A protest outside Downing Street over the health and care bill. Image: Evie Breese
Doctors and MPs joined protesters outside Downing Street to demand the government scraps a bill that campaigners say will privatise the NHS.
The demonstration against the health and care bill was organised by union Unite, which said it was the “last chance to save the NHS” from what it called the “privatisation bill.”
Jeremy Corbyn addressed the crowd of around 200 campaigners, NHS staff and members of the public, calling for an “NHS run for people not for profit”.
He said: “I would urge you to join in a united movement to defend the principal of healthcare free at the point of need in our society.”
Labour MPs Rebecca Long Bailey, Dawn Butler, Richard Burgon and Ian Lavery also took to the podium to call for the bill to be scrapped.
“We don’t want to see the further privatisation, the further Americanisation of the NHS, where they feel for your wallet before they feel for your pulse,” shouted Burgon to cheers.
The bill would restructure parts of the NHS in England, with the goal of creating a ‘truly integrated’ healthcare system that involves less central bureaucracy.
MPs will on Tuesday vote on the bill for the third and final time before it heads to the Lords.
Anti-vaccine protesters chanting “no vaccine mandate” tried to drown out speeches during the event.
“Whatever views you have or do not have on vaccines you need the NHS just like everybody else…. shut up,” Jeremy Corbyn shouted at the small but loud crowd.
This bill “will introduce perverse incentives for doctors to deny care to patients. It will make it harder for patients to recieve care. Patients will be waiting longer, some of them will be forced to go private” Dr Bob Gill, a practising GP told The Big Issue before he took to the stage.
The bill proposes to establish 42 Integrated Care Systems (ICSs) with the power to authorise legislation across England. Unite says that would bring about a “complete break up of the NHS as we know it”.
The 42 parts will have space for private companies to sit on their boards, who will then be able to influence the running of an ICS – including who receives contracts, the services it provides and at what cost.
“The bill is being used to further run down the NHS and to bring in more privatisation by the back door,” said Unite general secretary Sharon Graham. “It will also lay the path for lower standards of care and further attacks on the pay and conditions of NHS staff.
“We will ramp up resources to defend our health sector members and oppose these unnecessary attacks.”
Unite fears some boards might decide not to offer certain procedures or treatments labelling them as not cost effective. These boards could operate like commercial entities, maximising budgets over patients’ health.
Unite, which represents over 100,000 health service workers, also fears that, without adequate protection of staff terms and conditions, the current staffing crisis that has seen patients waiting in ambulances outside A&E for 14 hours will get worse.
Organisations including the British Medial Association and Royal College of Nursing have called for an amendment to the bill, tabled by former health secretary Jeremy Hunt – now chair of the Health and Social Care Committee – to address the staffing shortages crippling the NHS.
“There can be no doubt that the staffing crisis is the single biggest challenge facing our health and care services. Despite this, the proposals for workforce planning in the bill fall woefully short of providing any long-term solutions,” reads the letter published in The Times.