But we need more action and we really do need to be all in this together.
My abiding memory from the #OurNHSdemo in London last Saturday 4 March? Marching through Trafalgar Square. Traffic at standstill; police marking the way; chants of Whose NHS? Our NHS; tourists snapping in awe. A black helicopter whirring high above us. It felt historical. Monumental.
And it was. It was the largest NHS demonstration in history. Peaceful protesters marched from Tavistock Square… past Nelson’s Column… down Whitehall… past Downing Street and the Department of Health to the rally in Parliament Square. However, only one Sunday paper ran with this huge event on their front page the next day. There were online news reports and postings on Twitter and Facebook, but people at home seemed dismayed with the scant TV coverage. The BBC reported tens of thousands took to the streets – I think they needed to add another zero – as the police estimated 250, 000 people took part. That’s monumental.
The march and rally, organised by the People’s Assembly and Health Campaigns Together, had an impressive line up of speakers too: Jeremy Corbyn, John McDonnell, Jacqui Berry, Len McCluskey, Danielle Tiplady, Mark Serwotka, Jeeves Wij, Dr Tony O’Sullivan and many more. The rally began at 2pm and lasted a couple of hours. But due to the vast number on the march, not everyone managed to get down to Parliament Square in time to hear all of the speakers – this is not a criticism, but further testament to the amazing turn out of committed people.
Unions such as Unite, PCS, GMB, The BMA and Unison were represented. People were armed with banners, flags, PA systems, megaphones, whistles and voices. And after a seven hour coach journey from Newcastle, I definitely was up for making some noise.
Everyone was there for different reasons. Everyone had their own story to tell. If you search on youtube you will find amateur and professional footage of the day. Or search for journalist Steve Topple, filming his first documentary for The Canary, by garnering facts and opinions from some eminent people such as Dr Phil Hammond and Jolyon Rubinstein. He even nabbed Corbyn and McDonnell for comment.
Words and phrases such as underfunding; STPs; no NHS cuts; appreciation of staff; Hunt Must Go and political choices were repeated throughout the day by speakers and interviewees. But we all had one thing in common – every one of us and everyone at home who couldn’t make it – we all had one main aim – to defend the NHS and tell the Tories it’s OURS.
I’ve often said that my GP has been steadfast in my corner when times were tough. So Corbyn’s speech resonated with me. He said:
Defending the NHS is defending a basic human value and a basic human right.
He then continued:
You don’t walk by on the other side, when somebody is in difficulties or needing help and support. You put your arms round them and give them the love, the support and the comfort that they need. That’s what our NHS has been doing for all of us for all of our lives.
That certainly is true for me and my family. We are indebted. That was the reason behind my 57 tweets to Jeremy Hunt last year – one for every year I’ve needed our NHS so far.
Owen Smith MP tweeted on the day: what was the point of the march? He obviously wasn’t there to feel the camaraderie and to know how it feels to be stronger together. He obviously didn’t hear Corbyn say: “Defend the NHS with all of your might.” He obviously doesn’t realise that people can then take the energy and momentum from such a massive demonstration, to lobby their MPs and councillors… and to fight local cuts and closures. Just yesterday I was part of a group collecting signatures outside a Walk-in Centre in North Tyneside, which is facing closure this October, along with another centre. We will be left with one instead of three. We were asking residents to say no to the closure of primary care services in the community. Surely such closures will compound the pressure on GPs and A&E departments? And there would have been countless other campaigns going on across the country yesterday too. People defending our NHS and our right to healthcare. It is a right. It is not a commodity.
John McDonnell began his speech by paying a “debt of honour to the junior doctors who took strike action last year.” Part of their message was to highlight the plight of the NHS. And today they still blog, tweet and write articles about the front line pressures and the risk to patients. Nurses and other NHS staff are fighting a pay restraint and urge people to back their #scrapthecap campaign. McDonnell said he and Corbyn will stand on the picket lines and carry on taking to the streets, if any further industrial action is needed to be taken by any NHS healthcare workers. That they will do whatever it takes to save the NHS. All fighting talk.
But we need more action and we really do need to be all in this together. We can’t leave it to some doctors, nurses, campaigners, activists and a few MPs and councillors. Hammersmith Labour council have said no to their STPs. Labour needs to call out to all of their councils to reject STPs and austerity cuts. The NHS Bill needs supporting, which will stop further privatisation and will reinstate the NHS as an accountable public service. The NHS, Social Care and Mental Health services need to be fully resourced. Hound your local MP and councillors and hold them to account. After the disastrous budget last week then email, tweet or write to your MP, asking them to be part of the debate this Tuesday, in Parliament, re the NHS funding crisis and to represent your needs.
Defending our NHS needs to be the responsibility of all of us – cross party, trade unions and their leaders and patients together. The NHS has shown us so much love; it’s our turn to show it some love back.
There were 250, 000 voices last Saturday and just as many, if not more, at home in spirit – we are not invisible – we exist and we are not giving up without a fight. Jolyon Rubinstein summed it up for me at the end of his speech on the day:
As Nelson Mandela said: It always seems impossible until it’s done.