Tens of thousands of people from all over the country took part on Saturday, February 3, in a day of action demanding a new direction for the NHS and an end to its privatisation. In London, 60,000 marched in the cold and rain through the centre of town to a rally outside Downing Street. It is reported that there were 54 other events across England, together with solidarity events in Wales, in Scotland and in the north of Ireland. The day of action was called by Health Campaigns Together and the People’s Assembly.
The London demonstration was very militant, beginning with stirring speeches in Gower Street near University College Hospital, and ending with a rally in Whitehall outside Downing Street, where many speakers and health workers recounted their own experiences and called on everyone to join together to safeguard the future of the NHS, end its privatisation, and ensure funding for public delivery of the NHS services.
The slogan “Health Care Is a Right!” was taken up at by a number of different contingents along the route, as well as many cries of “Whose NHS? Our NHS!”. Many discussions took place up and down the march on the way forward to safeguard the NHS and block the moves to privatise it and use it as a cash cow for the rich. Many local fighting campaigns were represented on the demonstration, as well as staging actions in their own localities.
Shadow Health Secretary Jon Ashworth joined the London protest, while Jeremy Corbyn spoke out in support of the demonstration in a video message.
Actions across the North East
People in the North East joined thousands across the country who took to the streets to fight to safeguard the future of the NHS. As huge crowds in London marched on Downing Street on Saturday, protesters in the North East signed petitions, shouted slogans and handed out leaflets. There were protest stalls organised beside Grey’s Monument in the centre of Newcastle, in the centres of South Shields and Sunderland, as well as in other towns and cities in the region
In Newcastle, John Whalley, a nurse and co-ordinator of Keep Our NHS Public North East, said: “The concerns are massive, there has been huge under-funding over a long period of time for the NHS. Our nurses are getting blamed, patients are getting blamed, immigrants are getting blamed, the flu is getting blamed, but the reality is that this government needs to face up to its responsibility to fully fund the NHS that the people of the UK deserve. More and more people are becoming aware of the issues in the NHS and they won’t stand for it being eroded. What we’ve seen over the last six months is a ground-swell of public support for the NHS.”
In South Shields Town Centre, the Save South Tyneside Hospital Campaign, including local MP Emma Lewell-Buck, were using the national day of action to highlight their ongoing protests against the downgrading of their hospital. Maddy Nettleship, a spokesperson for the day of action, said: “The problem here in South Tyneside is that they’re trying to take a lot of vital acute services, starting with maternity, stroke and children’s A&E, to Sunderland which will make services here less accessible and less safe. They will make the services in Sunderland more overstretched for the people of Sunderland. We’ve had a big campaign going for over a year and our demand is that it’s our hospital, our NHS and we have a right to these services, yet the government and its commissioners are giving the people no meaningful say on what is vital to their healthcare needs at their hospital.”
Isle of Wight Save Our NHS March and Rally
Around 200 people gathered in Newport to show their support for the fight against cuts in the Isle of Wight NHS.
Assembling outside St Mary’s Hospital in Newport, the march set off to St Thomas’s Square for a rally.
The march followed news of major changes in the way health services are delivered on the Isle of Wight. The local press has reported that some of the planned changes include around 11% of patients requiring more complex, urgent care being transferred for specialist care to the mainland. This includes neonatal (premature babies) requiring advanced support and children needing more than 24 hours inpatient care. This follows the pattern in many other parts of the country where local services are cut under the guise of providing high level specialist care elsewhere.