Save the NHS

Marchers at the rally before the final stage – Craig Farlow in cap centre

The fight to save the NHS continues, though many parts of it have now been taken over by private companies. It is very big business, and one in which many of our leading politicians have a financial interest. And although the Conservatives are the worst offenders, Labour and Lib-Dems are not far behind. And of course UKIP – or at lest Nigel Farage –   would be even worse. But one of the things I find it hard to forgive Labour for was the introduction of PFI, the scheme under which they got large capital projects – like new hospitals – built but shackled the NHS to huge repayments – and at interest rates which now seem ridiculously high.

I’m fortunate to have lived almost all of my life while we had the NHS. When I’ve needed it, free health care has been there – and without it I probably would not be here. It’s not a perfect system, and has particular problems from a governments that keep making unhelpful changes, but generally delivers a high standard of service at a much lower cost than – for example – the US system which has so attracted Conservative health ministers.  It’s had to see any reason for this attraction other than the huge profits that healthcare companies make from it.

There are good clinical reasons for wanting to concentrate specialised clinical care in fewer well equipped and staffed centres, but it isn’t this that lies below most hospital closures. It isn’t even the need to make economies because of the financial situation – even if one accepts that.  The main driver is the huge repayments of PFI loans, that has led to the pressure to close solvent and clinically successful hospitals such as Lewisham.

The People’s March for the NHS began in Jarrow, up in the North East, and was based on the Jarrow March (Jarrow Crusade)  of 1936, when over 200 unemployed men marched to London, petitioning parliament for help for their town. All they got was a pound for their fare home. And that same amount, though in this case a pound coin, was included in the medals awarded to this year’s marchers who had gone the whole distance when they arrived in London on September 6th 2014.

The 2014 Jarrow March, the People’s March for the NHS NHS, came about from a suggestion by Craig Farlow, one of those who marched the whole distance – the ‘300 milers‘. I think they took the same route, and like the original marchers were supported by local people along the route, staying in churches and other buildings. One big difference was the presence of the ‘Darlo Mums‘ rather than the all-male event of the 30’s.

The march leaves on its final stage led by Rehana Azam, GMB National Organiser for the NHS and the 300 milers

The march appeared to receive relatively little support from the left establishment, though unlike in 1936 the Labour Party and the TUC didn’t actually oppose it. There were indeed many trade unions and union branches who supported it, and the main organiser, Rehana Azam is the GMB National Organiser for the NHS. On the platform during the final rally in Trafalgar Square there were at one point the Shadow Minister of Health and half a dozen other Labour MPs holding the large poster listing the marchers demands, and during his speech Andy Burnham pledged that the Labour Party would repeal the Health and Social Care Act which has opened up all of the NHS to privatisation.  But it is the same Labour Party that is backing the TTIP treaty which will have the same or greater effect.

The main problem I had taking pictures was simply the crowds and space to work. Crowds of supporters and marchers at the rally in Red Lion Square before the final short march, and crowds of photographers in the relatively small press area in front of the stage at Trafalgar Square. Space there was restricted with part of the area in which press usually work being fenced off up for the official video crew and roughly half as seating for the disabled, most of which was unoccupied while I was there. It was difficult and at times impossible to get a good enough view of what was happening on stage, not helped by the sun shining directly towards us.


My London Diary : Buildings of London : River Lea/Lee Valley : London’s Industrial Heritage

All photographs on this and my other sites, unless otherwise stated, are taken by and copyright of Peter Marshall, and are available for reproduction or can be bought as prints.

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