Tens of thousands of people have taken to the streets of London in protest against dramatic NHS cuts proposed by the Government.
Organisers said the national demonstration was a call to arms for those who care about the NHS, as “more austerity in the NHS represents a real risk to the safety of patients and the service”.
Campaigners, medics, students and union representatives, among others, marched from Tavistock Square to Parliament Square in Westminster, where labour leader Jeremy Corbyn was due to address the crowd.
Speaking to the crowd, Mr Corbyn said: “Our NHS is not in crisis because of overspending, it’s in crisis because of underfunding, a crisis made down there in Downing Street”.
A rumoured 250,000 people were in attendance, with more than 150 coaches bringing NHS workers from all across the country to take part.
Union leaders rallying for the march said many NHS services are “on their knees” already and that attention must be drawn to plans which could lead to nearly two-thirds of services in England being cut back.
One demonstrator Felix Ramos, 53, from east London, stood next to a coffin on the march.
He told the Press Association: “Many people are not going to get the help they need. If you do not have health, there is no life.
”Privatisation does not work for life. It is not going to care for the vulnerable but it might care for people who can afford special treatment. It is not for the majority.“
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Dr David Wrigley, a GP from Carnforth, Lancashire, and deputy chair of the BMA council, was among the front-line staff marching under the slogan ”Our NHS, No Cuts, No Closures, No Privatisation“.
He said: ”Today’s march is a cry for help for anyone who uses the NHS because it is in such a desperate situation. We need to highlight it.
“As a doctor I see day-to-day the serious pressures in the NHS due to the funding cuts from the Government.
”Patients are not getting the care they deserve. We are a country that can afford the funding that is required.“
The campaigners, who say the NHS is at “breaking point”, hope the march will put pressure on the Government ahead of next week’s Budget.
Dr Wrigley added: ”I guess it is also a wake-up call for Theresa May and the Chancellor… we demand they fund the NHS adequately. If the Budget does not bring about any further funding increase, there would be uproar.“
Junior doctor and GP trainee Dr Jeeves Wijesuriya said he hoped the demonstration would act as a wake-up call for the Government to plot a new course for the NHS.
Speaking on behalf of the BMA, he said the NHS ”in reality faces £26 billion of health and social care cuts due to political decisions“.
He told the crowd: ”What is sustainable about debts that can only be paid with our patients’ health and yet still won’t be settled?
“Where is the transformation when the money to build new hospitals and health centres is being syphoned off to pay debts?”
Last week it was reported that an increase in “excess deaths” in England Wales could be linked to underfunding in the NHS.
Researchers publishing a study published in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine claimed “relentless cuts” could have been behind as many as 30,000 deaths in 2015.
The Government refuted the claims, labelling the reports a “triumph of personal bias over research”.
Protestors at the march booed as they passed Downing Street, where uniformed officers stood behind barriers at the nearby Health Department.
A Department of Health spokesperson said: “We are committed to the NHS which is why we’re investing £10bn in its own plan for the future, including £4bn extra this year to transform services and improve standards of care.”