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Wide Differences between NHS staff and ministers

While the government officials continue to extol the virtues of the NHS, staff who run the service have taken to the streets to protest against the policies of the NHS. //

The Department of Health recounts tales of falling waiting lists and increased staff numbers but NHS staff including doctors, nurses, cleaners and other support staff has taken to the streets of Westminster to protest aginst disastrous policies.

Pensioners and health staff could be seen marching round Parliament Square waving placards saying "Save the NHS", while a double-decker bus circled the House of Commons drumming up support for the cause.

A packed Methodist Central Hall, a short distance away from this, saw a rally from union leaders and frontline staff about how Labour's policies were destroying the health service.

Words like "creeping privatisation" and "fragmentation" could be heard as campaigners rallied against deficits, PFI hospital build schemes and privately-run NHS treatment centers.

The NHS organized the day's protest and an alliance of 16 health unions which have come together to oppose the direction the NHS is heading in.

When questioned about the polarizing views of government and health staff, Dr Jacky Davis, a consultant radiologist and member of the British Medical Association, said: "The problem is that the policies are being driven by ideological dogma.

"There is no evidence that increasing the use of the private sector and scaling back on staff and hospitals will be beneficial.

"No-one outside Number 10 believes it will, and so far they have refused to properly consult with us, so it is not surprising the government have not got staff on board." The campaigners recount several negative experiences of the government's policies.

For instance Andrea Shields, a London paramedic, told the rally about a case recently involving a woman who went into labor prematurely at 29 weeks. The woman alleged that cuts made in the system led to unavailability of a free neonatal bed in the London area because of which her colleague was forced to drive to Portsmouth three hours away to get the care needed.

"Not only did it put the mother and baby at risk, it took an ambulance out of the London service for six hours."

She added, in a direct plea to the ministers: "All we want to do is to be able to do our jobs. Listen to us, the front-line staff, not the fancy management consultants."

In the meantime union officials and health workers also spent the day lobbying MPs. Ruth Levin, a London regional officer for Unison, met with her local Labour MP.

She said: "He did seem sympathetic to our concerns, particularly over the private sector, but it really requires a whole sea-change in the way politicians are handling the NHS."

She acknowledged that campaigners faced a challenge because most MPs speak out sympathetically when their local hospital feels the pinch, only to continue voting for the government's policies inside the Palace of Westminster.

Ministers during this time were touring the television and radio studios saying there was no turning back.

As Health Minister Andy Burnham put it: "Actually, rather than putting the NHS under any threat, this is the NHS poised to make one of its biggest leaps forward in its history."

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