SOS NHS demonstration: Take heart – the world is watching

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Often (and in recent times especially) it can feel like our cause is too difficult to fight, but take heart and keep going – the world is quite literally watching.

Samantha Wathan, KONP Press Officer discusses media coverage of the SOSNHS Demonstration

On Saturday March 11th we collectively held our first national NHS demonstration in nearly 5 years. Around ten thousand campaigners, NHS supporters and staff came from across the country to the End the Crisis – Support the Strikes demonstration to stand up and be counted in defence of our NHS. Numerous coaches were organised bringing large groups of enthusiastic people, while some journeyed solo or brought family along for the experience.

I am very pleased to report that the national press and media coverage of the day that we received was excellent. Both print and broadcast media featured the demonstration prominently. I was very encouraged to see that local coverage was also comprehensive, with local BBC stations covering, as well as national radio outlets and many local papers very supportive.

The demonstration was an excellent vehicle to both encourage and develop cohesion and solidarity between unions and campaigns, with speakers in attendance representing many of our major SOS NHS affiliates. Keep Our NHS Public are very grateful for the input and support of unions including Unite, GMB and the BMA as well as like-minded organisations such as We Own It, the Socialist Health Association, Frontline19 and Just Treatment – to name but a few.

Speeches were all well received by the audience and are available to view via our recorded live-stream on our Facebook page, which you can access here Many of our speakers commented on the enormous pressures NHS staff were under, as well as highlighting the damaging effects current government policy was having on patients.

Press and media coverage obviously plays a key role in populating our message, particularly in taking it to places it wouldn’t normally be heard. The fact that we were so successful with this action in the mainstream media (even though demonstration coverage generally is very hit and miss) speaks volumes about how significant people are now perceiving the NHS crisis to be.

Broadcast Media

The day started with a strong lead from broadcasters, setting the tone of the day. Keep Our NHS Public Co-Chair Dr Tony O’Sullivan, as well as SOS NHS campaigner and A&E doctor, Andrew Meyerson, were both broadcast live on LBC radio talking about the need for the demonstration and why it had been organised.

Of particular note (and always a good ally in our demonstrations) was Sky News. Our Head of Campaigns at Keep Our NHS Public, Tom Griffiths, appeared live on Sky News Breakfast talking about the plans for the demonstration and why it was so important.

Sky News continued their broadcast live from the march, interviewing comedian and actor Rob Delaney, as well as Dr Andrew Meyerson, and Dr Tony O’Sullivan. This broadcast was then repeated on hourly news bulletins late into the night, ensuring a very wide reach indeed.

The BBC also reported from the demonstration, interviewing patients and staff, as well as KONP Co-Chair Dr Tony O’Sullivan who was able to explain that the strikes were about far more than just pay.

The following evening (on Sunday) Channel 4 News carried a piece, again featuring A&E doctor and SOS NHS activist, Andrew Meyerson in which he explained that doctors did not want to strike, but that they were being left no choice under a government intent on running down the NHS.

As well as the BBC, Sky News and Channel 4, ITV News was also in attendance, and again, interviewed both Dr Andrew Meyerson and Chair of the BMA council, Professor Philip Banfield.

Al Jazeera covered the demonstration in some depth, speaking to our KONP Co-chair as well as working members of staff who took part in the march.

Press and Print

The demonstration also did very well when it came to print-based coverage. Of particular note was the space afforded to the march in the Daily Mirror and Sunday Mirror. On the day of the action, the story took up all of page two, whilst on Sunday we obtained a hard-hitting double-page spread on pages 8 and 9.

In addition to this, there were good pieces in the Evening Standard, Euronews, Huffington Post, GP Online and the online news blog Left Foot Forward. Keep Our NHS Public Co-Chair Dr Tony O’Sullivan wrote a hard-hitting piece for Tribune which was published in the days prior and The Morning Star also featured the demonstration on their front page on the following Monday.

In my role as press and media officer, it is gratifying to note how (contrary to popular public opinion) very many journalistic colleagues are actually quite sympathetic to the plight of the NHS, it’s patients and staff, and this is evident in the space and time given to us here in defending it.

And it wasn’t just the UK press and media that turned out in large numbers to cover our demonstration. There were journalists present from France, Germany, Arabia and the US who all came to report on and broadcast the circumstances around the NHS crisis.

Often (and in recent times especially) it can feel like our cause is too difficult to fight, but take heart and keep going – the world is quite literally watching.

Samantha Wathen is the Press and Media Officer for Keep Our NHS Public

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  1. What makes this worse is there’s been no consultation or vote on such a huge issue. Who ever said this was a democratic country lied
    The pandemic was the perfect chance to put their privatisation plan into action.
    All to do with money for the big boys and nothing todo with the health of the country!
    Privatisation by the back door!
    This country has gone to the dogs.

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