'Battle' planned over NHS reforms
Protests against the Government's controversial health reforms will be held across the country this weekend, with union leaders warning of a "battle" over the future of the NHS.
Candlelit vigils and demonstrations will be held, petitions organised and street stalls mounted in towns and cities across England tomorrow and on Sunday.
Unison said they will be held in areas including Reading, London, Cambridge, Norwich, Sunderland, Jarrow, Manchester, Burnley, Brighton, Leeds and Portsmouth.
Shadow health secretary John Healey is due to attend some of the events tomorrow.
Unison said the so-called NHS Big Weekend will show opposition to the reforms from health workers and members of the public.
The union claimed the Government's recent "listening exercise" over its Health and Social Care Bill had not addressed "flaws" in the legislation.
Christina McAnea, Unison's head of health, said: "The public will not forgive Lib Dem MPs for colluding with the Tories to break up and privatise the NHS. People are rightly proud of an NHS that puts patient need before private profit, and voting through this Bill will be the end of the NHS as we know it.
"The Health and Social Care Bill is a massively expensive, completely unnecessary, waste of time and public money. Hospitals are already struggling to deliver on Government demands for £20 billion in so-called efficiency savings.
"The NHS is being pushed to breaking point with longer waiting lists, job cuts and treatment rationing. Money that should be going towards patient care will be poured into reorganisations and bureaucracy.
"This is the wrong Bill at the wrong time and it's time to kick it out."
The Bill will receive its third reading in the Commons next week.
Health minister Earl Howe said: "The NHS will always be available to all, free at the point of use and based on need and not the ability to pay.
"Modernising the NHS will both safeguard the future of our health service, and will deliver a world-class health service that puts patients at the heart of everything it does.
"Our plans will cut the costs of administration by one-third over this Parliament, and every penny will be reinvested into frontline services to improve quality for patients."
Steve Field, chairman of NHS Future Forum, said: "Every health system in the developed world faces the challenges of rising demand, an ageing population and increasing costs of treatment. These challenges will not be met by the NHS doing more of the same. They require a culture that centres on patients and makes better value of available resources.
"It became clear during the listening exercise that the NHS had to change. So we were pleased that the Government listened and put forward over 180 amendments to the Health and Social Care Bill to improve its plans to safeguard the future of the NHS.
"The old hospital-based system has to develop into a more preventative, community-based system."
Health Secretary Andrew Lansley said: "Claims that we aim to privatise the NHS amount to nothing more than ludicrous scaremongering. We have made it crystal clear, time and again, that we will never, ever, privatise the NHS.
"The reality is that we're giving more power and choice to patients over how they get treated, keeping waiting times low and cutting bureaucracy so more cash gets to the front line. We will not allow these lies to block the progress we want to achieve for patients."
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