ONE hundred and fifty doctors, nurses, health campaigners and their supporters marched and rallied in London to defend the NHS on Thursday evening.
The protest organised by NHS Solidarity began with a short rally outside St Bartholemew’s Hospital to a closing rally opposite St Paul’s Cathedral. News Line spoke to some of the participants as they assembled outside Bart’s.
Physics tutor Cathy Neill said: ‘I’m here in solidarity. I’ve lots of doctor friends and I’m disabled myself. ‘I really appreciate the hard work doctors put in and it’s really essential to have a free health system. They’ve already started charging migrants. We need to stop this privatisation. I’m not surprised Jeremy Hunt is still health secretary; Theresa May is not a politician that inspires me. All the unions should take action to defend the NHS.’
Actor Christopher Walthorne said: ‘I’m here because the NHS has been looking after my family for generations. My grandmother for many years suffered from Huntingdon’s disease and the NHS provided her with many years of care, completely free. I suffer from depression. Earlier this year I was suicidal and tried to take my life.
‘The NHS has given me therapy and support networks and anti-depressants.
‘I would not be alive today if it weren’t for the NHS. What is wrong is not only are the government trying to privatise the NHS but they are trying to do it in secret. The Conservatives always talk about the Big Society, but it’s the NHS that keeps society running, not big business. All the trade unions should take strike action because everybody owes everything to the NHS.’
Retired worker Martin James said: ‘I’m a member of the Save Slaithwaite Health Centre, in Slaithwaite near Huddersfield. They want to cut the funding of our health centre by 40%! We say if they want to equalise funding, they should equalise up not down. It’s a very good health centre that’s scored well on all measurements including patient satisfaction and waiting time.
‘To add insult to injury, they also want to close the A&E in Huddersfield on the excuse everything will be dealt with by care closer to home. Our health centre would be part of that but we face these funding cuts. So we’re being hit from both sides. I’m all in favour of occupying to stop the closures. The unions should back occupation with strike action if necessary.’
Whipps Cross junior doctor Nicki Fitzgerald told News Line: ‘We’ve organised a march and rally to try and draw as many health workers and the general public in so they know what’s really happening to the NHS. It’s clear to us working there that there’s increasing involvement of ever more private companies.
‘This decreases the efficiency of the NHS. With the cuts in funding and the huge debt from PFI, they are eroding our health service and fast-forwarding their plans to introduce an insurance-based system. There is attack after attack on the NHS with devaluing and deskilling staff, including the attack on junior doctors.’
Dr Aislinn Macklin-Doherty told a short rally: ‘NHS Solidarity is a group of doctors and nurses to defend the NHS and stop privatisation. I’m sorry today couldn’t be a street party to celebrate Jeremy Hunt going. He’s still here but Nicky Morgan has gone. We are a group of doctors and nurses opposing a government that is squeezing funds and selling the NHS off.
‘We change things by getting out and fighting together. It’s happening to teacher and other public service workers. The trouble is we live in a system that is ideologically based on profit and big business.’
NUT president Phillipa Harvey told the rally: ‘Last week we had a national strike action.
‘We have real funding cuts in schools. We are defending teachers’ working conditions because we are defending children’s learning conditions.
‘Today there has been a new secretary of state for education. Health workers don’t have a new secretary of state but we hope he will have a fresh look at NHS conditions. We know health workers are determined to negotiate a new contract that protects the safety of patients.’
Dr Rishi Dhir told News Line: ‘My artist’s name is Dr Rishi and I’ve released an protest anthem with Dave Randall. It’s called “Stand Up” and is about fighting back against the junior doctors’ contract. Also it’s about members of the public fighting for the NHS. I hope Jeremy Hunt will sit down and discuss terms of the contract appropriately with the doctors rather than against them.
‘If he won’t, we’ll have to see what happens. There are three things that are wrong with the contract: 1. lack of whistleblowing protection; 2. lack of safeguarding; and 3 discrimination against women and less than full-time trainees. Overall the contract is unmodelled and includes unfunded seven-day working on a cost-neutral envelope which is untenable.’
At the rally opposite St Paul’s, FBU general secretary Matt Wrack said: ‘I salute junior doctors and wish you success in your struggle for your contract. We all need the NHS and public services. Doctors did not expect to be in the forefront of the fight against the Tory government. We are going to have to organise in all our unions and organise across the country. We can’t let workers pay for this crisis.’
GP Dr Yusef Ngingi declared to the crowd: ‘The NHS saved my life. As a doctor and patient I felt it important to tell the public how the NHS is being sold off. The Health and Social Care Act heralds the end of the NHS. There are a lot of hospital closures planned. They are talking about co-payments. PFI bosses’ companies make billions.
‘Jeremy Hunt believes the NHS should be run by insurance companies, the Tories don’t give a damn.
‘This is our NHS, it doesn’t belong to the Tories or Blairites! Only we can come forth and save it. Teachers, doctors, firefighters are coming together, we will continue to build a mass movement to save the NHS.’
NUT London regional secretary Martin Powell-Davis said: ‘Teachers and doctors marched together and we are going to continue to fight together. The main way they can get profit out of public services is by cutting wages and conditions. We are not going to let that happen. We are going to fight on.
‘Look at the opposition. They see our strength. The fact that Theresa May says she is caring – she is not – but she knows they cannot go ahead with their plans easily. We stand in her way. We won our public services by fighting together and we have to defend them together. We have to say to our colleagues in other unions, join us, don’t leave it to the BMA and NUT. If we strike together we can win together.’
Dr Ben White of Justice for Health told the rally: ‘Jeremy Hunt said he was imposing a contract. We all felt that was very wrong. I like my job and we are now fighting the government in a legal case. We have to convince the entire movement of what is happening to the NHS. This government is trying to get a seven-day NHS for no more money. It’s not in anybody’s interest.’