Over 2,000 NHS staff and campaigners heard health service leaders, including key nursing figures, denounce the health bill at a rally in Westminster last night.
Attendees heard shadow health secretary Andy Burnham pledge to use Opposition parliamentary time on Tuesday next week to call a new Commons debate and vote offering a “final chance” to reject the bill.
Mr Burnham admitted it was possible the bill would pass. He said: “If I’m health secretary after election I’ll put the ‘N’ back in the NHS. I will repeal this bill.”
But the TUC-organised event at Westminster Central Hall, which constituted one of the largest displays of public feeling about changes to the health service in recent decades, largely belonged to NHS employees and their representatives.
Peter Carter, general secretary and chief executive of the Royal College of Nursing, raised fears that nurses would end up “trying to hold together” the system if the reform proposals were passed by parliament.
“I predict if this bill gets royal assent, within four years there will be another reorganisation of the sort that we’ve seen time and time again,” he said.
“We keep hearing that the NHS needs fixing. But I’ve got news for people in Westminster – the NHS isn’t broken but the way things are going it soon will be broken unless we stop this bill.”
Cathy Warwick, general secretary of the Royal College of Midwives, had to contend with a protestor demanding a general strike.
However, when she was finally able to speak, she said that the current baby boom was placing the service under too much pressure to cope with reorganisation.
“We are being required to keep up with these massive pressures and the unnecessary bureaucratic distraction of the reforms proposed in this bill is too much,” she said.
British Medical Association chairman Hamish Meldrum, said the body was “proud to stand shoulder to shoulder with our fellow health workers in support of the NHS”.
Amid much cheering, Dr Meldrum said: “This bill was supposed to be about listening to doctors, nurses and patients. Mr Lansley are you listening?”
Crossbench peer Lord Owen compared the mandate for the current reforms with that for the creation of the NHS in 1948.
“Clement Attlee and Nye Bevan, they had an overwhelming mandate to introduce that legislation,” he said. “Can anyone say that David Cameron and Nick Clegg have an overwhelming mandate for the [health] bill?
What they said at the rally
Clive Peedell, consultant oncologist: “I ran from Cardiff to London because I’m bloody angry about this bill.’
Iain Bell, psychiatric nurse: “Are GPs best placed to make decisions about those with mental illness who often don’t trust them?”
Len McCluskey, Unite general secretary: “I’ve angered people lately by raising some issues about the Olympics. I hope people get as angry about the NHS”
Dorothy Matebeni, South African nurse leader: “We’ve seen that the NHS works for the people in the UK so it will work for us [in South Africa, which is creating its own health service]. Viva the NHS.”
Jo Brand, comedian and ex-psychiatric nurse: “I’ve a soft spot for Nick Clegg. It’s face down in a bowl of custard”
Dave Prentis, Unison general secretary: “GPs will pass the money on to KPMG and American multinationals like United Healthcare.”