Dromore has reportedly weighed in behind a nationwide campaign to stave off privatisation of the health service.
The weekend saw campaigners from the People’s NHSni sweep into town, where, according to spokesperson, the Rev Chris Hudson, they have won widespread support.
Leading the charge locally was Lagan Valley MP Jeffrey Donaldson, who was on hand in Dromore to sign a petition calling on Prime Minister David Cameron to exclude the National Health Service from the provisions of The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership.
TTIP is a proposed free trade agreement between the European Union and the United States, a spur to multilateral economic growth, according to supporters, a boost to corporate power and a hurdle for governments in regulating markets for public benefit, say opponents.
The People’s NHSni - some of whose members congregated in Dromore’s Market Square on Saturday to celebrate, they said, a strong local response to their campaign - fears the proposed inclusion of health in TTIP would pave the way to privatisation.
“The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership is being billed as the biggest bilateral trade deal ever negotiated and aims to bring together the United States and European Union in a single market,” said Mr Hudson, “ . . . We fear that the proposal that health be included in TTIP threatens to open the door to the full-scale privatisation of the NHS.
“Our group, which has been going door-to-door in Dromore and now plans to extend our canvass to Hillsborough and East Belfast, is part of a wider UK-wide campaign that seeks to build pressure on Prime Minister David Cameron to use his powers, as a member of the EU Trade Council, to demand that health is excluded from the TTIP negotiations and ensure that the public sector ethos of the NHS is protected.
“We have received huge levels of support for our campaign here in Dromore. Local people are overwhelmingly opposed to opening healthcare to profit and wish to see action to address shortfalls in provision in Lagan Valley in particular.”
The group welcomed Mr Donaldson’s opposition to the Health and Social Care Bill it says opened the door to mass privatisation of the NHS in England.
“We note and welcome the fact that local MP, Jeffrey Donaldson, voted against the Health and Social Care Bill in Westminster – a bill which opened the NHS to widespread privatisation,” said Mr Hudson.
“We are now asking that all our politicians use their influence and write to the Secretary of State to raise the demand that the NHS be excluded from the TTIP negotiations directly with the Prime Minister.”
Mr Donaldson, meanwhile, said he was opposed in principle to the idea of wholesale privatisation of the NHS.
“The NHS has been a strong concept for the UK,” he said. “Although it has its flaws and difficulties I don’t believe privatisation is the answer.
“I welcome any public support for campaigns to oppose privatisation and to ensure the NHS gets the proper funding.”