The SOS NHS march called for emergency funding for the health service (Picture: Socialist Worker)

Several thousand campaigners and workers demonstrated in London on Saturday in defence of the NHS and in support of NHS strikes.

Many of those who marched from Warren Street Tube station to Downing Street had been fighting for the NHS for a long time. But there were also new people horrified by the gathering health crisis and given hope by the walkouts of nurses, ambulance workers and—from Monday—junior doctors.

Anne is an RCN nurses’ union member who has recently been on strike at Great Ormond Street hospital. She told Socialist Worker, “Unless there’s a big change the NHS will go under. It will still be there as a brand. But I know we are already not offering patients the care they have a right to expect and it is getting worse all the time.

“The strikes felt wonderful. It was doing something rather than feeling like I wanted to cry when I can’t do the right thing. We have to win the strikes to make sure we have enough staff.”

The SOS NHS coalition of 50 groups organised the demonstration. It calls for emergency funding for the NHS to support services and workers, and an end to privatisation. It is backed by groups such as Keep Our NHS Public, Health Campaigns Together, Disabled People Against Cuts, the People’s Assembly and all the major unions. But the unions did not make much effort to turn out their members.

Michael Barrett from north London said, “I’m involved in a local campaign over the sell-off of GP surgeries to giant corporate groups. But that’s just one aspect of the crisis of a service in real decline. When you are an older person you know from personal experience, and conversations with friends, that every trip to hospital is now stressful and worrying. 

“That’s despite all the best efforts of the dedicated and caring workforce. I am very glad we are out here today, but there should be support from the Labour Party and the unions.”

Speaking to a rally, Cat Hobbs from the We Own It anti-privatisation campaign said, “This government wants the NHS to fail so it can hand it to private capital. We are here today to say that won’t happen. And we say Labour must commit to reinstating the NHS as a fully public service.”

John McDonnell MP said, “We will not allow them to destroy our NHS.” He added the he backed Gary Lineker’s support for refugees and said, “NHS workers come from all over the world, and we say asylum seekers are welcome.”

Action is urgent. “There is a tragedy unfolding before our very eyes,” said Dr Tony O’Sullivan, co-chair of Keep Our NHS Public. “The government is 100 percent to blame. It must act now to invest properly in the NHS —after 13 years of running it down.”

Taking to the street is important. But the strikes are the most important way of fighting back. That’s why the union leaders were wrong to pause the fightback and why next week’s action is so important.

Patients left waiting hours for ambulances 

More than 500 seriously ill patients died last year after the ambulance they called for took up to 15 hours to reach them.

The fatalities included people who had had a stroke or heart attack, whose breathing had suddenly collapsed, or who had been involved in a road traffic collision. In every case, an ambulance crew took much longer to arrive than the NHS target times for responding to an emergency.

A Guardian newspaper investigation said at least 511 people died in England in such circumstances after a 999 call during 2022. That’s according to figures supplied by NHS ambulance trusts and the outcome of coroners’ inquests.

“These 500-plus deaths a year when an ambulance hasn’t got there in time are tragic and avoidable,” said Dr Adrian Boyle. He is the president of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, which represents A&E doctors. “These numbers are deeply concerning. This is the equivalent of multiple airliners crashing,” he added. 

Cuts and class behind slowing life expectancy

A quarter of a million people in Britain have died sooner than expected—and it’s not about Covid. Between 1980 and 2011 life expectancy in Britain rose steadily at an average pace of close to three months per year. But between 2011 and 2019 that pace slowed substantially.

Had the long-run trend been maintained over the past decade, Britons’ life expectancy at birth in 2022 would have been 83.2 years. In fact, it was just 81 years. Between 2012 and 2022, those 26 months of lost life expectancy in Britain represent approximately 700,000 more deaths than might have been expected back in the early 2010s.

Factors such as Covid explain some of this. But, after all other elements are considered, this leaves 250,000 people who’ve died sooner than expected in little more than a decade. Those are the findings of a new major study by The Economist magazine. 

It is not just the elderly. Improvements in life expectancy have slowed across all age groups. Between end-2019 and mid-2022 Britain had the 19th-highest cumulative excess-mortality rate of

This fits with a “worrying trend” of more 50 to 64-year-olds dying than would otherwise be expected in 2022, notes lcp Health Analytics’s Dr Jonathan Pearson-Stuttard. 

A lot of this is about class and cuts. A government press release in 2021 acknowledged that around 80 percent of a person’s long-term health isn’t determined by the care they receive. It’s caused by wider social factors. Cold, damp homes, for example, increase the risk of developing heart and respiratory diseases.

“Deaths of despair”, from drugs, suicides, accidents and alcohol, play a particular role in Scotland. Death rates from drug misuse are around 3.7 times higher there than in Britain as a whole, making them comparable to the opioid-ravaged US. 

Within Scotland, they are 18 times higher in the poorest 20 percent of neighbourhoods than the richest. Drug overdoses have been second only to covid-19 as the biggest contributor to rising mortality rates in Scotland over the last four years.

Cuts have worsened all this. During the 2010s, spending per person decreased by 16 percent in the richest councils, but by 31 percent in the poorest. Tories also cut benefits and ravaged the NHS.

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