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CAMPAIGNERS including Ken Loach unleashed an impassioned stream of speeches on the streets of Oxford.

The world-renowned film director, of Kes and I, Daniel Blake fame, joined scores of protesters this afternoon to speak out in defence of the NHS.

Hands off our NHS campaign group led crowds from South Park to Martyrs' Memorial in St Giles, where speakers condemned cuts and privatisation of the National Health Service. 

Mr Loach warned the NHS was 'teetering on the edge of survival'. 

Noting ‘overstretched’ staff, he said: “There is this dreadful pay cap where medical staff and public service workers’ pay has been frozen.”

He said it was ‘deplorable’ that Tory MPs ‘lorded public service workers as heroes after the terrible Grenfell Tower fire’ but days later rejected Labour’s bid to lift the cap.

Mr Loach, who is a keen Jeremy Corbyn supporter, called on Labour MPs to ‘match their leadership’, adding: “We can’t win the fight if our army is lagging behind.

“Labour MPs must be absolutely committed to repressing privatisation of the NHS, not just [committed to] getting into power.

“I think the spirit of our age now is getting there. The election was a sea change: we can get there, if we keep campaigning and keep fighting.”

The group had enjoyed a picnic at South Park to mark the 69th birthday of the NHS, before marching to the memorial via St Clements and High Street at about 2.30pm. 

Historian Ciaran Walsh, who leads the Radical Walking Tour of Oxford, riled up cheering crowds in St Giles with an emotive speech.

He described Martrys’ Memorial as ‘Pied Piper corner’, as many historical meetings and socialist speeches have been held on its steps.

The Oxford Times:

Ciaran Walsh (wearing black) pictured above

Mr Walsh said: “The NHS is our true commons and now they want to enclose it. It is our mother. I was born on the NHS and all our families depend on it.

“My mother worked in the NHS as a nurse – I am proud of my mother, and of my mother the NHS. They mean the same thing to me.”

He urged people to join the fight to save the NHS, adding: “Write down a complaint and send it to your hospital administrator; send it to your councillors and MP. This belongs to us. The NHS was put there for the many, not the few. We only stand together.”

He was followed by Welsh-born Aneira Thomas, who is thought to have been the first baby ever born into the NHS.

Addressing the campaigners, she said NHS creator Aneurin Bevan – whom she was named after - would be ‘turning in his grave’ to see what the service had become.

The Oxford Times:

Aneira Thomas, above, sat on the steps while speaking

She said: “He not only dreamt about changing the future, he did something about it. I compare his vision of changing lives to the famous words of Martin Luther King: I have a dream.

“The NHS is not a bottomless pit. It gets taken for granted…let’s preserve and protect this fantastic service. It is our jewel in the crown.

“I feel there are too many high managers earning six-figure salaries when the frontline workers have to fight for menial pay rises. It’s disgusting. Bevan would turn in his grave to know this is going on.

“He left a legacy and we must not let it slip away.”

London-based surgeon Rishi Dhir reiterated concerns about privatisation and cuts, describing threats to the system as ‘disheartening and worrying’.

The Oxford Times:

Rishi Dhir (pictured holding microphone) 

Speaking at Martys' Memorial, he told crowds: “There is pressure on staff to maintain a particular service and year on year funds and resources are being cut. There is only so much you can cut before quality diminishes and lives are put at risk.

“This isn’t mythology or scare stories: this is what we face every single day.

“I have seen colleagues leaving the NHS in their droves…to be honest, I don’t blame them. Wages are being cut and they are being forced to do the job of two, three or four doctors. We do our best but it gets to a point where you are putting patients’ lives in danger.”

Dr Dhir echoed other speakers by criticising the Conservative party and even sang a protest song with the chorus: “It’s not safe, it’s not fair, but they just don’t care. We did not sign up for this.”

Campaigner Tony O'Sullivan, who was last to speak, described health cuts as 'savage'.

The Oxford Times:

Tony O'Sullivan speaks to crowds in Oxford

He said: "So much more damage will come with the STPs (Sustainability and Transformation Plans).

"We have to be united amongst ourselves in defence of the NHS. We can do this.

"If we join together and persuade other people to join the health campaigns, we will win back the NHS - not just for ourselves, but for our children."

More than one hundred people were estimated to have attended the picnic in South Park, including campaigners from Save Deer Park Medical Centre in Witney, Keep the Horton General campaign, and Keep our NHS Public Oxfordshire. 

The Oxford Times:

Above: NHS campaigners including Aneira Thomas (left) and David Bailey (middle) at the South Park picnic, holding a birthday cake for the NHS