20,000 in NHS protest

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The Independent Online
(First Edition)

MORE than 20,000 health workers, patients and supporters protested in London yesterday at the 'terminal illness' facing the National Health Service. The column of marchers expressing their anger at the 'destruction' wreaked by Conservative reforms stretched more than a mile as it made its way to Trafalgar Square.

At the rally organised by the TUC, the Labour deputy leader, Margaret Beckett, accused the Government of creating an NHS where patients were treated purely for profit. 'We believe that there is a place for the market. But the market should be kept in its place - and its place is not in the health service.'

The TUC general secretary, John Monks, said: 'The present state of the health service is enough to make anyone sick with worry.' Mr Monks pointed out:

The number of beds for elderly people with long-term illness had been cut by 40 per cent in the past five years

Free pregnancy tests were available only in a third of GP practices

In Mr Major's Huntingdon constituency, 99 per cent of dentists had stopped taking new NHS patients

Three London teaching hospitals - the Middlesex, University College and St Bartholomew's - had been told to postpone nearly all non-urgent operations until April 1994.

'The task for us now is to build such a consensus of view that the situation is unacceptable, that the Government has to draw a line under their policy of under-funding the NHS.' The general secretary of Unison, the health union, Alan Jinkinson said: 'This is one of the most significant demonstrations and rallies for many years, it marks the start of the national fight back against the destruction of the health service.'

Virginia Bottomley, Health Secretary, under fire last week for presiding over a ballooning NHS bureacracy, insisted yesterday: 'We want to clamp down on unnecessary layers of bureaucracy and unnecessary grey suits.'