Last Wednesday, more than 2,000 nurses, midwives, doctors, physiotherapists, managers, paramedics, radiographers, cleaners, porters and other employees from across the health service joined with patients to fill Central Hall Westminster.
Once inside they listened to speeches from comedian Jo Brand – who once worked as a psychiatric nurse – and from politicians, fellow health workers, union leaders and health service users.
Amongst those addressing the audience in Central Hall was Lyn Ward, an occupational therapist from the South West, Iain Bell, a psychiatric nurse from Essex, Mary Locke, a housekeeper from the West Midlands, David Skidmore a paramedic from Sussex, Penny Williams, a speech and language therapist from London, and Vikki Mills, a pregnant mother who is expecting twins who is also from London.
TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber got things going at 6pm. The first of some 30 speakers – all united in their opposition to the government’s plans to reform the NHS – Brendan Barber will say (check against delivery):
‘The All Together for the NHS campaign is an unprecedented alliance of unions, royal colleges, professional groups, health service staff, patients and members of the public. Together we are speaking up for a publicly-accountable health service, for the values that make our NHS special, and for the ethos of public service itself.
‘With the Health and Social Care Bill now going through the Lords, it’s vital that we make our voices heard. I want the message to go out loud and clear that our NHS is not for sale, not today, not tomorrow, and not ever.
‘The government’s Bill represents the biggest threat our NHS has ever seen. It will mean Ã‚Â£3 billion spent on change instead of care, NHS patients pushed to the back of the queue by those with fatter chequebooks, and a postcode lottery of provision.
‘The Bill will also mean privatisation on a huge scale, with our health service opened up to competition by any willing provider. Private firms will profit by cherry-picking the easiest, most lucrative work – leaving the taxpayer to pick up the tab for everything else. That is simply not acceptable.
‘This is a Bill that is wrong for patients, wrong for the public, and wrong for Britain.
Virtually nobody wants these reforms, almost nobody supports them, and certainly nobody voted for them.
‘Cast your minds back to the last election. David Cameron said there would be no top-down reorganisation of the NHS, but now we have reforms the chief executive of the NHS says are so big they can be seen from space.
‘David Cameron said that NHS spending would be protected, but now we have real-terms cuts and 53,000 NHS staff including doctors and nurses losing their jobs.
‘David Cameron said that the health service would be safe in his hands, but now we have the biggest, most dangerous upheaval in the 64-year history of our NHS.
‘The Prime Minister needs to understand that if he presses ahead with this ill-conceived, reckless, expensive Bill, then he will pay a devastating political price.
The stakes could not be higher.
‘The NHS is one of Britain’s defining achievements, and we will not allow this government to destroy what has taken generations to build. Together we can make progress as the arguments are on our side, the overwhelming majority of NHS professionals are on our side, and most importantly of all, the British people are on our side.
‘So let’s build the widest possible coalition against these reforms, let’s work with Peers to stop this Bill in its tracks, and together let’s save our NHS.’
Other speakers at the rally include Labour’s Health spokesperson Andy Burnham MP, crossbench Peer Lord Owen – whose amendment (submitted with Lord Hennessy back in October) narrowly failed in its bid to get the Bill studied by a special select committee, Liberal Democrat MP Andrew George, UNISON General Secretary Dave Prentis, BMA Chairman Dr Hamish Meldrum, Unite General Secretary Len McCluskey and RCM General Secretary Cathy Warwick.
Before the rally starts there will be a photocall outside Central Hall Westminster at 5pm involving NHS workers in uniform who plan to show Health Secretary Andrew Lansley exactly what they think of his Bill by throwing copies of the draft legislation into a hospital clinical waste bin.