (179 - 88). St Lukeʼs Hospital was not part of CPMC during the strike of 2005, and its workers did not strike.

It remains to be seen what will happen next, with rival unions representing healthcare workers within CPMC, and with RNs being represented by CNA at two of Sutter’s campuses and remaining non-union at the other two.

Eileen Prendiville works as a staff nurse in a San Francisco hospital. She belongs to the California Nurses Association, a member union of National Nurses United.

 

$42 million for the Queen,
Cuts for the NHS

 by Patricia Campbell - Northern Ireland

queen elizabeth visits ireland 


When it comes to funding the National Health Service (NHS), the State moans that it has no money. Then it spends 30 million euros ($42 million) to pay 10,000 security forces to protect Queen Elizabeth, the richest woman in the world, when she visits Ireland.

This travesty was evident to those of us who contested the recent elections in Northern Ireland. Sadly, the main parties were returned to the Stormont Executive and local Government Councils.

I ran on a healthcare platform, but was not elected. I came close. More important, I started this campaign with a small committed team, and we came out the other side with a larger, stronger and more confident team.

I polled really well in spite of a vicious slur campaign against me.

I was called a dissident, which in Northern Ireland implies support for terrorist violence, and the overwhelming majority is terrified of violence after more then three decades of war and destruction.

Despite the hostile atmosphere, my team and I canvassed for weeks. We knocked on doors every evening and posted leaflets through letterboxes.

I was greeted with warmth from those who want change, and I was challenged by those who don’t believe change can be achieved. I answered that “we can organise change together.”

Health and healthcare dominated conversations at the doors, as people talked angrily and fearfully about the cuts to our NHS.

A number of elderly women raised concerns about their forced withdrawal from tranquilising medications they had been prescribed for many years. This is another example of how budget-driven decisions to save money override medical needs.

I was challenged by a young nurse who described her working conditions and insisted that change is not possible. Having first-hand experience of these conditions, I recognised her feelings of anger, defeat and powerlessness. I responded that if we don’t fight, our conditions will only get worse.

Despite the obstacles, our experience of the campaign and the promising results were invigorating. We are not discouraged, and we all agreed that “we’ll do better the next time.”

We face challenging times ahead, with more cuts to public services and more misery. Nevertheless, we are determined to fight a corrupt system that squanders public money instead of investing in people.

We're planning to build on the foundations we’ve laid and organise a viable alternative to this self-serving capitalist system.

Patricia Campbell works as a community psychiatric nurse in Belfast, Northern Ireland. She is also president of the Independent Workers Union.


 

Medicalizing the menstrual cycle

                       by Stuart Jeanne Bramhall - New Zealand

drugging our kids 2The US health-care system has become increasingly “corporatized,” as private insurance and drug companies transform health-care delivery into a profit-making commodity.

Particularly scandalous (and dangerous) is the pharmaceutical industry’s drive to “medicalize” common complaints so that it can market a host of medications to “treat” these so-called illnesses.

As a psychiatrist, I have been mainly concerned about misguided efforts to medicalize depression and children’s behavioral problems. However as a woman, I am also concerned about aggressive efforts to medicalize menopause and premenstrual discomfort.

The difference between PMS and PMDD

Approximately 80-90 percent of women worldwide report physical and emotional changes in the 7-10 days prior to the onset of menstruation. For most women, these consist of minor physical changes similar to those of early pregnancy (water retention, breast swelling and tenderness, and abdominal bloating).

Approximately one in three women experience mental and emotional changes that have a minor impact on their daily functioning. These changes, which include depression, anxiety, fatigue, irritability, insomnia, and difficulty concentrating, are called Pre-Menstrual Syndrome, or PMS.

Between one and eight percent of women suffer a “marked” decrease in normal functioning due to premenstrual changes.

In 1994, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) addressed this last group of women by including a new category, Pre-Menstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD) in their Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) “as a possible mental disorder requiring more research.”

Although the APA has not yet decided that PMDD even exists as a disorder, and the DSM lists PMDD as a strictly “research” diagnosis, pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly immediately seized on PMDD as a genuine disorder and devised a marketing strategy to profit from it.

Once the patent on a drug expires, other manufacturers are free to produce much cheaper generic versions, resulting in plummeting sales of the brand-name drug.

Facing the expiration of its patent on Prozac, Lilly exploited the inclusion of PMDD in the DSM by re-branding Prozac in a feminine pink and purple tablet called Sarafem and promoting it for PMDD.

A Golden Opportunity for Eli Lilly

Charging $3 per dose for Sarafem tablets (in contrast to 41 cents  per dose for the generic fluoxetine), Lilly launched a massive marketing campaign to convince more women that they suffered from PMDD.

In 2001, the year Serafem came out, nearly 100,000 prescriptions for the drug were filed, reaping Eli Lilly $85 million in profits.

The high number of prescriptions suggests that doctors were prescribing these pills indiscriminately for premenstrual complaints, rather than limiting treatment to women with the more severe symptoms associated with PMDD.

It is cynically immoral to trick doctors and women into spending nearly a billion dollars on expensive pills for common complaints that could be easily resolved with a few days’ rest.

Stuart Jeanne Bramhall is a retired American physician living in New Zealand
.

 

Nurses fight hospital secrecy

by Susan Rosenthal - Canada

 nurses strike 2 


Many Canadians were dismayed when the Conservative Party won a majority in the recent federal election. However, the Ontario experience indicates that a Liberal government would be no better, especially when it comes to health care.

On May 5, the Ontario government passed a "hospital secrecy clause" (Bill 173, Schedule 15) that allows hospital CEOs to deny the public access to information regarding the quality of hospital care.

The secrecy clause was slipped into the government's Budget Bill in response to lobbying by the Ontario Hospital Association and private insurance companies.

According to Natalie Mehra, spokesperson for the Ontario Health Coalition,

"The hospital secrecy law allows hospital CEOs to deny public, patients, media and others access to an array of quality of care information...Patients and those seeking information will then be forced to go through a lengthy and complex appeals process that can take more than a year, where patients and public advocates will have to overcome the arguments of hospital lawyers to force disclosure."

The secrecy clause comes at a time of increasing concern about the decline in hospital care, including epidemics of infectious disease, caused by funding cuts and privatization.

Canadians could take a lesson from unionized RNs (National Nurses United) who challenged hospital secrecy by handing out leaflets in the cafeteria and entrances of the Washington Hospital Center (WHC) in Washington DC. 

The leaflets informed patients and visitors of the high turnover rate among nurses at WHC and the impact on patient care and safety, referencing an internal hospital document in which management acknowledged that, “On average, every eight days a WHC patient is significantly harmed due to preventable errors. Every 45 days, a patient dies due to preventable errors.”

In response, the hospital tried to break the nurses' union.

The nurses remained defiant, "As patient care advocates, we have the right and responsibility to ensure that patients receive the best care possible at our facility. We will not be gagged by hospital managers from publicly raising issues about patient care."

The nurses fought off management’s attacks and won a new contract that restored the jobs of previously fired nurses (with back pay) and strengthened their ability to uphold nursing standards and advocate for their patients.
 
This is the kind of militancy we need to defend patient care.

Susan Rosenthal is a Toronto-area physician and the author of SICK and SICKER: Essays on Class, Health and Health Care.

 

Why health workers should run
the health-care system

                    by Robert Kingsland and Mel Zinberg - Canada


hospital staffOn May 11, Susan Rosenthal, founding member of IHWPOP, flew to Vancouver to help launch our branch.

Over three days, Rosenthal met with health workers who wanted to hear her analysis of our health-care system.

On May 13, we organized a small public meeting at the People’s Coop Bookstore, which generously provided the venue. Attendees included six newly-graduated RNs, a physiotherapist, a hospital supply clerk, an economist and an activist from the co-op radio station.

Rosenthal spoke on the topic: “Why health workers should run the health-care system.”

Her first point was to compare who is best qualified to run the health-care system. Currently, the health-care system is run by politicians, business people and managers who have training in politics, business and management, and no training in healthcare.

Health workers, on the other hand, are skilled in delivering care and personally committed to delivering the best possible care. And because they work closely with patients and their families, workers have first-hand knowledge of how best to meet their needs.

Her second point was how the business model of healthcare blocks the ability of health workers to do their jobs.

Management’s focus on budgets results in demands for extensive paperwork to justify expenses, cutting into the time that workers could be spending with patients and limiting access to resources that are considered ‘too expensive.’

Workers are also hampered in their duties when management cuts staffing levels and pushes fewer workers to do more. The result is stressed workers and patients not getting the care they need.

Hospital managers promote privatization as a way to ‘save money,’ so they contract out janitorial, laundry and food services to companies that cut costs by lowering wages and cutting corners. The result is lowered standards in sanitation, food quality, etc. In Ontario and Quebec, C. difficile infections increased after hospitals switched to outside companies for janitorial services.

Over the last 30 years, the proportion of Canada's GDP spent on healthcare has remained fairly steady (between 8 and 12 percent), which is neither excessive nor “unsustainable.” However, concerns about cost are used to justify a steady shift from publicly-provided to private, for-profit, services.

We questioned why money dominates discussions about healthcare, when government so generously subsidizes corporations and cuts tax revenues needed to fund social services. And do we really need to spend $20-30 billion on stealth fighter jets?    

Rosenthal pointed out that
money is an symbolic representation of labour-power. If a job needs doing, and there are people willing to do the work, then we should be able to make this happen. However, the capitalist system can only create profit; it cannot meet human needs.

We also discussed how change happens.

Specific individuals are usually given credit for change, like Tommy Douglas – the father of Canadian medicare. However, medicare would never have happened without thousands of people demanding it.

Rosenthal clarified that IHPWOP is not a union but a political organization that aims to bring clarity to what is happening locally and globally and to raise the confidence of health workers to see themselves as the agents of change.

It’s also important for us to connect with other groups that are fighting to defend health services (like Insite, Vancouver’s safe drug injection site) and to support all workers fighting for healthier conditions.

Discussion never waned. After the bookstore closed, we continued our conversations at a nearby restaurant. As a result of these discussions, we welcomed a new member into our branch.  

Robert Kingsland and Mel Zinberg are newly-graduated RNs working in Vancouver.

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International Health Workers for People Over Profit (IHWPOP) has joined the Boycott,
Divestment and Sanctions Campaign against Israel. We oppose Israel’s repression of the Palestinians and support a single state in Israel/Palestine with equal rights for all.

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