Nearly 2000 people rallied in Central Methodist Hall opposite parliament in London last night, Wednesday, to oppose Andrew Lansley’s health and social care bill.
Hospital workers and patients spoke of their fears for what would happen to the NHS under the bill. Trade unionists from South Africa and the US told how the NHS was an inspiration in the fight for universal health care in their countries.
Shadow health secretary Andy Burnham called it “a fantastic celebration of our NHS”.
NHS doctor Alex Scott-Samuel warned, “If the bill is passed it will cause suffering and death on a large scale.
“The NHS will be just a logo, and the Department of Health will be renamed the Whitehall branch of McKinsey,”—a reference to one of the private corporations expected to profit from the bill.
Comedian and former psychiatric nurse Jo Brand said, “Nurses don’t do it for the money—they do it for the people.
“Once we have the profit motive in the NHS, vulnerable members of society will suffer.”
The rally was organised by the TUC. “This bill is the biggest ever threat to the NHS,” said TUC general secretary Brendan Barber.
“The stakes couldn’t be higher. We won’t allow the government to destroy what’s taken generations to build. Let’s build the broadest possible opposition to this bill.”
Dave Prentis, general secretary of the Unison union said “If there’s money to bail out banks, if there’s money for bankers’ bonuses, there’s money available for the NHS.
“In Unison we say tonight—we will fight for it. We will win and we will save our NHS.”
Len McCluskey, general secretary of the Unite union agreed. “I hope people get angry about the privatisation of the health service,” he said.
“I don’t want my kids and grandkids to ask, why did you do nothing when they took away our birth right?”
And Rehana Azam, national officer and head of NHS in the GMB union, called on people to “continue to battle until the government has no choice but to drop this bill.”
Two leading Liberal Democrats were heckled as they made excuses for the party’s failure to stop the bill.
Almost every speaker pledged to “fight” the bill. But there was a real shortage of concrete plans.
Andy Burnham said, “This is the fight of our lives. I want to look you in the eye—we’re doing everything we can.”
And in a repeat of the speech he gave at a Unison rally in Manchester last Saturday he pledged, “If I am health secretary after the next election, I will repeal this bill.”
But the structural changes inside the NHS are already starting. By 2015 most commissioning will already be in private hands. And Labour’s record in government does not inspire hope in their ability to reverse it.
Mike Langley, a Labour councillor from Bristol, said, “Tony Blair's to blame for this. He introduced the internal market into the NHS.”
And John Pike, a Labour member from Loughborough, said, “I spoke to Andy Burnham and said we needed a national demonstration.
“This is the closest we’ve got, but it’s been hard for people to get to. With local groups organising collective transport we could have had a lot more.”
When hundreds of people who had marched to the rally were forced to wait outside, Candy Udwin from Hackney Keep Our NHS Public addressed the crowd.
“We know the majority of people in this country are against this bill,” she said. “Now we have two weeks to mobilise that anger.
“And if it passes we need more action to make the bill inoperable—don’t let them privatise one more bit of our NHS.”