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NHS demonstration: thousands of protesters march on downing street

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Protesters march on Downing Street on a rainy Saturday in London. Photograph courtesy of Gareth Harmer and the Royal College of Nursing

Thousands of people marched on Downing Street on Saturday in a demonstration intended to highlight the ‘crisis’ in the NHS.

The march, called ‘NHS in crisis: Fix it now’, was organised by the People’s Assembly and Health Campaigns Together. Demonstrators were met by various speakers who told of their experiences of the NHS this winter, emphasising the need for additional funding.

Protesters were joined by a number of prominent NHS figures, including actor Ralf Little and Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth, and brandished signs reading ‘saving lives costs money, saving money costs lives’, ‘more staff, more bed, more funds’ and ‘keep your hands of our NHS’.

The organisers said: ‘It is time this Government stops blaming patients, nurses, doctors, immigrants, flu and the elderly for their shortcomings.’

The protest began in Gower Street near Warren Street station and proceeded to Downing Street where it concluded with talks from speakers.

During his address to the crowd, Ralf Little, who has had previous altercations with health secretary Jeremy Hunt when he challenged him to a public debate on the NHS, told protesters ‘It’s a political choice to leave patients sleeping in corridors’.

‘Time and time again we have to assemble, like we're doing today in the rain, to remind the government that there's neither political mandate nor popular opinion to privatise it, to underfund it, or to go to war with the people that run it, but that's what's happening.’

Shadow health secretary Jon Ashworth also addressed the demonstrators and said: ‘We should be celebrating the 70th year of our NHS, yet the NHS is going through its worst winter on record. We have a fight on our hands for the future of a universal public NHS.’

The president of the Royal College of Nursing, Cecilia Anim, warned the crowds of the 40,000 vacancies in the UK and how this was affecting service delivery in ways that she has not witnessed before: ‘I’ve never in my 40 years in nursing seen anything like this’

In a surprising turn of events, US president Donald Trump entered the fray on Monday. The president used his twitter account to say that 'thousands of people are marching in the UK because their [universal health] system is going broke and not working'.

The remark came shortly after a 'Fox and Friends' (Trump's favoured news programme) morning report on the NHS march that featured ex-UKIP leader Nigel Farage. Farage was critical of the NHS and political commentators have suggested this may have caused, or at least encouraged, Trump's comments.

The statement was later rebuked by health secretary Jeremy Hunt. Mr Hunt said that while he disagreed with some of the people on the march, 'not ONE of them wants to live in a system where 28m people have no cover'.

He continued: 'NHS may have challenges but I’m proud to be from the country that invented universal coverage - where all get care no matter the size of their bank balance.'

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn also got involved in the twitter spat, saying in response to Trump's original tweet: 'Wrong. People were marching because we love our NHS and hate what the Tories are doing to it. Healthcare is a human right.'

As a response to the rally, the Department of Health and Social Care said: ‘We know the NHS is extremely busy, which is why the government supported it this winter with an additional £437m of funding, and why it was given top priority in the recent budget with an extra £2.8bn allocated over the next two years.’

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