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Jeremy Corbyn leads march against British NHS cuts

The NHS was labeled a "humanitarian crisis" by the Red Cross after it revealed it had to rely on loaned Land Rovers to transport patients. The struggling health service is the world's fifth-largest employer.

Thousands of people, led by British Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, descended on London to protest cuts to the National Health Service.

Corbyn told the crowd the NHS was in a crisis "made in Downing Street."

"The NHS is in crisis, in crisis because of the underfunding in social care and the people not getting the care and support they need," he said. "It is not the fault of the staff. It is the fault of a government who have made a political choice."

 

Ahead of the protests, trade unionist Dave Prentis said it was vital that the Conservative Party government allocate more funding to the struggling service in its budget unveiling next week.

 Protesters holding placards gather during a demonstration in support of the NHS in Tavistock Square (Getty Images/J. Talyor)

Many claim the NHS is buckling under the strain of an aging population and reduced spending on social support networks

"It's not good enough for the government to say it is investing in the NHS when all around services are being cut back," Prentis wrote in a Friday statement on the website of UNISON, Britain's second largest trade union.

"Ministers must accept responsibility for their failure to properly support health workers who are going flat out to cope with increased demands and fewer resources."

The group planned to march from Tavistock Square in the city's inner north to Parliament Square. The protest was called by anti-austerity campaigners the People's Assembly and Health Campaigns Together and supported by British tabloid "The Daily Mirror," which said the group was rallying against government plans to cut 20 billion pounds (23 billion euros or $25 billion) from NHS services by 2020.

 Supporters posted images of the demonstration on Twitter.

Campaign organizers called the government's Sustainability and Transformation Plans "a smokescreen for a massive program of hospital and community service closures" and "its latest instrument for privatization."

Restructure is the best hope

A report by British health think tank Kings Fund published in February found the 2016 plans offered "the best hope for the NHS and its partners," but "cuts in social care and public health and a lack of earmarked funds to support transformation will affect the ability of NHS organizations and their partners to implement (them)."

Larry Sanders, a spokesman for the Green Party of England and Wales and brother of US Senator Bernie Sanders, wrote in the British daily "The Guardian" that the UK was "simply not providing enough care and support for people in the community, at home and close to where they live."

"This means elderly people are more likely to end up in hospital, and when they get there it is more difficult to get them home again," he wrote.

Fifth-largest employer in the world

Founded in 1948, the struggling health service is the world's fifth-largest employer with 1.5 million staff. Voters cherish the service, and its management - or mismanagement - has the power to decide elections. Brexit campaigners used the service as a major campaign issue, promising the divorce from the Europe Union would free up 350 million pounds for the NHS.

Corbyn repeatedly lashed out against the management of the service by Prime Minister Theresa May's government, saying "the legacy of her government will blight the NHS for decades."

May argued that no government had ever invested as much as she had, promising an extra 10 billion pounds over six years until 2020.

Humanitarian crisis

In recent years, stories of NHS failure covered newspapers as it struggled to cope with a growing and aging population and austerity policies. 

In January, Richard Kerr, a member of the Royal College of Surgeons, said he had never seen such a serious situation in his 26-year career. Red Cross chief executive Mike Adamson labeled it a "humanitarian crisis," in comments described by May as "irresponsible and overblown."

"We acknowledge that there are pressures on the health service; there are always extra pressures on the NHS in the winter," she said in January.

In 2015 Britain spent 7.7 percent of its GDP on public health, compared to 8.6 percent in France and 9.4 percent in Germany, according to OECD figures.

aw/sms (AFP, Reuters)

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