GPs join NHS reform 'block the bridge' protest

GPs joined thousands of demonstrators who blocked Westminster Bridge on Sunday in protest at the government's NHS reforms.

(Photograph: Nick Bostock)

Up to 3,000 protestors, many dressed in surgical scrubs, lay down on the bridge in central London at 1pm as a huge ‘Save our NHS’ banner was unfurled across it.

The demonstration came as the House of Lords prepared to debate the Health Bill this week.

GPs including RCGP chairwoman Dr Clare Gerada visited the protest to show their support.

Dr Louise Irvine, a partner at the Amersham Vale Practice, in Lewisham, London said she took part because it was important to show the profession’s anger at the reforms.

‘This Bill has hardly had any scrutiny, it has been rushed through,’ she said. ‘Many MPs have said they didn’t have time to study it properly.’

The reforms were the ‘biggest change to the NHS since it began’, Dr Irvine warned. She argued that the government had no mandate for the reforms, and was trying to implement changes in the face of huge opposition from NHS staff and healthcare organisations.

Dr Irvine said she hoped the House of Lords would delay the Bill for so long that it would run out of time, or throw it out.

‘I’m worried about privatisation and fragmentation of health services, the huge transaction costs of running a market, the loss of accountability of the secretary of state, the postcode lottery as clinical commissioning groups decide what services are available on the NHS,’ she said.

Dr Irvine warned that if the range of services available on the NHS became more limited, patients may be forced to take out private health insurance as a back-up to NHS healthcare.

Dr Julia Hodges, of the Villa Street Practice in Southwark, London, said: ‘Andrew Lansley likes to make out that GPs are backing the Bill and support what he’s doing, but all the surveys of GPs’ attitudes show 60 to 70 per cent do not support it. So it was good to be able to put people straight. I worry our relationship with patients will suffer because of the reforms. They will ask if their GP is benefiting financially from the way they refer. I worry answer may be ‘Yes’ after the Bill.’

But a DoH spokeswoman rejected fears about the NHS reforms. ‘Claims that we aim to privatise the NHS amount to nothing more than ludicrous scaremongering. We have made it crystal clear, time and again, that we will never, ever, privatise the NHS,’ she said.

‘The reality is that we've protected the NHS budget, we are giving more power and choice to patients over how they get treated, keeping waiting times low and cutting bureaucracy so more cash gets to the front line.’

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