Angry health workers and students took to the streets of the City of London yesterday (Wednesday) in a protest against cuts and Tory threats to privatise the NHS.
Student nurses and medics, many dressed in blue or white scrubs, joined the 1000-strong march outside the Royal London hospital in Whitechapel, east London.
Together with doctors, nurses, and an array of therapists, they took to the streets chanting, “public health, not private wealth”, and, in a reference to Tory plans going through parliament, “kill, kill, kill the bill, it will make you very ill.”
Claire, Catherine and Lauren are first-year nursing students from City University and were among many from their course who joined the march.
They said that plans to replace staff nurses with healthcare assistants, who are on lower wages and therefore cheaper to employ, had motivated them to come.
“Of course, that’s going to make it much harder for us to get a job at the end of our course,” said Lauren. “But that’s not the reason we’re here.
“We’re marching because of the effect it’s going to have on patients. Lots of treatments can only be provided by nurses. That’s why we go through three years of training.
“Less nurses on the ward will mean patients waiting longer and getting frustrated. We’ve got to get the message across that this is the fault of the government, not the workers.”
As the demonstration made its way through the financial district to Bart’s hospital there were a mixture of responses. Most passers-by smiled or clapped, while buses and white vans tooted their horns in support.
But from high up in the glass-fronted banks, came jeers from small groups of men in pin-striped suits. Some marchers met the abuse with exhortations for the bankers to “jump”.
At the cross roads of Wormwood Street and Bishopsgate at the centre of the financial district, health workers and their supporters staged a die-in and chanted, “If you hate Andrew Lansley clap your hands”.
One protester told Socialist Worker, “It’s our NHS and we’re going to fight for it. This is the first protest I’ve been on, but we have to fight together against these cuts.”
People on the march were not just opposed to the cuts but also to privatisation. Joseph, a second year medical student from UCL, came to the demonstration with a group of fellow students in doctors’ white coats. He told Socialist Worker, “I’m completely against the market ruling the health service. It’ll end up being like an airport—you’ll get British Airways in rich areas and Ryanair and Easyjet in Tower Hamlets and Hackney.”
Elane Baptiste has worked in the NHS for 34 years—25 of those as a health visitor. She said, “There are already fewer workers doing longer hours, and that is before these cuts kick in. We’re firefighting on a daily basis. None of the preventative work is being done. That means more families and children are in danger, and we don’t have the resources to help them.”
The protest was organised by a recently-formed network of health workers and students, in all unions and none. Many had spent the week leafleting their lecturers, putting posters in surgeries and putting up stalls outside hospitals.
Everyone hoped that the march would be the first of many, and that the movement would spread around the country.
“This has been the biggest and most diverse march for the NHS there has been in east London for many years,” said Anna Livingstone, a long-standing health campaigner and local GP.
“With the scale of cuts and privatisation that we are facing, it couldn’t have come too soon. We’ve got to turn the anger we’ve seen this evening into a lasting campaign that wrecks the Tories’ plans.”