Tens of thousands of people from all over England took part on Saturday 3rd February, in a day of action demanding a new direction for the National Health Service (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 (where the Prime Minister’s official residence is located).
Health Campaigns Together and the People's Assembly were the organisers of the events in London and across 54 other locations in England. At the same time, solidarity events were organized in Wales, in Scotland and in the north of Ireland.
The London demonstration was very militant, beginning with stirring speeches and ending with a rally in Whitehall (UK Parliament) 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 participated in the demonstration, besides staging actions in their own localities.
The march followed news of major changes in the way health services are delivered at various locations in the country. According to press reports, some of the planned changes include transfer of patients in local hospitals under NHS requiring more complex, urgent care to specialist care elsewhere. What this means is that local services are to be cut under the guise of providing high level specialist care elsewhere. This will make such services less accessible and less safe to patients. By cutting back on personnel under the guise of reducing services in local hospitals, the staff will get more overstretched.
According to a nurse and co-ordinator of “Keep Our NHS Public North East”: "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."
The campaigns have been going on for over a year in many locations and people have clearly stated their demand – “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."