Around three thousand members of the public together with health campaigners, NHS workers, trade unionists and others marched through Leeds on 1st April calling for more funding for the NHS and a halt to cuts, closures, rationing of treatment and privatisation.
Groups from all across Yorkshire were joined by others from further afield including Lincolnshire, Stockport and Darlington. All wanted to show support for campaigns fighting to save threatened services including A&Es, maternity, children’s and stroke units. Members of the public warmly applauded the marchers, and some joined in with the broad ranks of protestors winding their way through the busy centre of town.
United in protest against government health policy, this was also a massive shout for the NHS in appreciation of the amazing work done by staff in increasingly difficult conditions, for a service recognised even by Simon Stevens (head of NHS England) as being one of the most lean and efficient in the world.
At the start a choir fired everyone up to sing: “The NHS belongs to us, we won’t let it go” and the brilliant Public and Commercial Services Union samba band lead the march and provided a great carnival atmosphere. This was supported by the award winning Unite brass band and group of guerrilla accordionists at the back.
A large and enthusiastic cohort from ‘Hands off Huddersfield Royal Infirmary’ in iconic blue sweatshirts were clapped into Victoria Gardens after marching up Park Lane from the station along with protesters from Halifax and Dewsbury.
‘Save Grantham Hospital Campaign’ stood out in bright red hoodies and two full size cardboard skeletons graphically illustrated how the NHS has been cut to the bone.
GMB union members in hospital scrubs pushed a bed and CND propelled a giant missile, exploding the myth that we cannot afford good heath care (‘NHS not Trident’). Labour Party branches brought banners and people from all across the political spectrum shared worries about the future of health care for them and their families.
The same message of resistance to the Government’s erosion of the NHS was reinforced by contributions from an Occupational Therapist and nurse reading their poems, a junior doctor worried about training, a student nurse concerned by the recent withdrawal of bursaries and the adverse effect on recruitment, and trade union representatives supporting NHS staff who have seen a relative 17% reduction in earnings over the last seven years.
A campaigner from ‘York Defend Our NHS’ and mother of a son with autism highlighted the poor state of mental health services. A speaker from the ‘One Day Without Us’ campaign talked about the huge contribution of migrant workers to the NHS, while ‘Kirklees and Calderdale 999’ campaigners warned about the latest £22bn cuts disguised through smoke and mirrors in the Sustainability and Transformation Plans (‘everything about me without me’).
Tracy Brabin, MP for Batley and Spen pledged her support for the NHS and its staff and highlighted the historical role of the Labour Party in setting up the service in 1948.
Leeds ‘Keep Our NHS Public’ who organised this march under the umbrella of ‘Health Campaigns Together’ say that this huge ‘public consultation’ has just strengthened their resolve to work together with others across Yorkshire in challenging the government’s dismantling of the NHS.
Massive financial savings could be made by getting rid of the NHS market in health care, renegotiating outrageous Private Finance Initiative deals that have left some hospitals crippled by debt, and stopping the use of management consultants who cost the NHS in England £630 million in just one year. Until 2010 the NHS was always given an annual budget increase of 4% which helped it provide for changing population needs, costs of new treatments, etc.
Since 2010 the increase has been only 1%, allowing the government to correctly state that ‘it is giving more money to the NHS’ but obscuring the reality of an increasing funding gap which will be approaching £30 billion by 2020. This mismatch between what work the NHS has to do, and the amount of money available is now manifesting as missed targets in cancer, surgery, and A&E, together with thousands of patients who cannot be discharged home because of 40% cuts to council social care budgets.
If funding is not increased, reducing demand is the only option, and we now see this happening through such things as the abandonment of the 18 week target waiting time for planned operations, and the removal of some prescription items including gluten free food, the vital treatment for maintaining long term health in patients with coeliac disease (1% of the population).
Before the introduction of the disastrous ‘Health and Social Care Act’ which removed the Government’s responsibility to maintain a national, public health service and instigated the biggest reorganisation since 1975, David Cameron had promised there would be no major top down restructuring.
This government does not have a mandate from the people to make the 6th richest nation in the world one of the lowest spenders on health care, nor do they have a mandate to siphon off increasing amounts of taxpayers money to the private health care sector.
If the politicians in power are suffering from a combination of amnesia and selective hearing loss, the treatment is ditching the government, not the NHS !