Last Tuesday 22nd March, NHS staff and health campaigners from the alliance SOS NHS (the largest coalition yet formed in defence of the NHS made up of over 50 campaign groups, trade unions, health and care staff, social movements and civil society organisations) together with MPs from across political parties, hand delivered their petition of over 170,000 signatures to Downing Street.
The petition called for an emergency funding boost of £20 billion for the health service from the Chancellor, Rishi Sunak in his spring budget the following day. Campaigners sought to raise awareness of the urgent need for extra money to help the NHS recover from the pandemic and obtain fairer pay for health workers during a recruitment and retention crisis.
SOS NHS campaigners believe this money is required to provide funds for urgent staff needs, tackle soaring costs for backlog maintenance and reopen almost 5,000 NHS beds that have not been used since the pandemic began. To stop the continued worsening of the crisis in the NHS, the coalition aims to persuade the Government to take immediate concrete steps to relieve the crisis in hospitals, mental health, primary, community and social care.
What was the result?
Sadly, despite the efforts of so many and the wishes of a high proportion of the general public, more money for the NHS and its staff was not forthcoming in the Spring budget. Staff are increasingly demoralised by what amounts to a pay cut when taking inflation into account, after the most stressful period they have ever encountered. The surgical waiting list now stands at over 6 million, yet no more money has been promised in the spring budget to deal with this.
Prior to the hand in, NHS staff in uniform and MPs travelled around central London on an open-top bus provided by grassroots campaign group NHS Workers Say No. Staff and campaigners performed speeches and communicated the aims of SOS NHS to the public in London who were passing by. This initiative was a massive success and all involved appreciated the chance to voice their concerns and engage in speaking to MPs and the public. Keep Our NHS Public displayed multiple banners and were supported by the public as the bus drove by.
Afterwards the group of campaigners, NHS staff and MPs held a small demonstration in Westminster before then marching to Downing Street for the petition hand in at 3pm.
Petition deliverers Nurse Holly Johnston (petition starter and member of NHS Workers Say No) Nurse Holly Turner (NHS Workers Say No) Dr John Puntis (Co-chair of Keep Our NHS Public) Dr Andrew Meyerson (A&E Doctor) and Alia Butt (NHS Psychotherapist and a member of Keep Our NHS Public) wore black armbands as a mark of respect to the thousands that had died during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Dr John Puntis, Co-Chair of Keep Our NHS Public (part of SOS NHS) says:
“If austerity politics had not reduced the historical annual uplift to funding, the NHS would have had £200bn more in its coffers. With current spending plans this funding gap will rise to £300bn by 2025. Rather than waste money by throwing it at the private sector, we wish the chancellor would invest in the NHS, pay staff properly and make a £20bn down payment to begin urgently needed work to start putting services back on their feet. The NHS is a crucial component of the social wage and even more vital as inflation and cost of living rises continue to wreak havoc on households and consign millions to poverty.”
The day before the budget, Keep Our NHS Public and SOS NHS groups managed to get #SOSNHS trending – urging people to tweet Rishi Sunak to demand emergency funding for the NHS.
The Peace and Justice Project (one of the SOS NHS supporting organisations) hosted a livestream “#SOSNHS – Emergency Funding! Pay Justice Now!” the night before the petition hand-in and have promised to keep promoting the aims of the SOS NHS coalition. The speakers at this event were Keep Our NHS PublicCo-Chair Dr John Puntis, NHS Psychotherapist Alia Butt, NHS Workers Say No activist and nurse Holly Johnston, and MP Jeremy Corbyn.
Supported by cross-party MPs
- Barry Gardinar
- Kate Osborne
- Emma Lewell-Buck
- Zarah Sultana
- Nadia Whittome
- Lloyd Russell-Moyle
- Richard Burgon
- Kate Osamor
- Virendra Sharma
- Ian Lavery
- Jeremy Corbyn (Indie)
- Orfhlaith Begley (Sinn Fein)
In addition, SOS NHS Supporting organisations sent representatives on the day, including: NHS Workers Say No, Keep Our NHS Public, Doctors in UNITE, We Own It, Strike Map.