Tuesday, September 9, 2014

The People’s March for the NHS - the day we filled Trafalgar Square

Let me be clear, I am not political.

But I support the NHS. I have worked in the NHS for 24 years and I love its principles and all it stands for.
The idea that health provision is not for personal gain sits deep within the National Health Services’ principles. So far that, if a patient or service user gives us a box of chocolates as a Thank-you gift, we as staff take it back to the office to share with everybody.
The underpinning concept is this:
the NHS (and all its workers) will provide care for patients, regardless of who they are; whether they are rich or poor; whether they can afford to buy a box of chocolates or not.
So the idea that our health services should be run by private companies who (have to) make a private profit out of the health/sickness of the nation, seems simply very, very wrong.

I love the NHS.
And I love walking.

So when I heard about the People’s March for the NHS, started by a group of people in the North-East (referred to as the Darlomums) and retracing the steps of the 1936 Jarrow March from Jarrow to London, I immediately felt this was something I wanted to be part of.

Being not political I thought of it as a walk rather than a political march.
Having registered with the march for the last five days my anxieties were mostly around practical issues, such as would I have to carry my own luggage; would I need to buy my own food and find my own accommodation?
And being somebody who can take a while to relax around strangers raised the question whether I would fit in with an already well-established group?

I needn’t have worried.
The generosity and hospitality of people was amazing. We were fed and cared for every day. Community centres, the Methodist church and individual people opened their homes and halls for us to use. People cooked for us. Leisure centres let us use their showers. People were amazing!

And as for fitting in with the group?
On the end of my first day, having joined the group in the early afternoon and only walked 5 miles or so, standing along the sidelines watching the rally unfold, Rehana Azam (one of the Darlomums and organiser of the march) said to me “Come and stand with us. You are one of the 300 milers now!”
Thank you, Rehana. That meant so much!

Our core group of 30 people or so was really a bunch of quite ordinary people. And spending so much time together, it seemed easy to get to know people. Walking is a wonderful way to get to spend time and chat.
So my thanks go to all of you who have shared that journey with me.

To Rehana for keeping us all together and making sure nobody got lost. You are amazing! It must have been like herding cats.
To Craig for keeping us chanting and shouting, even when we were dead on our feet.
To Jo, James, Geoff, campervan “It’s a motorhome” Joe and medic Jordan (and all the others I have not met and cannot name) who were keeping us supported and safe by driving, transporting and organising things behind the scenes.
To Icarus and Vinny for managing to get me dancing and singing after marching 15 miles – even if they weren’t at their best the following morning.
To Barbara for her gentle patience and her great humour. And for convincing me that people beeping their horns and shaking their fists angrily are really angry with the NHS cuts,
not me!
To Dr Raj, big John, Jim and Brian - men of few words, but when they speak it is worth listening!
To Dave and Ian for making me laugh all the way.
To Trish for always finding the nearest toilet.
To Nicola for her advice on foot care.
To Carol, Neil, Terry, Ann-Marie, Margaret, Fiona, Stella and Joanne for inspiring me with their perseverance and energy.
To Tone and John for great conversations along the way.
To Geoff, with whom I could have spent hours discussing theology and the role of the church in the political issues of health care and poverty.
To anybody else I may have forgotten to name.
And to all you unknown people out there, who offered us food, refreshments, accommodation and support along the way.
To those who clapped and cheered, shook our hands and even showered us with flowers!

You are amazing. Did I say you were ordinary? You are anything
but ordinary! You are the most extraordinary bunch of people I could ever have hoped to march with!

Thank you for teaching me so much. By the time we reached London to be met by thousands of people I was beginning to realise that the future of our NHS
is a political issue and that I cannot have an opinion about it without being political.

I am beginning to listen more carefully to what politicians are saying about it.
I am beginning to get involved in our local campaign to save our own A&E department.

am political. Let’s keep fighting for our NHS!

Added April 2015:
The fight for the NHS continues, even more so in the run up to the general election.
To follow the events of the Marchers for the NHS, check their website. And join us!


  1. Great piece Anke. Thanks for summing things up so well. I knew all along that you were political because you are someone who cares about others and willing to stand up for what is right ,and that's what being political is about. It was a pleasure to meet and march with you. You do need to do a bit of work on the words of Donald Where's Your Troosers for the reunion though xx

    1. Thanks, Barbara. I promise I'll swat up on Donald Where's Your Troosers. ;)

  2. Just reread this Anke. Thanks for being you and bringing fun, happiness and calm to an amazing experience. You and Will should come up to the north east and stay with us for next year's for the Durham Miners' Gala