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THOUSANDS of people joined protests across England on Saturday highlighting the growing crisis in the NHS.
In 27 communities they marched and rallied in an “emergency response” to the funding crisis, which has left the health service with more than 130,000 staff vacancies, including 47,000 for nurses, and 500 patients dying every week because of delays in receiving treatment.
Rallying calls were made in support of strikes by nurses, physiotherapists, ancillary staff and ambulance workers, who are demanding wage rises that keep pace with inflation after more than a decade of real-terms pay cuts.
The protests were organised nationally by campaign group Keep Our NHS Public (KONP) to demand better funding of the health service and a return to full public ownership and control after decades of creeping privatisation.
KONP co-chairman Dr John Puntis warned that the “future of our NHS is now at stake.”
In West Yorkshire, an estimated 1,500 people marched from Leeds General Infirmary’s jubilee wing, passing a derelict site where the construction of a new children’s hospital was promised by the Tory government, to the city’s Millennium Square, where members of doctors’ union the British Medical Association (BMA) were rallying.
The BMA says that 7.3 per cent of NHS treatment is now in the hands of profit-driven private healthcare companies, draining £8.8 billion from health service funds.
The figures do not include the privatisation of services such as cleaning, catering, portering, ground maintenance and security, in which tens of thousands of NHS jobs have been transferred to the private sector.
A BMA ballot of its members on whether to take industrial action closes on February 16.
Samantha Wathen of Leeds KONP said: “This is an emergency response to how bad this crisis currently is and, on top of that, to show solidarity with striking workers — ambulance workers, nurses and we’re fully expecting the junior doctors to go out as well.
“We’re trying to get the public to understand the reasons leading up to where we are now and the fact that it is not the staff’s fault. People aren’t dying because staff are striking. Staff are striking because people are dying.”
Ms Wathen argued that the crisis in the NHS could be ended only through multimillion-pound investment and the removal of privateers.
“When it was funded properly in 2010, it was the best independently ranked healthcare system on the planet,” she said.
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “The independent sector has been used to bolster NHS capacity and ease pressure at critical times for nearly two decades.”
The demonstration took place in the run-up to the TUC national day of action on Wednesday, when at least half a million public-sector workers are expected to strike.
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