Crowds fill sweltering London streets for NHS anniversary demo


LONDON: Thousands of people braved hot weather Saturday to march through London to “celebrate and demonstrate” over Britain’s National Health Service (NHS) ahead of its 70th anniversary next week.
Protesters gathered from noon in the capital’s West End district before walking to Westminster, the country’s political heart, demanding more investment in public healthcare and better working conditions for staff.
Under blazing sunshine, wielding banners and placards reading “health over wealth” and “NHS SOS,” they also railed against the privatisation of some services under the Conservative government of Prime Minister Theresa May.
As temperatures hit nearly 83 degrees Fahrenheit (28 Celsius) and the marchers — many wearing medical scrubs — passed Downing Street, loud boos rang out.
Happy birthday songs dedicated to the NHS could be heard at other points.
The march, coordinated by various groups including trade unions, was held to mark the 70th anniversary of the NHS’s founding on July 5.
Valerie Bossman-Quarshie, a Labour Party activist, said she wanted to give the NHS a “really good cheer” as she held a birthday card for staff aloft to be signed by passing demonstrators.
“They’re sick at the moment, they’ve been bled of their resources, so I want to be there for them, the little bit that I can do,” she said.
The NHS is a cherished institution in Britain but mired in a long-running funding crisis, worsened by nearly a decade of government austerity.
Its resources are set to be further strained as the country’s population continues to age.
May has promised to inject around £20 billion ($26 billion, 23 billion euros) a year into the service until 2023-2024.
This represents a budget increase of 3.4 percent on average per year, in real terms, but in a sign of the extent of the crisis, it has been criticised as insufficient.
“In the name of equality, in the name of justice, pay the social care needs that are necessary so people can live with dignity,” opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn told the rally.
Taking to the stage, he called on marchers to have the “absolute determination that we will go to the end of the earth and beyond to defend our National Health Service”.


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