The People’s March to ‘save the NHS’ was given a rousing welcome as it passed through Mansfield and Ashfield this week.
The 300-mile trek organised by a group of Jarrow mothers in protest against what they say is the privatisation of the National Health Service is inspired by the 1930s Jarrow March against poverty and unemployment.
Hundreds of people from the Ashfield and Mansfield area including health workers politicians, trade unionists and patients marched with banners held high through Sutton Kirkby, Newstead, Hucknall and Bulwell before arriving at Nottingham Forest’s Recreation Ground.
Marchers were welcomed with a rally in Mansfield Marketplace on Wednesday and set off on their journey from King’s Mill Hospital on Thursday morning.
Motorists pipped their horns in support and residents debated the issues with the demonstrators when the march moved on to Outram Street in Sutton.
As demonstrators mingled with the curious and committed on the streets of Ashfield and Mansfield the march sparked a debate about claims the NHS is being quietly privatised.
Labour Party politicians joined the marchers.
Coun Linford Gibbons said: “The march was fantastic - it went through Sutton and Kirkby and by the time it reached Hucknall it had trebled in size.
“The coalition Government wants to break the NHS up for profit. We will end up paying for various services and it will cease to be free at the point of use.
“A new agreement coming in will mean private American firms can come in and bid for NHS contracts and as far as I’m concerned it’s privatisation through the back door.
“Private companies are already employing staff on zero hours contracts at King’s Mill and I think that leads to low morale.
“I was moved by people from our area and from miles away who came to support the march because they said their lives had been saved by the NHS.”
Coun Jim Aspinall said: “I was absolutely amazed by the commitment of ordinary mums from Jarrow who have touched a nerve of the nation as I was by the support of residents and people not involved in the march.”
Intensive care nurse and GMB rep Zillah Warren, 43 of Kirkby said: I am fighting for the NHS because this is what we need. I work here, my family are here, we need these services. If we lose the NHS we are going to lose a massive service and find ourselves in a mess.”
Others criticised the Private Finance Initiative (PFI), which has left King’s Mill Hospital with a mountain of debt.
Rehana Azam, organiser of the People’s March to Save the NHS, said: “We are a group of mums from Darlington and we are really scared about what is going to happen to the NHS for future generations. We feel it is our civic duty to do this march raise awareness and get the politicians to listen to us.
“It’s been incredible. We came to Mansfield last night and we were greeted by hundreds of people. It’s just amazing to meet so many people sharing their local stories.
“We have a nice hospital here, King’s Mill Hospital but it’s crippled by the PFI arrangements in place.”
Hospital worker Jon Dale, who emphasised he was not speaking in an official capacity, said: “We have heard day after day from big business aiming to take over the contracts from the health service in order to make money that should be spent on patients.
“This hospital like many others is suffering under the huge burden of the Private Finance Initiative, a massive amount of money that is going to companies taking billions out of the service. Unfortunately that PFI was brought in under a Labour Government.”
In a statement, Liberal Democrat Coun Jason Zadrozny said the march had been hi-jacked by Labour politicians who were scaremongering.
He said: “The NHS is something that is in everyone’s hearts. Indeed, my dad recently spent time in King’s Mill Hospital - we have nothing but praise for the staff at our hospital.
He added: “When King’s Mill Hospital was rebuilt in 2005 at the cost of £700m - the Labour Government borrowed the money from the private sector.
“Recent Freedom of Information requests reveal that because it was built under the controversial Private Finance Initiative – the actual repayment to private companies will be closer to £2 billion.”
Mansfield Socialist Party is hosting a public meeting tonight, from 7.30pm, at Ladybrook Community Centre, entitled: After the People’s March for the NHS, how do we build the campaign to save our Health Service?