The Independent London Newspaper

 

Thousands of marchers, including health workers, take to streets to fight reforms to NHS

‘We saved Whittington, now for NHS’

Published: 20th May, 2011
by TOM FOOT

HEALTHCARE workers from Islington joined thousands of protesters who marched defiantly through central London on Tuesday against government proposals to reform the NHS.

Chants of “Kill the Bill – it will make you really ill” filled the air during the demonstration which was organised by Keep Our NHS Public.

It began with speeches at University College Hospital in Euston and snaked down through the West End, past tourists and applauding shopkeepers, and ending outside the headquarters of Health Secretary Andrew Lansley in Whitehall.

Fake blood was spattered on the entrance of the Department of Health  and health workers bathed their hands in the red pools.

The demonstration, which demanded a halt to Mr Lansley’s Health and Social Care Bill – was attended by Islington health, education and student unions. 

Save Finsbury Health Centre campaigners joined the march and the Defend Whittington Hospital Coalition brought its striking black and gold cat banner.

The unexpectedly high turnout evoked memories of the Whittington A&E protest march last year. 

Speaking at the opening rally, Jeremy Corbyn, Labour MP for Islington North, said: “We won the Whittington – but now we’ve got something bigger on our hands.”

Mr Corbyn blasted Prime Minister David Cameron as “dishonest” and called for all Private Finance Initiative hospitals such as UCLH and parts of the Whittington to be bailed out and brought back in house.

He added: “Say no to the NHS bill – say yes to the most civilised thing this country possesses.”

The Bill – which proposes handing the majority of NHS funding to GPs and increasing competition – has been criticised as politically motivated and there are fears it could lead to the break-up of the health service.

“This is ideology gone mad,” Whittington radiologist and BMA member Dr Jacky Davis told the crowds. “The Bill is on its last legs – we’ve got to kill it off.”

The government  announced last month a “pause” in the legislative process to make amendments following fierce criticism from right across the political spectrum, as well as NHS workers and medical experts – including the Royal College of GPs and the British Medical Association.

Hundreds of staff jobs are being axed in Islington and two of the b four mental health hospitals and 95 inpatient beds will be closed this year.

The talk from health workers on the march was about the failure of the union Unison to support the march and form a proper alliance with the Keep Our NHS Public campaign. Unite, the country’s biggest union, supported the march and was represented on the march by general secretary Gail Cartmel.

She said: “We don’t want a pause, we want a complete halt. We want nothing to do with it.”

Mark Campbell, University College Union representative at London Metropolitan University, warned against “attacks on our class”, adding: “The debt crisis is a lie.”

And Former health secretary and Labour MP for Holborn and St Pancras said: “We’ve got one big thing on our side: the people of this country. The NHS is the most popular institution in the country. People like the idea that it looks after them and their families – but also that it looks after the whole country."

A second day of protest is planned for June 30.

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