The Weekly paper of the New Communist Party of Britain
Week commencing 10th March 2017

250,000 march to save NHS

by New Worker correspondent

AROUND one quarter of a million people — according to a police assessment — came from all over Britain to march through the streets of London to defend our National Health Service from cuts and to call for the creeping takeover by the private sector to be reversed.

They included a full spectrum of NHS workers, families with children, pensioners, people with disabilities, trade unionists in large contingents from all the major unions, community and faith groups, and individuals.

Many focussed on the Sustainability and Transformation Plan (STP) — the Government’s latest scheme to rationalise yet more drastic cuts to services in nearly two thirds of England.

Marchers also drew attention to the dreadful scenes of overcrowded Accident and Emergency (A&E) units this winter, so overwhelmed and under-resourced that hundreds of patients were forced to wait on trolleys 16 hours or more to be seen — a situation that the Red Cross described as “a humanitarian crisis”.

They arrived by the bus load; 150 coaches brought protesters from across England and Wales and assembled in Tavistock Square, near Kings Cross Station. They set off from Tavistock Square, chanting and blowing whistles. The front of the march arrived in Parliament square before the end of it had even left Tavistock Square.

As Parliament Square filled up the Lewisham and Greenwich NHS choir sang to the crowd.

Jeremy Corbyn was amongst the speakers. He began by thanking all NHS staff for the services they provide for us and “making the NHS what it is — the most civilised thing in this country.” Then he mentioned that Mark Serwotka, leader of the civil service union PCS, was present thanks to the NHS; Serwotka has recently undergone a heart transplant.

Corbyn also declared he had just been visiting another old friend who is having some very serious treatment in hospital, the former leader of the public sector union Unison, Rodney Bickerstaffe, who sent a message of solidarity to the rally. Bickerstaffe reported that in his two weeks in hospital so far he has counted 20 different nationalities amongst the staff who have been looking after him — “the multi-cultural staff of the NHS” — and he thanked each and every one of them.

Corbyn reported that Bickerstaffe said that without the NHS and its properly trained and staffed workforce “this would not be a civilised country”.

Corbyn went on to say: “Our NHS is not in crisis because of overspending; it is in crisis because of underfunding. The Tories and the Coalition before them managed to cut taxes on big business, cut taxes for the richest families, cut taxes for the speculators, cut taxes for the fat cats.

“Don’t let them tell you there is no money for the NHS. There is no excuse for it; the money is there if you collect the taxes properly to fund it, to pay for it.”

Corbyn commented on the numbers waiting in A&E untreated, the shocking truth that there are student nurses forced to use food banks to make ends meet whilst they are caring for our sick people and elderly people not getting the care and help that they need. “Every one of those things has come about because of a political choice made by a government that under-funds the NHS while the resources are there to do it.”

Dr David Wrigley, who is deputy chair of the British Medical Association (BMA) council, said that the march was “a cry for help for anyone who uses the NHS” that was “in such a desperate situation”. “We need to highlight it. As a doctor I see day to day the serious pressures in the NHS due to the funding cuts from the Government,” he said

Len McCluskey, leader of the union Unite, also spoke. He referred to the words spoken by Aneurin (Nye) Bevan at the founding of the NHS, that it would last as long as there are people prepared to fight for it. “Nye said that because he knew there will always be people who are prepared to try to claw back this fantastic organisation. And that’s why you are here today: to fight, fight, fight for our NHS. Nye Bevan would have been proud of all of you.”