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NHS protest: Thousands of demonstrators march on Downing Street as service marks 70th year

Samba and sunshine at rally that comes despite government pledges of £20bn more for the health service

Alex Matthews-King
Health Correspondent
Saturday 30 June 2018 19:56 BST
Thousands march to mark the NHS' 70th birthday

Thousands of protestors from Lancaster to the Isle of Wight converged on London on Saturday to celebrate the NHS in the week it turns 70 and to demand the government acts to ensure it is around in another 70 years’ time.

Calls to reverse the cuts to the NHS and to “save the life savers” suggested those in attendance remained unconvinced by Theresa May’s recent pledge to increase the NHS budget by £20bn over the next five years.

Cries of “shame on you” rang out as the procession passed Downing Street on its way to the main stage where Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn was due to speak.

However the same stage was hosting Bodysnatchers and ska legend Rhoda Dakar, and the bubbles, samba bands and drum lines studding the procession reinforced the festival atmosphere.

Valerie Bossman-Quarshie, a Labour activist from Islington, London, was carrying a giant birthday card and had collected messages from demonstrators from Huddersfield, Birmingham and Sheffield supporting the health service.

“I’ve been in and out of hospital, for scrapes and what have you,” she told The Independent. “I’m here just to say I love the NHS and I’ll do anything to keep it open and free for everyone to use.”

She added that one of her babies was delivered at St Thomas’ Hospital after her waters broke on a London bus.

Stood opposite the entrance to Downing Street, her message to the prime minister was simple.

“Theresa May, we all live for a very long time, we all need the NHS. Even you will need it eventually so just fund it properly,” she said.

The cuts that have been made to the NHS as part of eight years of Coalition and then Conservative austerity have hit particularly hard in remote and rural parts of the country where attracting staff can be difficult.

“We’re really suffering on the Isle of Wight, they’re cutting quite a lot now,” Lynne Horspool told The Independent. “They’re taking away a lot of our services and I think we’ll just be left with maternity and A&E.”

Moves to push services to Southampton General Hospital on the mainland mean that residents have to take a ferry to access care, something only made possible by subsidised tickets for those with an NHS letter.

Ms Horspool had travelled over with the Save Our NHS group from the island and said the shift of other services into the private sector was another concern for her.

“This creeping privatisation is awful, we’re seeing privatised things on the island already. I have diabetic retinopathy and that used to be NHS but now it’s gone private, so it’s coming.”

John Myles, a NHS maintenance operative from Chorley, was one of many staff striking against Wrighton, Wigan and Leigh NHS Foundation Trust’s plan to move hundreds of workers to a private subsidiary company owned by the trust.

“They’re trying to privatise us and we’re here to demonstrate to Mr Foster and the board that we will not lie down,” he told The Independent.

The trust has said the change is needed to allow it to save money and compete with the private sector for key staff.

It has also pledged that NHS staff who are transferred will retain their pay, pensions and benefits, but they would no longer be officially employed by the NHS.

“We’re saying no,” Mr Miles added. “It’s not about money it’s about staying in the NHS. That’s what it means to all of us.”

Anna, a nurse who works in ear, nose and throat for a major London trust has seen the effects of cuts on the care for her patients with cancer or other complaints.

On a daily basis we’re short of staff, short of beds, short of doctors,” she told The Independent. “I think healthcare is not a luxury, it’s something that enables everyone in society to be equal.

“We don’t have enough oncology nurses to give out chemo, it’s affecting safety and patient care."

Though there are promises of new funding and a pay deal for nurses, the young nurse said: “If we want to keep the NHS we have to fight for it.”

When Mr Corbyn took the stage, he appealed to government to “pay the social care needs that are necessary so people can live with dignity”.

He also asked protesters whether they had “the absolute determination that we will go to the end of the earth and beyond to defend our national health service”.

Additional reporting by PA

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