Two thousand people occupied Westminster Bridge in protest against the proposed changes to the NHS.
“If this bill goes through, it will dismantle the NHS”, says Pippa, a protestor on Westminster Bridge. “We do not know exactly what will happen, but it certainly isn't good.” Her fears are shared by many. Two thousand people crowded onto Westminster Bridge on Sunday afternoon, in protest at the Government’s Health and Social Care Bill, which will see further competition, privatisation and profit making brought to the NHS. The Bill goes before the House of Lords next week for final debate, and protestors hoped that this last ditch action would help highlight the strength of feeling against privatisation of the National Health Service, already opposed by hundreds of senior doctors and nurses, not to mention charities and patients groups as well.
Many protestors were doctors and nurses, but there was also a great number of people who do not work in the health sector, but are worried that the bill will destroy one of the most cherished institutions in the UK. “The NHS is something British people are very proud of”, says a young charity worker. His friend, who moved to the UK from Germany eight months ago, says she was astonished when she found out how the NHS works. “Now I want to make sure that the system of free health care is not destroyed.”
Protestors dressed as doctors and nurses conducted ‘operations’, bands played, there was a reported comedy performance, and pensioners mixed with children on the good natured protest which was also very much a celebration of our Health Service. A large police presence was totally disproportionate and inappropriate for the occasion, with police vans parked at either end of the bridge and lines of police restricting access to all but a few feet of the pavement. Despite this the protest remained good natured and broad, and is going on well into the afternoon.
Peter Stäuber is a freelance journalist and translator. He writes for English and German language publications and is a member of the NUJ.