Several hundred patients, residents, health campaigners, GPs and practice staff marched for four hours under a 'Save Our Surgeries' banner. One senior GP called it an ‘historic day for general practice’.
The protest was organised after Jubilee Street Practice revealed in March it faced closure because of crippling MPIG cuts.
As marchers wound their way through the East End, visiting 13 practices along a six-mile route, they were greeted by cheering, clapping and horn-sounding from onlookers. At each practice, the noisy, placard-waving demonstration was met by GPs and staff.
Photos by Wilde Fry
At one small surgery, GPs, patients and pharmacists from next door sat in the waiting room discussing practice funding as they waited to join the marchers.
A GP partner said that despite the practice being one of five outliers in the borough facing the threat of closure, she’d had no contact with NHS England other than a single letter informing them they were one of the 98 hardest-hit practices across England.
GPC gave its support
On the road outside Jubilee Street Practice, GPC chairman Dr Chaand Nagpaul told the cheering crowd over a megaphone that the GPC was ‘absolutely behind you, supports you and is full of admiration for all the work you do'.
He added: ‘We will stand behind you to make sure that your community continues to receive the high quality general practice care you deserve.’
Tower Hamlets CCG chairman Dr Sam Everington told GPonline it was time for marching in the streets. ‘Now it desperately is’, he said. ‘We are seeing fantastic general practice under threat of closure and that is absolutely crazy. That doesn’t make any sense from the NHS perspective.’
Four hours after the march set off from St Katherine’s Dock in the shadow of Tower Bridge, 150 people crammed into Kingsley Hall community centre on the other side of the borough for a rally.
Virginia Patania, practice manager of the Jubilee Street Practice, said the money to fund practices could be found. ‘An A&E winter fund would pay for MPIG in the whole of Tower Hamlets for 14 years. So it's not that there is no money,' she said. ‘And this is how we show the government what we think should be done with this money.’
'The beginning of something very big'
GP and Lewisham hospital campaign leader Dr Louise Irvine said hospitals faced their own funding threats and GPs should not argue for money to be taken from them. ‘I'm not in favour of the idea of robbing Peter to pay Paul,' she said.
‘When I see this fantastic meeting, this packed meeting, clearly representative of this amazing community, I know this is the beginning of something very big,' she added. ‘I know you are going to win if you stray strong.'
RCGP vice chair for external affairs Dr Tim Ballard said politicians were beginning to understand the need for increased primary care funding but that they felt their hands were tied by the two-year budget settlement.
He said: 'It's rallies like this that will make them change their minds. It's you who they take more notice of: you the patients, you the voters, so you need to keep going.'
Jubilee Street Practice patient, doctor and former health secretary Lord David Owen called for emergency legislation to be enacted by the next government to reverse parts of the Health and Social Care Act 2012.
Politicians, he said, were now unable to help practices facing closure because the Act handed control to the NHS England quango. ‘The first response of the people was "we will march". That's an old East End tradition’, he said.
‘Where the next step is is very difficult to see. The important thing is this: banners have been raised.’