‘NURSES should come on a half day strike with the junior doctors,’ Jenny a student occupational therapist told a mass rally opposite Downing Street on Saturday.
This followed an 8,000 strong march from St Thomas’ Hospital, Westminster, of student nurses, midwives, health professionals and a large contingent of junior doctors. The march was organised by a group of student nurses and had the backing of the RCN, Unison and Unite.
Addressing the rally, one of the main organisers, student nurse Danielle Tiplady, urged nurses: ‘Support the junior doctors, go on the picket lines with them and show solidarity. To the unions, come out with the junior doctors on February 10th. We can show solidarity with the doctors, that’s what we want from you.’
Marchers chanted: ‘Save our NHS!’ and ‘Bursaries or bust!’ A lively Young Socialists contingent won support for its slogans: ‘All out with the junior doctors! Education must be free, bring back nurses bursaries! No privatisation, defend the NHS! No cuts, no closures, kick the Tories out!’ and ‘NHS workers unite, forward to the general strike!’
A West London Council of Action delegation also won support for its demands ‘Reopen Ealing Maternity!’ and ‘Keep Ealing A&E open!’ Angry nurses, junior doctors and other health workers on the march spoke to News Line with many supporting a general strike.
NUS Higher Education vice president Sorana Vieru said: ‘We are behind the student nurses fighting to save NHS bursaries. Students should unite and collectively fight against a government that doesn’t care about students or the NHS. We also stand behind the junior doctors who deserve better treatment and a fairer contract.’
Mona Kamal, a junior doctor at St George’s Hospital, south London, said: ‘I believe the attack on NHS bursaries and NHS workers is an attack on the NHS itself. It’s not just about nurses and junior doctors but all of us. We’d like to know the interests in private companies of Tory MPs. The fact is the Tory Party has always been out to privatise the NHS, undermining NHS workers is part of that. We need a general strike, that’s what needs to come next. That’s the only way anything will be done.’
Student nurse RCN member Zoe Alldis said: ‘I don’t think it’s right to pay to work, because if we have to pay fees, that’s what student nurses will be doing. Over the course of training, student nurses have to work a set number of hours – that’s 50% of your course. We’re here to maintain the bursary. Fees are part of a quiet campaign that’s been going on for some time by the government to privatise the NHS.’
RCN and Unison member studying at King’s College, London, Marina Down added: ‘The cuts to the NHS bursary are abhorrent. They’re a further assault on the NHS and those that are not financially privileged. Ultimately it will affect patients negatively and impact on their care. I can’t stand for this. Everybody must back the junior doctors.’
UCH junior doctor Georgina Wood told News Line: ‘I’m with the NHS Singers. We’re here singing and marching to support and unite with nurses and other healthcare workers. We are passionate about the survival of the NHS. The proposed cuts of NHS bursaries is another step in jeopardising the future of the NHS.
‘We are singing “Keep the NHS Yours”, which is the name of our single. Unfortunately as junior doctors we have been forced into a position that none of us wanted. We are going on strike on Tuesday and we’ll be out singing on the day to support our colleagues. We are fighting for safety and a fair contract for our patients. It’s wonderful that everyone is behind us and understands the true reasons behind our strike. If all the trade unions decided to take action that would be their way to show support.’
Samantha Stone was with a fellow student nurse from Wolverhampton. She said: ‘We’ve come to London today to march to save the student bursary. We couldn’t get through without it. The government want to privatise the NHS. Cutting our bursaries is one of the many things they are starting to do, to slowly get rid of the NHS.
‘We support the junior doctors taking strike action, they really work hard. They are fighting for their fair contract. The NHS has not got enough nurses and students struggle for placements and mentor support as it is. I agree the unions should strike with the junior doctors and not leave them to fight alone.’
King’s College student nurse Ashley Morgan said: ‘We feel it’s really unfair that the government wants to cut bursaries and cut tuition funding for student nurses and allied professionals. I’m upset because we have to work over 2,000 hours over the duration of our course in healthcare settings.
‘So we don’t have time to work elsewhere to support ourselves.’
Fellow student Christina Marin interjected: ‘Where we do our placements, you do thirty seven and a half hours a week, so if you don’t have funding you need to do extra hours to support yourself. Having the bursary is a question of survival; losing it will put a lot of people off nursing.’
Ashley continued: ‘A lot of us already have degrees and have lots of student debt. Student nurses now face an additional £50,000 plus debt only to go into a job when we won’t be able to pay it off. We support the junior doctors taking strike action, wholeheartedly. We are all defending the NHS – it’s make or break for the NHS. There’s around 10,000 nurse vacancies in London alone. We should all come together for a general strike, that’s the only thing that will make people take notice.’
Student nurse Laura Gallagher said: ‘We deserve student bursaries. It’s important to us because we work really hard. We spend thousands of hours over our course working in NHS hospitals. We shouldn’t get into thousands of pounds of debt because of it. Jeremy Hunt is ruining the NHS with the attack on our bursaries along with the attack on junior doctors and funding cuts.
‘I support the junior doctors taking strike action. The government want to privatise the NHS. All the unions should have a general strike to support us and the junior doctors and defend the NHS.’
RCN member Uli Sigg, a Pediatrics clinical nurse specialist at Royal London Hospital, said: ‘I’m against the cut to the student bursaries. It will make it impossible for people from disadvantaged backgrounds to enter the profession. We are already short of nurses as it is. I support the junior doctors strike. It’s all part of a government plan to privatise the NHS. Everybody should take strike action to defend the NHS.’
Unite general secretary Len McCluskey told News Line on the march: ‘We have to keep up the fight.
‘We have a new Labour leadership that supports working people. We can win this war. This is part of the Tory plan to run down the NHS and make it fail so they can hand it over to the private sector.’ Asked why not call a general strike, he replied: ‘You know Unite’s position on the general strike we argued for it on the TUC.’
One of the march organisers, student nurse Helen Corry told News Line on the sidelines of the rally: ‘I’m here to say no to NHS bursaries being cut. They provide us with a lifeline to so many nurses, midwives and allied professions.
‘If they cut them, they’ll be making us pay to work and we’ll have debts of over £50,000 which will put people off even applying. We support the junior doctors strike and we are joining forces with them to defend the NHS.’
Student midwife Carina Aldworth told the rally: ‘Doctors, nurses, paramedics, midwives, allied health professionals, all of us dedicate our careers and our lives to the care of others. This government wants a “seven-day health service” – what do you think we are doing!
‘At 4am, when Cameron, Osborne and Hunt are tucked up in bed, when they wake up, when they get home after a long day – we are at work!’ She stressed: ‘We aren’t martyrs. We do this because we want to, because we care, because we believe in the NHS, in universal healthcare. Taking way the bursary is stealing the future of the NHS. The public are behind us – let’s not forget we were Christmas Number One!’
Addressing the rally, Unite leader McCluskey saluted the march turnout, referred to the Tolpuddle Martyrs as the biggest struggle in history but made no pledge for Unite to take action or any call for a general strike. RCN general secretary Janey Davies pledged: ‘We will fight for you all the way.’
BMA junior doctors committee chair Dr Julian Malawana declared: ‘We’ve been forced into taking action.
‘We want to do our job looking after patients. This government needs to stop attacking junior doctors and nurses. We will fight to defend our contracts so we can look after patients.’
Other speakers included Michael O’Neil of UCU and Labour’s shadow health secretary Heidi Alexander who read out a message of support from Jeremy Corbyn.
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