Socialist Worker

Thousands block Westminster Bridge to defend the NHS

Issue No. 2273

Some 2,500 demonstrators gathered on Westminster Bridge in central London today, Sunday, in protest at the government’s planned NHS reforms.

The action forced police to shut the bridge to traffic.

Tory health minister Andrew Lansley is pushing a health and social care bill through parliament that will force NHS hospitals to compete with private firms. The bill is due to be debated in the House of Lords this week.

Many protesters stressed that the bill would lead to a privatised health service and “the end of the NHS”.

Paul Howarth, a Unison union member, has worked for the NHS for 22 years and travelled from Nottingham to join the London demo. He told Socialist Worker, “A lot of people know the Tories’ bill is a bad idea, but they don’t understand the significance of it.

“It will be the end of the NHS if it goes through. We won’t have a universal system free at the point of need. We’ll have an insurance-based system instead.

“The Tories have told lie after lie after lie about the state of the health service to justify their changes. But they’ve had to be so underhand about it because they know the NHS is so well-supported.”

Alan Green travelled to the protest with a group of people from Weston-super-Mare. He told Socialist Worker, “I had a road accident and at one point I had no pulse. If it wasn’t for an NHS ambulance, I’d be dead.”

Many said the bill would make inequalities in health worse and leave the most vulnerable without essential care.

Parisa is a medical student in London. She told Socialist Worker, “There are already problems with accessing everyone, such as refugees or people who don’t speak much English.

“The bill will make things worse and will mean that some people get better care than others.”

There was also anger at the government’s support for banks and bosses while they target services for ordinary people. One placard read, “Governments must serve people not banks” while another asked, “When did a bank deliver a baby?”

Douglas Green, a GP in Hackney, east London, said the Tories wanted to shift health care towards “profit-making”.

“The same forces that wrecked the economy are queuing up to take over the health service,” he said. “We don’t need that in the NHS.

“I don’t know any doctor who isn’t vehemently against it.”

Some of those on today’s demonstration, which was called by UK Uncut, plan to protest at London’s stock exchange next Saturday.

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