They came from all over the country united in their concern for the present state of the NHS and their fears for its future. Different sources estimate attendance from "tens of thousands" to 250,000.
From "Save Our Services Cumbria" (Whitehaven Hospital), to "Hands off Huddersfield Royal Infirmary", to "Calderdale 999Call for the NHS" (above), to "Defend our NHS York", to "Bristol Protect our NHS", to "Sussex Defend the NHS", all were protesting about planned or actual A&E, acute units or whole hospitals closures. Health Campaigns Together and the People's Assembly had done a superb job calling together dozens of NHS campaign groups and organizing the biggest NHS demonstration in central London in decades.
The range of banners, placards and costumes were wonderfully imaginative.
And our very own Charing Cross campaigners:
Many more pictures are stored on our Facebook page.
The campaigners assembled in Tavistock Square at 12 midday, where they listened to Dr John Lister from Health Emergency, BMA, and nurses and midwives representatives, Dr Philip Hammond (GP, comedian and "Private Eye" columnist), SOH Chair Merril Hammer and the Leader of Hammersmith and Fulham, Stephen Cowan, among others. The National Health Singers sang their now famous NHS anthem.
They then moved down through narrow Bloomsbury streets to Whitehall and Parliament Square. A police helicopter hovered overhead liaising with officers on the ground.
As we squeezed through the streets near Covent Garden I asked a waitress outside a cafe how long the protesters had been coming through. She answered: "Two hours". I hugged her!
At Parliament Square I asked a police Superintendent how many we were. He answered 10 - 12,000. This seems on the low side given that we filled Parliament Square and the approach from Whitehall. Anyway it was definitely "tens of thousands". This is an utterly enormous number given that there has been NO publicity about the Slash, Trash and Privatize plans for the general public to understand what is at stake. Only those with a special interest - NHS personnel and students, trade unions, campaigners and politicians - have grasped that now is the culmination of an insidious attack lasting 40 years on every part of the NHS, from the Junior Doctors' contract and the removal of student nurses' bursary to the waste of the internal market (adding 10% to admin costs), the CCGs set up under the Health and Social Care Act 2012, PFIs (cost x 6 or 7 - "Wonga" hospitals) and the serial "re-disorganisations" foisted on the NHS by highly paid, unwanted management consultants like McKinsey, and their plans for US-style Accountable Care Organisations.
At Parliament Square John McDonnell and Jeremy Corbyn, Dr Louise Irvine (Lewisham campaign and National Health Action Party) and many trade union leaders addressed the crowd.
The weather was good, the mood was one of anger, anxiety but also solidarity. There were so many placards with Nye Bevan's famous words:
PS: Please return the Save Our Hospitals Charing Cross and Hammersmith placards - we will need them for another outing soon, I'm sure!