Shadow Health Secretary addresses rally in Bedford on NHS, replicating the Jarrow March of 1936

NHS rally in Bedford.
NHS rally in Bedford.

The NHS should put ‘compassion over competition’ Labour’s Shadow Health Secretary said in Bedford last night, Tuesday, September 2.

MP Andy Burnham was addressing a rally in Bedford after joining marchers as part of a nationwide walk to save the NHS.

He gave a speech in Harpur Square before a passionate but good natured crowd of around 200 supporters.

Speaking to bedfordtoday, Mr Burnham said: “This march is important on so many levels. The NHS is being broken up without the permission of the people. The NHS is one of the most cherished institutions in this country. There are changes being made without people’s consent across the country and here in Bedford.

“The first thing a Labour Government would do is repeal the law which puts the NHS on the path towards privatisation. We want compassion over competition - people over profit.

“The march shows an incredible expression of pubic support for the NHS. Apart from Danny Boyle’s opening ceremony at the 2012 London Olympics this is the biggest manisfestation of support for the NHS. Local media like bedfordtoday and the Times and Citizen is doing a great job in reporting the concerns of the population.

“People in Bedford will say of this march: ‘Thank god someone is fighting back.’ I know how highly the people of Bedford value the NHS and the party which created the NHS does too. It’s also important we remember the spirit of the original Jarrow Crusade.”

The ‘People’s March for the NHS’ is making its way from Jarrow to London replicating the route of the original 1936 march against unemployment and extreme poverty. The protest march, which left Jarrow on August 16, is calling at 23 towns and cities on the 300-mile journey to London.

Patrick Hall, Labour’s Prospective Parliament Candidate for Bedford and Kempston who was with Mr Burnham, added: “What this march does is remind us all Bedford Hospital is very important for local people, and what happens here in Bedford is a reflection of what is happening nationally.”

Beds Euro MP Richard Howitt said: “I know many of my constituents in Bedfordshire share the concerns of the marchers and it’s vitally important to express our concerns about Government measures undermining the NHS. This is a real threat to the whole country and I commend what these people are doing. It’s clear a lot of people are concerned about what the Government is doing to the NHS.”

Penny Fletcher, Labour’s Mayoral Candidate for Bedford, said: “If we don’t fight for our NHS, the government will take the money we pay into the NHS and will give it to private organisations existing to make a profit. Is that what we pay our taxes for? This was definitely not the intention of Nye Bevan, the Labour Party and all those people who battled to eliminate disease and illness and to make healthcare free at the point of contact.”
Steve Sweeney, Bedford co-ordinator for the march who is a former healthworker and currently Regional Officer for the GMB, said: “The march is highlighting the devastating impact of government policy which has seen privatisation, closure of vital services and underfunding in the most dramatic changes in NHS history. We believe the government is hell-bent on destroying the NHS.”

The Jarrow March was a protest in October 1936 against unemployment and extreme poverty suffered in North East England during the Great Depression which carried an 11,000 name petition to London to ask for help from the govenrment after the closure of their shipyard.

The 207 marchers travelled 300 miles from the town of Jarrow to Westminster via Bedfordshire to lobby Parliament - but Tory Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin refused to meet the marchers, and no support was given.

The town’s shipbuilding industry remained closed, with the marchers given £1 each for the train fare back from London. The last survivor of the march, Con Shiels, died in 2013 aged 96. His daughter, Moya Green, said: “Dad loved talking about it and remained proud of his role in the event throughout his life and always spoke with pride of his fellow marchers, who won international admiration for their dignified protest.”