“We are sickened and angered by the NHS crisis, we blame the Tories and we want them out.”
That was the message from the "Fund Our NHS" demonstration in London called by the People’s Assembly and Health Campaigns Together.
Other protests took place across England. In total tens of thousands of people took part.
Beth, a hospital doctor marching in London, described the effects of the health cuts. “There's not enough funding, the NHS is crumbling. They've already started privatising it, there are not enough staff, especially nurses.
“The staff are under so much pressure, some are leaving and it's only going to get worse.
“The Tories have promised us thousands more doctors by 2022, but they would have had to start training years ago to be qualified by then."
Hetty, one of the marchers, agreed that the Tories were to blame—“They're sending our health care down the pan. People will die because they can't afford to pay for care.”
There is a real determination to defend the NHS. But it has to lead to action now—more protests, more campaigning—and strikes.
That is the only way to save the NHS and win pay rises for those who work in it.
Marches have to lead to detailed organisation to use all our strength against the Tories and their privatiser friends.
Labour’s shadow health secretary Jon Ashworth told London marchers, “The cuts will all be brought to an end with a Labour government.
“No more gazillion outsourcing, and we are putting Virgin Healthcare on notice. Privatisation comes to an end under a Labour government.
“People who come across the world to care for our sick and elderly—we will respect your rights."
These are bold and welcome words. Putting them into practice and removing all the privatisers would require a radical restructuring of the NHS and an assault on private capital.
Big business would squeal, obstruct and sabotage.
The furore over a single possibly cancelled redevelopment plan in Haringey, north London, is a tiny glimpse of the bitter fury of the rich when they feel their wealth threatened.
Chucking out privatisation could only be carried through by a powerful movement in workplaces and on the streets.
That has to be built now
There was a lively Migrants Make Our NHS bloc, organised by Stand Up To Racism, on the London demonstration.
They chanted, “Who built the NHS? Migrants built the NHS.”
Mahad, a college student from Islington in north London, told Socialist Worker, "The Tories are just scapegoating migrants for the NHS crisis.”
Nike, a local government worker, said, “Migrants built the NHS. The Stand Up To Racism trade union conference next weekend is really important because we need to have people making the argument against racism in every workplace.”
Several of the London demo speakers insisted on the need to blame the Tories not migrants for the NHS crisis.
Paula Peters, disability rights activist, said, “My father had a heart attack last week. He was treated by a Syrian doctor and a Sri Lankan nurse.
“Migrants and refugees are welcome here.”
Weyman Bennett from Stand Up To Racism told marchers, “Don’t believe the lies about health tourism. It’s not migrants who are to blame. Everyone who has protested today needs to be on the anti-racism demonstrations in London, Cardiff and Glasgow on 17 March.”
The marches were an excellent initiative. All those who took part and organised the demos should be congratulated.
But the turnout was smaller than similar events last year.
It would have been much bigger if the unions had really built it, and huge if the Labour Party had campaigned for it for weeks or months. Instead support came with only two days to go.
There is a danger of thinking that all that matters, or all that can be done, is elections and waiting for a Corbyn government.
Anger has to lead to action.
Some voices from the march
Years of Tory budget cuts and privatisation brought the NHS to breaking point this winter.
Natasha, a nurse from Cambridgeshire, told Socialist Worker, “There's a lot of pressures on the NHS at the moment, but it's all been building up for a long time.
“There's a big crisis of understaffing and underfunding.”
Poverty pay and rocketing workloads have pushed health workers out of the NHS. As Natasha explained, “We've not had a pay rise for years, we feel disenchanted with what’s going on."
Shoda, a student at the London School of Hygiene, was walking to the library when she saw the demonstration and joined in. She described herself as "so excited" to see the protest.
"I'm an international student so if I get sick I am covered. But not everyone is covered, health care should be for all!"
Labour’s promise to renationalise the NHS has given people hope of stopping the Tories’ attacks.
Thomas, a Labour Party member from Harlow, told Socialist Worker, “I think that a Labour government that's led by Jeremy Corbyn has a plan for the NHS that will deal with the underfunding.”
Niki, a nurse from Bolton, told Socialist Worker, “There's a bit of a feeling that because we've got the Conservatives in we have to wait rather than coming out like this. But the more people we have out the better.”
Jennie added, “We need renationalisation of the NHS, the manifesto was a bit ambiguous, but we asked Corbyn directly and he said wholesale renationalisation.
“The first fight is to get Labour in, the fight then is to make sure they do it.”