Health workers, activists and unions are marching in central London on Saturday to protest against government inaction over the NHS winter crisis.
Hospitals have been overwhelmed in recent weeks by a surge in admissions that has led to delays of up to 12 hours on emergency wards, patients left on trollies for hours and thousands of patients forced to wait in ambulances before receiving urgent care.
Two pressure groups, the People’s Assembly and Health Campaigns Together, have organised the rally to call on the government to plug funding and resource gaps in the health service.
Among the demonstrators was Jamie, a disability rights advocate who was attending the march in his wheelchair. He said he owed his life to the NHS after being injured in a serious car crash 21 years ago. “There is a tragedy unfolding and the fact is that so many desperate people are traumatised, stigmatised and stressed by work capability testing,” he said.
Tamsyn Bacchus, a Save Lewisham Hospital campaigner, feared that the NHS could morph into a US-style user-pays health service. “I have faith, and so do all these folk here, that it’s so important to have the principle of service that is great at the point of use,” she said. “So that when you are ill, when your child is running a high fever, when you need the hospital or a doctor you can get them without worrying about having to pay for it.”
The actor Ralf Little called on the health secretary, Jeremy Hunt, to attend the demonstration as well. The Royle Family actor, who studied medicine before his acting career took off, was embroiled in a social media spat with Hunt last year over funding for mental healthcare on the NHS. Little said: “I would like to extend a sincere invitation to you to attend, and use this platform to demonstrate that you acknowledge the importance of our previous discussion regarding lack of resources, staff and funding for our health service.
“We are now consistently hearing reports of patients dying at home before paramedics arrive, police cars being used to take patients to hospital as there are insufficient ambulances, or that when patients arrive in hospitals they are dying on trolleys in hospital corridors. Many of us are extremely worried about what this means should our loved ones become ill.”
Unite, Unison and the TUC are among the unions marching through central London before holding a rally opposite Downing Street. Cecilia Anim, the president of the Royal College of Nursing, said patients would suffer if urgent action was not taken. “Staff at every level are experiencing burnout and many of our colleagues are turning their back on jobs they love. It’s no surprise that nursing staff feel overstretched and undervalued. There are now more than 40,000 nurse vacancies in England alone.”
Sheena Archer, a healthcare assistant, said she was attending the protest because “morale is at an absolute low”. “We’ve got to stand up for each other. Patients deserve better and we deserve better too,” she said.