Save Our NHS

It’s never easy to estimate the size of large marches, though sometimes I try. With small marches you can simply stand on the side and count as people walk past, but this gets tedious with more than a few hundred. Even on fairly small marches it soon becomes impossible to actually count every person, as sometimes people are in crowded groups, hard to actually be sure you see everyone, and I have to estimate groups of ten as they move past, but probably my count is withing a few percent of the total.

With large marches a different approach is needed. I try and pick a typical section of the march and take a count for a minute. And then use the time it takes the march to go past a particular place somewhere in the middle of the route. Some marches have large gaps, and an allowance has to be estimated for that. Using methods like this I’d hope to be somewhere in the right area, and unlikely to be more than perhaps 25% out. So if around 500 people go past in a minute, and the whole march in around an hour, then there were roughly 30,000 taking part – as was the case for this march.

Once it used to be good enough to average out the estimates from the organisers and from the BBC, or perhaps just double the police estimate, but the police seem to have stopped giving out their numbers and the BBC and march organisers have both become completely unreliable – and the BBC hardly notice most marches.

The Save Our NHS march was certainly a large one, certainly one of the largest if not the largest so far this year, but the organisers’ claim of 250,000 was unbelievable. Making exaggerated claims is I think counter-productive and undermines the credibility of the event and the claims, which is unfortunate.

This was a very large march, and one that reflects a huge degree of public support – though unfortunately many are not aware of what is happening to the NHS. Of course there are reports about the state of the NHS in the media, but they seldom do more than report its failings and seldom examine the reason behind them. The privatisation of services has been taking place for years now, with private healthcare companies taking over the simpler aspects of the NHS that are easy to profit from – and whose low costs used to offset the more complex and expensive treatments, but relatively little of this has been made clear in the media.

The increasing use of agency staff too, and the financial implications of that has failed to get the attention it deserves, despite the terrible financial drain it represents (as does huge amounts spent on largely unnecessary fees for consultancy.) It’s only very recently that public debate has begun to recognise the terribly corrosive effect of PFI contracts – started under John Major but largely negotiated under New Labour – has had, something which those in the NHS and activists have been aware of and calling for government action over at least since the financial crash completely changed the environment under which they were agreed.

There had been a rally at the start of the march which I’d photographed some of the more interesting speakers, including Green Party Health spokesperson Larry Sanders (Bernie’s brother) above, and there was to be another at the end in Parliament Square, but I didn’t make it there. Doubtless there would have been speeches from political and trade union leaders – Jeremy Corbyn, John McDonnell, Len McCluskey and someone from showbiz, but I’d had enough when I reached Trafalgar Square. Plenty of others would be photographing the speakers and I was tired and didn’t feel up to facing the scrum.

I’d already taken a great many pictures – some great placards and posters and many interesting people. You can see quite a few of them at Save our NHS March.


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