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30th Jun 2018

Thousands protest on the NHS’ 70th birthday in London and demand Theresa May’s resignation

At least someone cares

Oli Dugmore

At least someone cares

Thousands of people marched through central London today to dually celebrate the NHS’ 70th birthday and also protest government cuts to services.

Actor Ralf Little and shadow chancellor John McDonnell lead proceedings from the old BBC building on Portland Place to Whitehall, as choruses of ‘Happy Birthday’ rang out between more conventional socialist chants about Conservative austerity.

Organisers estimated 40,000 people were in attendance, some held placards reading “cuts leave scars” and “people over profit.”

The march moved to the beat of a drumming band and featured a birthday cake, marked with a ‘For Sale’ sign, and stopped briefly outside Downing Street to call for Theresa May’s resignation.

It comes as the NHS announced it would be cutting out 17 “unnecessary procedures” and that patients had a responsibility to stop requesting treatments they do not necessarily need.

“The NHS is in crisis right now,” 36-year-old mental health doctor Mona Kamal told JOE at the march. “One that’s been deliberately created by this government by a deliberate choice to underfund the service and open up the service to private sector involvement, and that information has been held back from members of the public.”

“It affects staff and it affects patients, we’ve got a recruitment crisis at the moment. Tens of thousands of junior doctors and nurses missing, compounded by cuts to the NHS bursary. We’ve situations where ward staff are struggling to keep patients safe.”

The mood at the rally was celebratory if a little flat. Protestors chanted, though the volume rarely got above that of a league two pre season. Everyone knew the words but few had the energy in the sapping heat. Some danced others strolled.

Been there, marched that, got the anti-austerity t-shirt, over and over again. This journey has been unrelenting and continuous, over eight years that have seen two winter crises.

Mark Davies, 46, is a member of the Socialist party. As the march got underway he told me “I don’t think the march is going to solve all the problems, I wish more people had been here.

“This needs to be a continual building campaign, there have been successful campaigns around the country. This needs to be a catalyst or an inspiration for more campaigns.”

The procession whispered their way past Downing Street and on to Parliament Square. A bit of music, no Billy Bragg though, speeches and spoken word. It got turned up to 11 though when Corbyn came out.

Although this crowd’s 11 was more like a 6. It’s the last day of Glasto, you’re out of pingers but the sun’s shining and Lionel Richie’s on.

There was a palpable sense of fear that the NHS may no longer be free at the point of care in the Labour leader’s speech.

“To me it is socialism in action, but there have been huge attacks. The Tories have always sought to privatise the NHS.

“The NHS should be free for all of us, all the time, at the point of care.”

He also heavily referenced mental health as a key part of the NHS’ remit.

“I feel so strongly about this, the provision of mental health within our society. It is a symbol of an uncaring and cruel and divided society, that so many go through mental health stress, so many go through it alone and so many take their own lives.”

“Do we have the absolute determination, that we will go to the ends of the Earth and beyond, to defend our NHS?”