“Wake Up People! Save Our NHS!” Photos from the National March and Rally in London, March 4, 2017

4.3.17

See my photos on Flickr here!A photo from the march for the NHS on March 4, 2017 (Photo: Andy Worthington).

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On Saturday March 4, 2017, tens of thousands of campaigners marched through central London to defend the NHS from the Tory government, which has been responsible for alarming cuts to NHS funding since first getting back into power in 2010, and which, in 2012’s Health and Social Care Act, facilitated increased privatisation of the NHS that is already undermining the integrity of the health service, as private providers take over more and more services, putting profits before care.

In an article last week promoting the march, I wrote about my involvement in the successful campaign to save Lewisham Hospital in 2012-13, but explained that now, “with the hardest of Brexits being pushed by Theresa May, and being used as a screen to hide anything else that the Tories want hidden, and with May herself revealed — to those who can see beyond the Brexit lies and the endless spinning of the bent right-wing media — as the most dangerous right-wing ideologue in modern British history, it seems reasonable to assume that, with no serious opposition, she will preside over the destruction of the NHS on a scale previously unrealisable, a process which, if not stopped, will actually kill off the NHS, the country’s greatest single institution, which works to save the lives of everyone who needs it, regardless of their income.”

The cuts to the NHS have been so savage that, in the first three quarters of the latest financial year, the deficit was £886 million, and, out of 238 NHS trusts, 135 ended the year in deficit.

I was delighted to see tens of thousands of people on the march, and pleased to see that it was apparently the largest ever protest for the NHS (although I don’t share organisers’ claims that 200,000 or 250,000 people took part), but I must also add that I think the destruction of the NHS under the Tories is so serious that a million people should be marching to save it. I hope that, next time there’s a march, many more people remember how important the NHS is, and get out on the streets to tell Theresa May and Jeremy Hunt to immediately provide more funding to the NHS — from us, the taxpayers who pay for it in the first place.

Today, Larry Sanders, the brother of US Senator Bernie Sanders, who is a spokesman for the Green Party of England and Wales, wrote a commendable article for the Guardian, ‘Stop pretending we can’t afford the NHS: that’s the message of our march today,’ in which he stated:

We are living in a world in which the politics of the leaders of two of the world’s great nations – America and Britain – is built on broken promises. During Donald Trump’s election campaign he promised to “take on Wall Street”. So when just weeks later the president announced a cabinet full of banker billionaires, my brother, Senator Bernie Sanders, said: “With all due respect, Donald Trump is a fraud.

Meanwhile, here in the UK Theresa May took up her post as prime minister on the commitment to “work for all, not just the privileged few”. Well, it is just weeks since our NHS descended into a humanitarian crisis, and we are already looking at another round of privatisation and cuts. Which is why at midday today we will be marching on parliament in support of the NHS.

We don’t need reminding of the horrors we saw over the winter, with people dying on trolleys and turned away from hospitals, and the British Medical Association warning our most cherished institution has been pushed to breaking point. The NHS is facing a £22bn funding gap, with the demand for care set to rise 4% a year while the health service’s budget will go up by only 0.2% every year between now and 2020.

This crisis in healthcare has been exacerbated by the current Tory government – but its foundations were laid by New Labour and further strengthened by the coalition with the Health and Social Care Act of 2012. The creeping privatisation of the past quarter of a century has introduced vast fragmentation and inefficiency into our health service, and, combined with chronic underfunding, has left the NHS on the brink. Anyone who has visited a hospital recently knows how hard doctors, nurses and all the staff are working to make sure patients are cared for with dignity and compassion, despite the strain on the system. It is time we listened to their concerns.

Larry’s article ended with the following paragraph:

Today thousands of people will march in support of the NHS, unwilling to stand by and watch while this government dismantles public healthcare – and I’m proud to be among their number. The government tells us there isn’t enough money but this isn’t true. We are the fifth [actually, since Theresa May became PM, the sixth] richest country in the world – we have the money to stop our health service turning into a humanitarian crisis, and to care for people when they grow old: in hospitals, the community and homes. We have the money for a fully funded public health service. If Theresa May is to keep her promise to “work for all, not just the privileged few”, she must not let the NHS and social care crumble on her watch.

Also see the photo set here:

Wake up people! Save our NHS

Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer, film-maker and singer-songwriter (the lead singer and main songwriter for the London-based band The Four Fathers, whose debut album ‘Love and War’ and EP ‘Fighting Injustice’ are available here to download or on CD via Bandcamp). He is the co-founder of the Close Guantánamo campaign (and the Countdown to Close Guantánamo initiative, launched in January 2016), the co-director of We Stand With Shaker, which called for the release from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison (finally freed on October 30, 2015), and the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by the University of Chicago Press in the US, and available from Amazon, including a Kindle edition — click on the following for the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. He is also the co-director (with Polly Nash) of the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (available on DVD here — or here for the US).

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21 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    When I posted the link to the photos on Facebook, I wrote:

    Here are my photos from today’s march for the NHS in central London. It was good that tens of thousands of people turned up, and it’s always reassuring to spend time with other like-minded people who understand that the NHS is Britain’s greatest creation, but really, where was everybody? A million people, at least, should have been marching to save the NHS, given that the Tories, under Theresa May, are starving it of funding like never before, and clearly want to use Brexit as the cover for finally destroying it once and for all. These wretched politicians don’t look like they’ll be stopped at the ballot box, so we have to get out there and show them that we are not prepared to stand by and allow the NHS to be destroyed without a fight.

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    When I posted this on Facebook, I wrote:

    Here’s my latest article, linking to my photos on Flickr from today’s inspiring march for the NHS in central London, in which I captured a handful of the excellent handmade placards expressing commendable love for the NHS (which, I am sure, everyone marching today regards as Britain’s greatest achievement, as I do), and anger for Theresa May and Jeremy Hunt, who, I believe, are trying to use Brexit as cover for the total destruction of the NHS. Today’s march was described as the largest ever march for the NHS, which it may well have been, but it’s still sadly true that more people were shopping today than were trying to save the NHS from being sold off and butchered for the profit of a handful of heartless corporations.

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    Ruth Gilbert wrote:

    I agree – the turnout was similar to the anti-Trump demo….where was everyone else?
    these are my pics: https://www.facebook.com/rgilburt/media_set?set=a.10154255825297190.1073741987.656352189&type=3&pnref=story&hc_location=ufi

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    Wow! You were busy, Ruth! So yes, it was, of course, good to be reminded of the people who genuinely care about the NHS, but there weren’t anywhere near as many people as the organisers claimed. I was in Bloomsbury as the march began moving off, and I saw the end of it after I cycled off and met it again in the West End. That simply doesn’t happen with huge marches of a quarter of a million people.
    I hope I wasn’t too down in my coverage, but I did feel rather deflated today. It sometimes seems such an insurmountable task to take on Theresa May and the weird cult of power that’s grown up around her, as the people, to a brain-numbingly large degree, approve of her cold-hearted cruelty and her Brexit arrogance and idiocy.

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    Ruth Gilbert wrote:

    I agree Andy – solidarity with the good people who were there…but it’s not enough to effect the changes we need…x

  6. Andy Worthington says...

    People need to be prepared to get out there taking non-violent, but newsworthy direct action, Ruth. I fear, however, that far too many young people, needed for effective protest, are caught up in the perceived delusion of immortality that is youth’s general accompaniment, and don’t sufficiently recognise the absolutely crucial importance of the NHS for the collective peace of mind of the British people.
    Something significant needs to happen, though. Apart from the great Lewisham victory in 2013, this has been a losing battle since 2011, and now it’s clearly getting much, much worse and hospitals are literally starved of funds by this malevolent government, and allowed to get away with it by hordes of our fellow citizens whose delusional state or indifference is, I must admit, difficult to accept in a calm manner.

  7. Andy Worthington says...

    Sam Skinner wrote:

    Maybe may day will share more solidarity

  8. Andy Worthington says...

    I always like the global mix of left-wing movements on display on May Day (International Workers Day), Sam, but it’s not what it used to be. When I first came to London there used to be huge free TUC concerts on Clapham Common, and by the end of the 20th century May 1st was still a massive affair, swelled by the huge anti-globalisation movement. However, in 2001 the police used kettling with ruthless efficiency for the first time, kettling huge crowds in Oxford Street, including numerous tourists and workers who’d just nipped out for a sandwich, and every year from then on the kettling became a kind of ritual of the police vs. the hardcore protesters, with ever decreasing numbers of the latter, until eventually, it seems to me, serious May Day protest died out.
    2001 Guardian report here: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2001/may/01/mayday.immigrationpolicy
    Some history here: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2012/may/01/may-day-history-international-workers-day

  9. Andy Worthington says...

    So Philip Hammond, the Chancellor, is presenting his budget on Wednesday, and NHS supporters are urging him to urgently increase NHS spending. One prominent critic is the Tory MP and doctor Sarah Wollaston, the head of the Commons Health Committee, who, as the Independent described it, after an interview with her, “urged Chancellor Philip Hammond to change course – or watch the ‘suffering’ public turn against the Government’s running of the health service.” I hope she’s right about the “suffering” public finally turning on the government, but I’m still not holding my breath. Check out the article here: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/budget-2017-nhs-reforms-fail-patient-safety-risk-emergency-funds-help-tory-health-committee-chair-dr-a7610041.html

  10. Andy Worthington says...

    STOP PRESS: A new poll for the Independent shows massive support for the government to provide additional funding for the NHS, as described in ‘Stop corporation tax cuts to save the NHS, Theresa May warned’:

    An overwhelming majority of the British people want Theresa May to stop planned cuts to corporation tax worth £7.5bn and instead hand the desperately needed money to the NHS, an exclusive poll has revealed. The BMG Research study showed more than three-quarters of people wanted Conservative plans to slash the business tax scrapped, with most believing the money should be passed to an ailing NHS that experts have warned is heading for catastrophe.

    The article also notes:

    The Chancellor has … showed no sign of ditching plans to reduce the UK’s already low corporation tax rates to 17 per cent by 2020. Asked by pollsters if they thought money saved from the reduction should instead be transferred to the NHS, 77 per cent of people agreed – including 69 per cent of people who said they would vote Conservative if there were an election tomorrow. At a time when the country is bitterly divided over Brexit, backing for the move was immense from people who voted both Leave (75 per cent) and Remain (80 per cent).

    See: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/tax-cuts-exclusive-poll-save-the-nhs-theresa-may-philip-hammond-chancellor-spring-budget-2017-a7611431.html

  11. Andy Worthington says...

    Rosey Prince wrote:

    I believe there were 250,000 according to organisers and the Mirror! However I’m not sure what you are expecting from protesters. Way more than that – was it a million? Does it matter how many? – marched to stop the war in Iraq but that made no difference to Blair’s warmongering ambitions. Many of the people you call indifferent went on that march and became so disillusioned they don’t see the point in protesting at all. I go on all the marches and hear the calls to fight but how exactly are we supposed to fight? The NHS is all but gone already.

  12. Andy Worthington says...

    I take exception to that claim of the number involved, Rosey, as I suspect it will only make more people complacent, thinking that they don’t need to do anything because so many people are already reportedly making their voices heard – and I really don’t think it reflected what happened yesterday. Yes, it was a great turnout, but why are more people shopping than anything else?
    I know this is a perennial complaint of campaigners, and I take on board your comment about the Iraq War protest, and how we were swatted aside like a tiny insignificant fly by Tony Blair with such contempt that many people were put off protesting for life, but others conceived a lifelong hatred of contemptuous leaders at that point and realised that we must never give up.
    I also don’t think the NHS is “all but gone.” Although some people died this winter because of overcrowding, the premise of free care for the very ill still exists at the heart of the NHS, and it won’t be easy for the Tories to get rid of, because people notice when their loves ones die, and it’s not always possible for cynical butcher politicians to successfully blame that on the NHS and avoid having people realise that the real reason is chronic defunding by the government.
    However, as with so many other great rampaging injustices in this country, without proper resistance we are rapidly heading back to 19th century levels of inequality – and non-existent public services – and really people just need to wake up. Labour aren’t doing their job, the mainstream media is generally corrupt, and the list of moral crimes and irresponsible follies committed by this truly terrible government continues to grow.

  13. Andy Worthington says...

    Kevi Brannelly wrote:

    Ah several of my friends posted from there. Does my heart good to know all you good people are there together, even if you don’t know each other you are joined

  14. Andy Worthington says...

    That’s a lovely positive response to news of the day, Kevi!

  15. Andy Worthington says...

    Also worth looking at – the result of an inspection of England’s 136 acute non-specialist trusts and 18 specialist trusts, carried out between 2014-16 by the Care Quality Commission. Prof. Sir Mike Richards, the CQC’s chief inspector of hospitals, said, “The scale of the challenge that hospitals are now facing is unprecedented. Rising demand coupled with economic pressures are creating difficult-to-manage situations that are putting patient care at risk. During winter 2016-17, hospitals have faced ever-increasing demand for urgent and emergency services and the continuing challenges of delays in discharging patients to community and social care services.”
    The report also highlighted “variations of quality between hospitals and even between services within the same hospitals,” and, typically, this was all that was focused on by the government, with the BBC noting that “[m]inisters said the findings should be used to root out poor practices,” ignoring the fact that the much bigger problem highlighted in the report is underfunding. I have to say that I get so fed up with cynical Tories endlessly undermining the NHS whenever particular problems come to light, which they cynically use to further their case that privatised services would be better, when that’s the great lie that continues to survive despite decades of being proved untrue. Public servants can – and often do – have genuinely altruistic motives that private companies don’t understand, because their bottom line – always – is profit, and in terms of healthcare that means that profits are more important than people’s lives.
    See: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2017/mar/02/nhs-outdated-acute-care-model-cqc-government-cuts
    and: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-39071485

  16. Andy Worthington says...

    Rosey Prince wrote, in response to 12, above:

    Absolutely I agree it is vitally important to show those in power – politicians and media – our protest. I do think a lot of people were on the march though even 250,000 is not that many it should have been a million. It was however a far bigger march than one I went on during the Lewisham Hospital campaign when many people were totally unaware of the plans for systematic privatisation of the NHS. At least now people know what is happening. I think people get demo fatigue very quickly – there have been a few recently but the discussion of why people don’t demonstrate more is complex. The compulsion to go shopping in the face of political and social catastrophe is an interesting one! I also agree that Labour yet again are failing massively as an opposition party just as they did during Thatcher’s time.

  17. Andy Worthington says...

    You’re probably right about demo fatigue, Rosey – but there’s so much to protest about now! So, for example, there’s a Stand Up to Racism march in support of refugees on the 18th, and a pro-Europe march on the 25th: http://www.standuptoracism.org.uk
    https://www.uniteforeurope.org

  18. Andy Worthington says...

    When my friend Ann Alexander shared this, she wrote:

    Great photos from Andy. The banners are getting more inventive.

  19. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Ann. Yes, I think you’re right about the posters. These were taken over a period of just an hour or so, and I missed some other great ones too!

  20. Andy Worthington says...

    Sam Skinner wrote:

    I can safely say I am at the forefront of what hits hardest the actual service being able to be provided by the N.H.S in its hospitals. Definitely understaffed and I have no reason to not believe underpaid by the sheer amount of agency staff which is sheer craziness!!

  21. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks for your comments from the front line, Sam. Unfortunately, for most people it’s difficult to appreciate how cuts are changing the NHS. I know that with my son Tyler’s birth in 1999 and my illness in 2011 it was clear that the NHS was being well funded, and I can only see hints of the difficulties the NHS faces now, via what I see and hear during my blood tests at Lewisham and my check-ups at Guy’s, which take place every few months.
    I’m sure you’re right about agency staff – and the ridiculous situation there is how much more they cost than NHS staff, because of the agency’s own fees.

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo, co-director, We Stand With Shaker. Also, singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers) and photographer.
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