|Frances O'Grady, TUC Deputy General Secretary|
Unions representing hundreds of thousands of healthcare professionals and workers from across the NHS are to step up the pressure on peers with a central London rally as the Health and Social Care Bill enters its final crucial parliamentary stages.
On Wednesday 7 March - under the banner of the All Together for the NHS campaign - nurses, midwives, doctors, physiotherapists, managers, paramedics, radiographers, cleaners, porters and other employees from across the health service will join with patients to fill Central Hall Westminster for a 6pm 'Save our NHS' rally.
The Bill is hugely unpopular with NHS employees and patients, who have major concerns over the effect the draft legislation will have on healthcare by pushing through competition and markets on to the NHS, and allowing the private sector to take over delivering NHS services.
The All Together for the NHS campaign has called the rally over concerns that an NHS with a future based on competition will fragment the health service, worsen the care available to patients, and mean continued uncertainty for NHS employees, with the quality of training and their terms and conditions likely to suffer.
The pressure on the Secretary of State, Andrew Lansley, has been growing in recent weeks with more professional bodies joining the calls to amend significantly or withdraw the Bill completely. The March rally is intended to add to that pressure by demonstrating the broad coalition of opposition to Bill.
TUC Deputy General Secretary Frances O'Grady said: "Some changes have been made to the Bill but not nearly enough. Only this week we have seen a private company taking over an NHS hospital for the first time, as Circle moves in to the Hinchingbrooke Hospital in Cambridgeshire. This will be the future the NHS has to look forward to if the Bill stays in its current form.
"Peers must listen to the concerns of the people that know the NHS best - the staff who work in it. Health workers fear the increased competition and the extension of markets will have a devastating impact on patient care, especially poorer people who will find themselves pushed to the back of ever-growing waiting lists.
"But it's not too late for peers to make a difference and we hope our rally in early March will provide the opportunity for NHS workers and patients to send a loud message across Parliament Square to convince the House of Lords that this Bill would be a disaster for the NHS."