'People don't realise what it is we're giving up' says Leeds resident as crowds march against NHS privatisation

A protest march against the privatisation of the NHS took place in Leeds city centre on Saturday, March 30.

Dr John Puntis addressing the crowd.

The demonstration began with speeches outside Leeds Art Gallery with speakers from the Leeds branch of Keep our NHS Public (KONP), GMB union and various local groups from Yorkshire Health Campaigns Together.

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Crowds then marched down Park Row, along Boar Lane, up Briggate and along the Headrow.

Crowds gathered to listen to speakers in front of Leeds City Art Gallery.

The event is an annual event first organised in 2012 by KONP to protest against the incoming Health and Social Care Act.

John Puntis, Chair of the Leeds branch and national secretary of KONP, retired from his role as a paediatric consultant at Leeds General Infirmary (LGI) two months ago.

He explained the organisation wanted to "protest against what's been done and continues to be done to the organisation of the NHS."

Dr Puntis said that in light of funding cuts and under staffing patients were waiting for elective surgeries, such as knee and hip replacements, and cataract removal, for months.

Speakers from GMB took to the podium.

In his 30 years at LGI, he said: "The work intensity got busier, staffing got worse and beds got reduced.

"By the time I finished, getting children in with complex problems from other hospitals could be hard.

"There were days where we had no beds available."

Dr Puntis wants to see increased funding for the health service.

The Leeds branch of Keep our NHS public organised the march.

"There does need to be proper funding," he said, "The deficit is about £60 billion and NHS trusts are being told they have to balance the books, which is impossible.

"The only way to do it is cut services.

"Even with the new money Theresa May has offered it isn't enough"

He added whilst he didn't believe patients in Leeds would see services cut, he thought under staffing was a continuous problem in the city.

Stacey Booth, regional organiser for Yorkshire and North Derbyshire for GMB, headed up the union's contingent of demonstrators.

GMB launched their Go Public campaign at the march which aims to reverse privatisation and outsourcing.

In Leeds, GMB have successfully campaigned to reverse the outsourcing of estate staff into a subsidiary.

Ms Booth said: “Since the introduction of the NHS Health and Social Care Act in 2012, the NHS has been savaged by swathes of privatisation as the plan accelerated a market based approach to the NHS.”

“The NHS pay deal, which GMB opposed, has done nothing to attract new workers as it was alleged it would and why would it when the nursing bursary has been scrapped.

"You cannot offer a sticking plaster after years of austerity and pay freezes and expect it will repair the damage.”

She added: "The NHS is the one things that unifies everyone, we're all together, trade unions, public, socialist worker groups.

"Everyone comes together to protect it."

Leeds Central MP Hilary Benn also attended the march having spent the earlier part of the day door knocking in his constituency.

He echoed Ms Boots sentiments about the unifying quality of the NHS, saying:"This is an expression of the love and spirit of our wonderful NHS but we need to make sure we look after it for the future, and that is what today is all about.

"Labour has a particular affection for the NHS because it was Clement Atlee's government that created it and it remains a radical idea.

"In Leeds we've got fantastic health services with dedicated staff and this march is also a way to support those people who make our NHS what it is."

Three generations of the Frost family took part in the march to show their support.

Ben Frost, 43, a chartered financial planner and his two daughters Eloise, 10 and Lucie, 12 alongside his parents Tina and David, who first moved to Leeds 50 years ago.

Mrs Frost said: "We are three generations who owe a lot to the NHS.

"People don't realise what it is we're giving up.

"I've got an operation on Friday and I owe a lot of my health to the NHS."

Ben Frost added: "I want to try and stop the death by 1,000 cuts.

"We've all benefited from it and I hope my children continue to benefit for years to come.

David Frost wanted to see "an end to austerity and the slow erosion of services."