Health workers march in London to show support for the NHS as it celebrates its sixty-third birthday


Tens of thousands of health workers across south and east London joined the anti-cuts demonstration today, marking the sixty-third anniversary of the National Health Service. Workers from across the public sector, trade union leaders and other anti-cuts organisations gathered from various parts of London to defend the health service under the label: ‘NHS Listening Exercise – We March, They Listen’.

Len McCluskey, the leader of the Unite trade union, led the protesters from Savoy Street in City of Westminster to Parliament Square. The protest was organised by the Socialist Health Association and Unite as part of a campaign called for  the Government’s Health and Social Care Bill to be scrapped.

Many organisations from east London boroughs also attended the demonstration including the Lewisham Anti Cuts Alliance, SOS NHS Lewisham, Hackney Alliance, and Hands Off Our Public Services of Tower Hamlets.

Dr Brian Fisher, a family doctor  in Lewisham as well as Chair of Socialist Health Association, said the Government’s listening exercise “has altered nothing” and “all the serious threats [to the NHS] still remain.

“The cuts threaten the nation’s health and well-being. The welfare cuts are dangerous and, in many respects, unnecessary. They will impact on the NHS and make improving even more difficult. They will make the lives of the most vulnerable a great deal worse, “ Dr Fisher told ELL.

A petition of 3,200 signatures, including those of Lewisham MPs Joan Ruddock, Heidi Alexander and Jim Down was presented to the Department of Health before the march.

Leanne Groves, spokeswoman for Unite trade union, described the cuts as “hugely damaging to the NHS”.

“Today is the sixty third birthday of the NHS. By organising the demonstration on this particular day we are trying to show that as a result of the government cuts this birthday might be one of the last to the NHS.

“The cuts will create an environment where only the wealthy can pay for health services. Unite believes the economic crisis has been created by the bankers, and that ordinary families with ordinary income should not be forced to pay the price. NHS services should be fully funded by the government. The cuts are undermining what the NHS has gained over years. With our demonstration we’re trying to show the government that we will never put up with it,” added Groves.

The protesters, who met at Savoy Street, marched past Trafalgar Square down Whitehall, finishing at the Old Palace Yard opposite the Houses of Parliament.

The next demonstration will be a protest outside Homerton Hospital in Hackney on July 16. It will aim to show the Government that Hackney citizens will not accept privatisation and cuts to the NHS. It will be  the last chance to communicate the message to the Government before the Bill passes through Parliament.

The  NHS’s birthday was marked by organisations all over the United Kingdom, with health workers celebrating, campaigning and eating cake.  Among those who offered their support was British music icon and former front man of Black Sabbath, Ozzy Osbourne, who said: “I want to say a big thank you to all of the dedicated doctors, nurses and everyone else who makes up the NHS across the country – from Birmingham to Berkshire. Just like me, it’s still going strong after 63 years. Long may we both keep it up.”

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