Workers' Weekly On-Line
Volume 47 Number 5, March 11, 2017 ARCHIVE HOME JBCENTRE SUBSCRIBE

#OurNHS: Massive March to Take Forward
the Struggle to Safeguard the Future of the NHS

Front of the March #OurNHS

Over 200,000, and some reports, including from the police, suggested closer to 250,000, took part in the massive march to declare that it is Our NHS, and its future must be safeguarded. Health care is a right and it must be guaranteed! Intensifying the fight means also working to establish a society in which the claims of the people are at the centre of considerations and the people decide.

The conviction and mass character of the demonstration not only were a tribute to the hard work and initiative which went into making it truly successful. They underlined its significance which may be looked back on as a turning point in fighting to safeguard the future of the health service. It embodied the sentiment of the health workers and people as a whole to have a human-centred NHS fit for a modern society. It is going to be very difficult to ignore in the coming period.

Waltham Forest Saving Our NHS at the start of the march

As the leaflet produced by Workers' Weekly for the occasion and distributed in large numbers said: "In building the movement to safeguard the future of the NHS in opposition to the government-led privatisation, cuts to services, downgrading of facilities and closure of vital hospitals and units, it is essential that the people keep the initiative in their own hands. This mass demonstration today is testament to this consciousness of the necessity to build a movement, to intensify the fight to safeguard the future of the NHS, to take it in a direction which affirms that health care is a right, and to hold the government to account for its programme of wrecking this precious public asset which ought to be the first priority of a modern society. This is the aim and sentiment of today's demonstration and rally for which Health Campaigns Together and a myriad of concerned forces and the people at large have worked so hard to build and make a powerful manifestation of the people's resistance."

The mass march in London first of all rallied to speeches in Tavistock Square, close to the headquarters of the BMA (British Medical Association). The numbers just kept growing, and it was reported that when the head of the march had reached Parliament Square, there were still contingents who had not yet left Tavistock Square. There were people from all walks of life, from unions to grass roots campaigners and concerned people of all ages. In Parliament Square, there were many passionate speeches, including from Tony O'Sullivan and Dr Louise Irvine from Health Campaigns Together who co-chaired the rally. Jeremy Corbyn in his speech said: "The NHS is in crisis, in crisis because of the underfunding in social care and the people not getting the care and support they need. There are those waiting on trolleys and those who are desperate to get into an A&E department waiting hours for treatment. It is not the fault of the staff. It is the fault of a government who have made a political choice."

The demonstration with its rallies, march through the centre of London and all the speeches, represented a striking unity of the workers' and people's movements for a change in direction of the NHS, affirming the kind of society in which the right to health care is recognised. It put on the agenda the issue of turning that unity into a lasting victory for the people's forces. As RCPB(ML) said in its call to the demonstration: "It points to the future and a vision of a new health service which puts the people's health and social care, as well as the well-being of all health workers and professionals, at the centre of considerations."

Health Care Is a Right! Intensify the Fight! Whose NHS? Our NHS!

What Was Said

Speaking at the beginning of the opening rally as the Our NHS march assembled, Health Campaigns Together editor John Lister was first on the platform. He said:

"On behalf of Health Campaigns Together I want to thank all of those who have worked so hard for this: the demonstration committee, Peoples Assembly, Unite the union, the PCS and all the unions that have donated generously to make it happen."

"This march must not be an end, but a beginning. Of course we know that on its own it won't get us what we want. It's a beginning. What else must we do? We need a bigger, stronger, broader united campaign, to fight on till we win."

"Health Campaigns Together launched this demo and now we thank you for your support and urge everyone here to go on supporting us as we fight to make this movement even stronger across the country."

Professor Neena Modi, President of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, said:

The NHS has provided universal healthcare, free at the point of need, and funded through general taxation, a model that is as cost-effective, efficient, and visionary now as it was when it was founded in 1948. The NHS has also provided freedom from the crippling fear of the cost of injury and ill-health, and security for the healthcare of infants, children and the most vulnerable in our society. All this is now under threat.

The 4 March rally is a public cry of despair. UK health services need investment; they also need sound management and strong effective leadership, not the abrogation of responsibility and waste of public funds that have been incurred through the internal and widening external markets, Private Finance Initiative repayments, and poor decision-making at multiple levels.

The unhappy and growing tendency to regard healthcare as a commodity is not serving the people of the UK well. Markets tend to view disparagingly and not support investment that takes a long time to mature, such as that needed to progressively strengthen population health. The consequences of this shallow, short-sighted view are plain for all to see: a lost opportunity to build solid economic prosperity and national resilience built upon health. This is why the RCPCH is calling for cross party commitment to a publicly funded, delivered, and accountable health and care system as the essential starting point upon which to make UK health services once again the envy of the world.

Speaking at the closing rally in Parliament Square, Jeremy Corbyn began by thanking health service workers for making the NHS what it is.

Jeremy Corbyn speaking at the closing rally

"If you're a doctor, a nurse, a porter, a technician, a cleaner - whatever you do in the health service - thank you because every day you contribute to what is the most civilized institution in this country."

"Every person waiting in A&E. Every person on a trolley in a corridor. Every student nurse forced to visit a food bank to make ends meet. Every elderly person denied the care they need. Every time that is a political choice. It is this Government saying tax cuts for the few are more important than the dignity and care of the many in their time of need."

"The NHS is in crisis not because of overspending but because of under-funding - a crisis made in Downing Street. It's not the fault of the staff, it's the fault of a government that has made a political choice."

"Our NHS is not in crisis because of overspending; it is in crisis because of underfunding."

Jeremy Corbyn also vowed to protect the values of the NHS and said: "Defending the NHS is defending a basic human value and a basic human right".

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