Manchester Save the NHS march

by New Worker correspondent

CAMPAIGNERS to save the NHS flocked to Manchester last Sunday for one of the biggest demonstrations the city has seen for many generations to lobby the Conservative Party conference there and let the delegates know that the people of Britain will not stand aside and let their NHS be undermined and destroyed.

The march also included protesters on all manner of other issues arising from the Con-Dem Coalition’s austerity programme. Numbers were estimated between 60,000 and 70,000 and all the major trade unions were well represented with delegations from all over Britain.

These were merged with local campaign groups as it showed that local trades councils had been playing a big role within local community campaigns to defend local hospitals under threat of being cut or closed completely.

Hundreds of coaches overwhelmed the traffic plans made in advance by Manchester police and the coaches had to queue for a long time to unload.

Once out of the coaches protesters had to dash to join the huge march that had already started as it wound its way through the historic centre of Manchester and past the very heavily guarded conference centre where the Tory party members had made themselves invisible behind huge security barriers.

BBC reporters within the conference centre were banned by security guards from directing their cameras at the marchers and the huge march went unreported by the BBC except as local news.

Most of the rest of the British media ignored the march but it was well reported on other channels like Russia Today and Iran’s Press TV.

The Save Lewisham Hospital Campaign sent a delegation of over 90 activists who were well received and welcomed by many on the march after their local success in getting plans to cut the maternity and accident and emergency services blocked by court action.

The local trades council had played a big role in or- ganising and financing that campaign and the coaches for the Manchester march.

The march ended with a rally in Whitworth Park with speeches from many trade unionists and health service campaigners. Frances O’Grady, TUC general secretary, said: “Austerity is having a devastating effect on our communities and services, with 21,000 NHS jobs lost over the last three months alone.

“The NHS is one of Britain’s finest achievements and we will not allow ministers to destroy, through cuts and privatisation, what has taken generations to build.”

She continued: “The NHS faces the gravest crisis in its history. We are seeing privatisation on an unthinkable scale as core services are hived off to the lowest bidder, budgets are flat-lining, and huge efficiency savings are being demanded by ministers — all at a time of record patient demand.

“After promising there would be no top-down re-organisation, the Government is wasting billions implementing reforms nobody wants and nobody voted for.

“GP commissioning groups are being forced to tender out new contracts to the private sector after being given assurances by ministers that they wouldn’t have to.

“And companies like Circle Healthcare, which has donated £1.4 million to the Conservative Party, are being rewarded with billions in taxpayers’ money to run key services.”

Andy Burnham, Labour’s shadow health secretary, said: “David Cameron needs to be forcefully reminded that he has never been given the public’s permission to put the NHS up for sale.

“These figures reveal the frightening scale and pace of NHS privatisation since Cameron’s Health Act came in.”

And he promised that if elected at the next general election Labour would repeal the Con-Dem Coalition’s Health and Social Care Act that put so much of the NHS budget under private sector control.

Children’s charity worker Jo McSwaine, 22, from Manchester, said: “I don’t believe in cutting public services, that’s the biggest thing. We have to look after everyone, not just the rich”.

Len McCluskey, general secretary of the giant union Unite told the rally that Prime Minister David Cameron continues “to hoodwink” the public about the scale and speed of NHS privatisation — and the true nature of the links between the private healthcare companies benefiting from the sell off and the Tory party.