MORE than 20,000 nurses, health workers, trade unionists, workers, students and youth marched on Downing Street on Saturday afternoon to demand TUC action to defend the NHS and kick the Tories out now!
The front of the march was dominated by nurses who chanted: ‘What do we want? More nurses! When do we want them? Now!’ and ‘What do we want? Tories Out! When do we want it? Now!’
There were delegations and banners on the march from campaigns against hospital cuts and closures from around the country, including West London Council of Action Save Ealing Hospital Occupy, Hands off Huddersfield Royal Infirmary, Save our A&E Save our NHS Southend, and Keep Our St Helier Hospital.
There were balloons from Unison, Unite and CWU, there were PCS and RCN flags, placards saying ‘Tory agenda – survival of the richest’, the GMB Banbury banner, Kirklees Unison, London Met Unison, Camden Unison, UCH Unison, Cambridge Unison, Sussex Unison, UCU London Region, Unite Springfields Fuel, Islington NEU, NUJ London Magazine Branch, Defend Whittington, Kings College Hospital Unite.
The Workers Revolutionary Party and Young Socialists banner read: ‘Defend the NHS! Throw out the STPs! Trade unions occupy to stop closures! General strike to defend the NHS and kick the Tories out!’
Behind the WRP/YS banner a large delegation maintained a constant and noisy chant throughout the march of ‘No privatisation – Defend the NHS! All out for the NHS – Call a general strike! No hospital closures – a matter of life or death! Defend our A&Es, Maternities & Children’s Departments – Occupy now!’ and ‘No cuts, No closures – Kick this government out!’
As the march was assembling Phil Harle, Unite Sizewell Energy Branch Treasurer told News Line: ‘The sooner we get rid of this Tory bunch the better. We’ve got to stand up for the NHS. The treatment of our elderly people is a disgrace – people waiting in corridors for treatment etc, the list goes on and on.’
Jude Cave, UCU Rugby said: ‘I was on the march last year. I’m impatient. So many people have been galvanised to take to the streets for the NHS, people who have never protested before, but we don’t just want to protest, we want action. What sort of society are we if we can’t look after our sick and elderly? I’m just an ordinary worker and I say get Theresa May out. I would call for a general strike. We want everyone out on the streets.’
Nurse Angela Wong, RCN Northamptonshire said: ‘The trade unions must all come together to save the NHS. It’s being destroyed by the Tories.’
Nurse Sue Collins, RCN Royal Berkshire Hospital Reading said: ‘The TUC should call a general strike to kick the Tories out and defend the NHS. It’s collapsing around our ears. That’s what the Tories want so that they can privatise it. It’s being done now, as we speak.’
Nurse Lisa Costis, RCN Reading said: ‘The NHS is the greatest thing in the world. I am so proud that anyone who drops on the floor will be treated, never mind who they are or where they are from.’
Alan Landsdowne Hands off Huddersfield Royal Infirmary Campaign said: ‘There are 40 of us here and more than 200 outside the hospital today. They plan to reduce the bed numbers from 400 to 64 within the next two years. They are moving vital services, closing A&E, bulldozing the hospital and selling off the land. We took it to a judicial review but two weeks ago the presiding judge, with the stroke of a pen, dismissed it. When it comes to it we will occupy, there have been numerous pledges to do so.’
Carrying the West London Council of Action Save Ealing Hospital Occupy to Stop all Closures banner, Southall resident Malik Othman said: ‘As soon as they try to close our A&E we will occupy. It must be done, it must be kept open. It covers Ealing, Southall, Greenford, tens of thousands of families rely on it. We can’t let it go. The trade unions must take action. Now’s the time for everyone to fight. All the hospitals must be saved , none of them must be closed.’
Speaking from the top of an open top bus as the march was assembling, RCN nurse Danielle Tiplady said: ‘Nurses are awesome. We are fighting back. We will not stand for any more attacks.’
Sue Lowe, Unite nurse and health visitor said: ‘The cuts are hitting us so hard. Health Secretary Hunt doesn’t think anything of health visitors or school nurses. We are facing forced redundancies. We need properly funded universal services, but instead we’re having clinics closed and sold off.’
RMT Assistant General Secretary Steve Hedley said: ‘If anybody wants a blueprint for what’s happening in the NHS today just look at what happened in the 90s and 2000s when Branson and the privateers were carving up the railways. Now we’re having people like Branson suing the NHS for hundreds of thousands. The message is clear, we have to fight. It’s about time the trade unions all came together and had a strike to save our NHS.’
As the march set off Simon Cross from Save Southend NHS told News Line: ‘We managed to save our A&E last year but now the STP (Sustainability and Transformation Plan) has come in and they want to move six very crucial services out of Southend University Hospital. Some of the plans they have are dangerous, particularly the movement of extremely unwell patients using transport services which are already proven not to be able to cope. We are in this fight to the end. There are 50 of us here today. We had 1,500 of us marching last week and we have a demonstration outside the hospital today. We will occupy.’
RMT President Sean Hoyle told News Line: ‘The TUC have a job to do – bring the unions all out together to fight the Tories and kick them out now. The NHS is being underfunded so that they can privatise it. They have blood on their hands. May has got to go now.’
Kelly Hannah-Rogers, Unison Sussex said: ‘I’m sickened by Hunt going round wearing an NHS badge when he’s destroying it, hiving it off to his millionaire friends.’
David Ash, Keep Our St Helier Hospital, said: ‘As part of the South West London STP they want to remove all the safety critical services – A&E, maternity, coronary, emergency medicine, emergency surgery – from Epsom and St Helier hospitals. That’s two out of the five hospitals in south west London. I think we have to take direct action to win. I would occupy, kick out the privateers, end all outsourcing. All NHS staff should be directly employed by the NHS. The creation of trusts was a plan to turn the NHS into separate bankruptable businesses.’
Kings College Hospital First Year student nurses Emily Griffin (19), Emily Ferguson (19), Georgia Hodierne (18) and Lucy Beaton (18) said: ‘We’ve all paid £9,250 this year to work for the NHS. The abolition of the nurses’ bursary has been a disaster. There’s a terrible shortage of nurses and recruitment is being smashed by the Tories. We can’t get a paid part-time job because we are working and studying full-time and we expect to end our training £52,000 in debt. Bursaries must be restored on the first day of a Labour government. We want the Tories out now!’
At the end of the march a stage was set up for speakers opposite 10 Downing Street.
The first speaker was TUC Assistant General Secretary Paul Nowak, who said: ‘There are three points I want to make. First, the collapse of Carillion was a game changer, we want a people’s NHS. Secondly, the current crisis in the NHS must convince the Tories that the time for funding the NHS properly has come. I can’t remember the third point,’ he trailed off.
A much more defiant speech was made by Paula Peters, Disabled People Against Cuts, who said: ‘I’ve got a message for our overseas workers – you make our NHS! This is what we say to Branson – We are going to get you out of here. The joining up of the DWP with the NHS is a very sinister development. We say to DWP workers – don’t work for ASOS and Capita. Get Hunt and May out. Let’s fight for our NHS.’
Helga Pile, Unison Deputy Head of Health said: ‘Today our NHS staff are suffering stress and anguish, forced to see patients queuing on trolleys or left outside in ambulances. It’s not a winter crisis, it’s an all year round crisis. There are thousands of vacancies. The staff have borne the brunt of austerity. We need pay rises for staff now. We have seen Carillion collapse and Capita to follow. We have to come together in this 70th year of the NHS to save it.’
Labour Shadow Health Secretary Jonathan Ashworth said: ‘On behalf of Jeremy Corbyn, the next Prime Minister, I bring greetings. We are fully committed to restoring a publicly run NHS, an end to austerity and underfunding, an end to cuts, an end to the flow of money out of the NHS and into the private sector. Under the next Labour government there will be no more PFI hospitals, no more Carillions or outsourcing. We put Virgin on notice, no more suing the NHS. We will get rid of the Lansley Act and reinstate the NHS. One of the first things a Labour government will do is scrap the pay cap. We will bring back nurse bursaries and welcome foreign workers. In this 70th anniversary year of the NHS we say – have courage, a better world is on its way.’
Unite Assistant General Secretary Gail Cartmail said: ‘Today NHS workers are 20% worse off than they were in 2010 when this discredited, disreputable Tory government came to power.’
Final speaker, RCN President Cecilia Anim said: ‘Many of you will be working tomorrow, even tonight. I have never in my 40 years in the NHS seen anything like the situation we have today.
‘We need to stop the NHS from bleeding to death. Currently there are 40,000 nurse vacancies in England. Urgent action is needed and needed now. Pay nurses properly, not peanuts. Action must be taken.
‘We are treating patients in corridors, ambulances are queuing outside hospitals, nurses are going home in tears because they can’t care for their patients in the way they know they should. 2018 is the year we have to save our NHS.’