Sunderland residents had a Valentine’s Day with a political twist, with the Green Party and The People’s Assembly holding rallies.
The event was one of hundreds of similar rallies being held across the country as part of a national day of action to raise awareness for the current state of the National Health Service and the important role that the public will play in deciding its future in the upcoming general election.
Emotions ran high as crowds got the opportunity to hear from a variety of speakers representing both the Green Party and The People’s Assembly, as they voiced their opinions on the current legislation for the NHS, with particular emphasis on the debate over its increasing privatisation.
Mark Tyers, of The People’s Assembly, was hoping that the event would encourage the public to “come out and show their love and support for our NHS”, stressing that it “needs it now more than ever”. On the subject of privatisation, Mark insisted that it would lead to a more “chaotic, less organised service”.
Local Green Party candidate Rachel Featherstone declared that the NHS was being “sold off for short-term savings that will ultimately cost our society a lot more than is currently being saved”. She then stated that private companies will “prioritise profit over patient care”.
Rachel also emphasised the urgency with which the new government, selected in May, must repeal the Health and Social Care Act of 2012. However, she also stressed that the Green Party would not settle for the dismissal of this act alone, calling it “a sticking plaster on the walls of the NHS”. Instead, they would only accept the removal of all private providers from the NHS so that it was in “accountable and elected hands”. She also expressed a need to stop wider public service cuts. She said: “These awful, needless, policies are stretching a service that’s already stretched to breaking point.”
Rachel concluded her speech by claiming that the NHS was being “dismantled by stealth” and that it would take “more than a sticking plaster, more than a little bit of extra cash, more than replacing a few of the staff who have been cut already to save our NHS in the form that we love it. It’s going to take radical solutions”.
Pam Wortley, a retired GP who used to work for the NHS, stated that the country was locked in a battle between those who “love and care for people” and those who “put profit first”. She then went on to accuse private companies of being “happy to sacrifice the greatest institution in our country”. Pam also claimed that current policies “make profits for shareholders, which means money is not being reinvested in the NHS”.
Cathy Haq, a retired nurse who worked in the NHS for 46 years, expressed similar concerns. Describing the changes to healthcare in the last decade as “frightening”, Cathy lamented the loss of NHS Direct and two of Sunderland’s walk in centres. She also expressed concerns over the reduction in the budget for social care and the strain that it has put on A&E departments.
Rev Chris Howson closed the rally by stating that a free NHS was “a huge part of our fundamental rights as human citizens”. However, he was concerned that this right is in danger. He said: “The 2012 Health and Social Care Act allows private companies to take away the best bit of our NHS,” implying that the money being spent by the tax payer is now being given to private companies who “hide it in tax havens offshore”.
The other attraction for the public was a large Valentine’s Day card addressed to the Minister of Health, Jeremy Hunt, which allowed them to write in their views on the NHS and his policies, before being posted to the Health Minister himself.
The People’s Assembly also invited a Labour Party speaker, however they had to pull out of the rally due to unforeseen circumstances.