Anti-privatisation campaigners gather in London for huge Keep Our NHS Public demonstration

Led by the SOS NHS coalition, the protest involves over 50 campaign groups and unions coming together to demand the government funds the NHS properly, pays NHS staff what they deserve, and ends NHS privatisation.

The SOS NHS Demonstration – End the Crisis – Support the Strikes is taking place today, March 11. Demonstrators are assembling at 12pm at Tottenham Court Road, London and will march to Whitehall for a closing rally with speeches outside Downing Street.

Among the speakers is Kevin Courtney, NEU general secretary, Labour MP Kate Osborne, Jeremy Corbyn MP and of the Peace and Justice Project, Amerit Rait, Unison vice president and NHS worker, and Dr Pallavi Devulapalli of the Green Party and NHS doctor, among others. Coaches leaving from locations nationwide are ferrying demonstrators to London for the event.

SOS NHS is a coalition of campaign groups and trade unions, which demand emergency funding for the NHS from the government to support services and staff and not the private sector. The campaign has the backing of a number of high-profile public health groups and unions, including Keep Our NHS Public, People’s Assembly Against Austerity, Unite the Union, GMB, We Own It, NHS Support Federation, and more. The group’s mission is to: “Build the strongest alliance between unions, NHS campaigns, health and care staff, social movements and civil society organisations working in and for our communities, to save our NHS from being internationally, destroyed by this government.”

Keep Our NHS Public, which calls for health and social care services to be publicly funded, says that after a decade of investment, the NHS was delivering its best-ever performance. But after more than a decade of austerity, despite heroic efforts by staff, it has sunk to its worst-ever.

Government 100% to blame

Commenting on the escalating crisis in the NHS, Dr Tony O’Sullivan, co-chair of Keep Our NHS Public, founder of the SOS NHS coalition, and retired consultant paediatrician, said:

“There is a tragedy unfolding before our very eyes: 500 avoidable deaths every week on the NHS emergency pathway – the government is 100% to blame. They must act now to invest properly in the NHS – after 13 years of running it down and preferentially funding private hospitals. In all my years as an NHS doctor I have never seen such a crisis of low morale amongst health staff – pay NHS staff properly now and repair this current crisis. We stand by all NHS staff making the difficult decision to take strike action: they deserve pay justice and they are fighting not just for themselves but for the entire future of the NHS.”

Today’s protest follows a similar demonstration in late February that was organised by the anti-privatisation campaigners We Own It. The protest was organised to highlight the disastrous impact of privatisation on the NHS. It was inspired by a recent study by the University of Oxford, which estimated that outsourcing NHS services to private providers led to 557 avoidable deaths between 2014 and 2020.

According to the campaigners, these “appalling statistics highlight that government policy decisions to underfund the NHS, cut costs and ignore understaffing have serious and damaging consequences for us all. Ministers must be held to account.”

Stephen Fry, who supports We Own It’s mission, described the NHS as one of the “proudest things Britain has ever done. “It’s now under threat from cynical, greedy, destructive people who mustn’t be allowed to get away with this. We own it. It’s ours. The NHS belongs to us. Our grandparents, great grandparents, parents, and we ourselves made it what it is. We contributed to it. We paid for it,” said Fry.

We Own It are calling on the shadow health secretary Wes Streeting, to make a strong commitment to reinstate ’our NHS as a fully public service.’

Gabrielle Pickard-Whitehead is a contributing editor to Left Foot Forward

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