Thousands of campaigners have marched on Downing Street to protest NHS funding shortages, as the health service suffers its worst ever winter crisis.
Protesters carrying placards with the words “kick the Tories out”, and “more staff, more beds, more funds”, gathered in central London in large numbers in support of fixing what they say is a “crisis” in the NHS.
“Keep your hands off our NHS,” they chanted as they marched towards Downing Street.
The demonstration, called “NHS in crisis: Fix it now”, was organised by the People’s Assembly and Health Campaigns Together.
Among the demonstrators was Jamie, a disability rights advocate who was attending the march in his wheelchair.
He was injured in a serious car crash 21 years ago. “I owe my life to the NHS,” he said.
“There is a tragedy unfolding and the fact is that so many desperate people are traumatised, stigmatised and stressed by work-capability testing.”
Save Lewisham Hospital campaigner Tamsyn Bacchus said she feared the NHS could gradually transform into a US-style private health service unless urgent action was taken.
“I have faith, and so do all these folk here, that it’s so important to have the principle of service that is [free] at the point of use so that when you are ill, when your child is running a high fever, when you need the hospital or a doctor, you can get them without worrying about having to pay for it.”
Actor Ralf Little, who was due to speak at the march, has previously told how his mother was saved by NHS treatment when she suffered a stroke.
He said: “My mother was rushed to hospital in an ambulance, received expert emergency care, stayed in hospital for two weeks to recover, was treated daily by consultants, physical therapists, occupational therapists and nursing staff, was escorted home in a taxi and checked on three times a day for a further five weeks.”
Following a Twitter row with the Health Secretary, Little penned an open letter to Jeremy Hunt inviting him to attend the demonstration.
The Shadow Health Secretary, Jon Ashworth, also planned to be at the protest.
He has warned the NHS is experiencing its worst winter on record, on the service’s 70th anniversary year.
It comes just days after it was revealed hospitals are at their fullest point this winter, as the health service struggled to perform under significant strain.
Bed occupancy pressures in the weeks after Christmas saw the heads of major A&E departments write to Theresa May warning that patients were “dying prematurely in corridors” because they could not be properly cared for.
But now bed occupancy, for the week ending 28 January, has crept even higher, reaching 95.1 per cent across the NHS – the highest weekly average since reporting began at the end of November.