Although the protest tents are being taken down, the resentment burns on in Stafford, where the hospital is a notorious example of a healthcare crisis roiling Britain ahead of May's general election. The maternity and pediatrics units have been moved to another town, the emergency ward has to shut down at night because of budget cuts and medical workers are complaining about too much work and too little pay.
The National Health Action Party is fielding 12 candidates at the election, most of them nurses and doctors in the National Health Service (NHS), Britain's state-funded system of free, universal healthcare. It has little chance of winning a seat in parliament, but the party's campaign reflects nationwide concern about the future of the NHS, the number one issue in voters' minds according to one recent poll.
Set up in 1948, the NHS has 1.7 million staff, the fifth biggest employer in the world, and its yearly budget is around Ģ130 billion (173 billion euros, $198 billion). The NHS crisis has been particularly acute this winter season, with several emergency wards declaring a major crisis situation because they could no longer cope with new patients and 'bed blockers', especially the elderly patients who are too infirm to go home but not sick enough for hospital.
Health think-tank the King's Fund said, "2014-2015 data shows that accident and emergency cases are up by 14,500 a week, some three percent, compared to 2013-2014 and there are around three million people on NHS treatment waiting lists." John Appleby, an economist at the King's Fund, said, "Services are stretched to the limit. The government's big effort is to get through the election without things blowing apart and what happens after that is in the fog."
Opposition Labor leader Ed Miliband, whose party established the NHS, has promised to save it, while Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron says he has increased spending and rejected accusations of privatization by stealth. Cheryl Porter, a Stafford campaigner said, "The NHS was never meant to be a profit-making business. It was made for the people. What's happening in our town is criminal. Removing general acute service is giving everybody here a death threat."