Thousands in the streets to save the NHS.
Although, had you been browsing the BBC website this afternoon, you would have struggled to know that anything important was happening in Central London or anywhere else. Indeed, the coverage of the march was not relayed by most ‘mainstream media’ websites until very late in the afternoon, whilst thousands of people did express peacefully their anger over what they see as the threat of a slow privatisation of the NHS by Theresa May’s Conservative government.
The big news, instead, were about President Trump and the declassified FBI memo, the interview of Sean Spicer on having Trump as boss, Jacob Rees-Mogg saying the Treasury is ‘fiddling figures’ on Brexit and Lady Gaga has decided to halt her world tour due to ‘severe pain’.
Don’t get me wrong, Lady Gaga cancelling 10 dates of the European leg of her world tour is bad, but maybe... priorities... maybe...
Most of the media very conveniently focus on Brexit and the UK-EU negotiations with a daily coverage since the EU referendum — as if nothing else mattered in Britain whatsoever, whilst their attention should really be on the NHS workers working conditions and on the NHS hospitals which, everyone agrees, are not sufficiently funded by the government and see their bed occupancy rates soaring. Hospital staffing levels and overcrowding in accident and emergency departments are also issues regularly raised by the protesters.
In an open letter published last Wednesday by the organisers of the march, The People's Assembly, the actor and writer Ralf Little (whose mother was saved by the NHS because got free life-saving care on the NHS after she suffered a stroke), who was recently embroiled in a rather bizarre social media row with the Health Secretary over the state of NHS mental healthcare, dared inviting Jeremy Hunt to attend the demonstration with him:
“Dear Jeremy Hunt, further to our recent twitter discussions regarding the NHS I would like to follow up on your invitation to meet and debate these vital issues in the public interest... I will be attending the public demonstration in support of the NHS on the 3rd February organised by The People’s Assembly and Health Campaigns Together. 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. Two key issues of particular concern have been repeatedly raised, even by yourself, with regards to the NHS which would be beneficial for us to debate further. I can assure the right honourable gentleman that I will provide all of the evidence required when you ‘double dared’ me for the assertions I have made and would be grateful if he could extend the public and myself the same courtesy.” (Read the letter in full.)
Addressing the crowd on Saturday, Ralf Little said:
“Time and time again we have to assemble, like we’re doing today in the rain, to remind the government that there’s neither political mandate nor popular opinion to privatise (the NHS), to underfund it, or to go to war with the people that run it, but that’s what’s happening. I accused (Jeremy Hunt) of lying about the increased number of mental health professionals being introduced under his watch. And in, yes perhaps not the most statesman-like moment I’ve had, I double dared him to prove me wrong. To my shock the Health Secretary, Privy Councillor and right honourable member of Her Majesty’s government double dared me back. Thrilled as I was that Jeremy Hunt took time away from not preparing for the increased winter demand, which once again surprised everyone in government by happening at Winter, he eventually doubled down on statistics which I’d proved to be false. I’m not sure where I legally stand on calling it outright lying so I won’t say it, but make your own conclusions. It’s a political choice to have patients sleeping in corridors, it’s not a necessity. A 50% reduction in beds since the 1980s, with more to come. What isn’t acceptable is privatisation by stealth under the table. This has been happening for a decade now. There is no mandate for that to happen, its quiet secret implementation is at best cowardly and at worst corrupt.”
Whilst the Shadow Health Secretary, Jon Ashworth, did attend the march, Jeremy Hunt obviously didn’t. No surprise. Instead, a spokesperson for the Department of Health and Social Care made this statement about the demonstration:
“We know the NHS is extremely busy, which is why the government supported it this winter with an additional £437 million of funding, and why it was given top priority in the recent Budget with an extra £2.8bn allocated over the next two years. Despite the extra pressure that comes with winter, the most recently published monthly figures shows hardworking staff treated 55,328 people within four hours every single day, 1,272 more each day than in the same month the previous year.”
TUC general secretary Frances O'Grady said:
“Our NHS is in intensive care, starved of the resources necessary to meet the needs of our ageing and diverse society. Meanwhile, brilliant, dedicated staff have suffered year after year of pay misery and are having to do more, with less, for less.”
Whatever the Government and the Health Secretary’s claims over what they are doing to help the NHS during this crisis, it seems clear to the thousands of people who braved the rain today to make their voice heard that not enough is currently being done by the Government to save the NHS.●
(Cover: Dreamstime/John Gomez - Thousands of nurses gather at Parliament Square in London, UK, to campaign against the British government’s longstanding 1% public sector pay cap, 6 September 2017.)
(This article was first published at PoliticsMeansPolitics.com)