Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has called on supporters of the NHS to “go to the end of the earth and beyond” to defend it, on a march marking its 70th anniversary.
Thousands of demonstrators arrived in Whitehall on Saturday afternoon following a march through central London to celebrate the anniversary and call for more funding.
Protesters carrying placards and banners reading “Standing together for the NHS” and “NHS SOS” streamed down towards Parliament where politicians, TV stars and union leaders addressed the rally.
Speaking to the crowds, Mr Corbyn said: “We’re here today on this amazing 70th birthday, here in Whitehall, yes to celebrate, but do we have the absolute determination that we will go to the end of the earth and beyond to defend our national health service?”.
The now-familiar “Oh Jeremy Corbyn” chant was sung as he finished his speech to thunderous applause.
Mr Corbyn also appealed to the Government, saying: “In the name of equality, in the name of justice, pay the social care needs that are necessary so people can live with dignity.”
He said: “It is a symbol of an uncaring and cruel and divided society that so many go through mental health stress, so many go through it alone, and so many, sadly, take their own lives.
“I want to live in a society where we have a health service worthy of the name paid for by all of us, for all of us. It’s called socialism.
“I want to see the same principles applied in education and in housing,” he said, forced to pause as cheers erupted.
Crowds then clamoured around Mr Corbyn for handshakes and selfies, calling out “we love you Jeremy” as he made his way into the Houses of Parliament.
Earlier, chants including “shame on you Tories” and “hey, ho, Jeremy Hunt has got to go”, rang out as the march paused outside Downing Street in the afternoon sunshine.
Organisers of the rally have said the Government’s recently announced funding boost was “simply not good enough”.
A placard decorated with balloons read: “Happy 70th birthday NHS, here’s to another 70 years.”
Cheers of “yes” filled the streets as crowds were asked if they were born in the NHS, had been a patient in the NHS and wanted the NHS to be around in 70 years’ time.
Valerie Bossman-Quarshie, a Labour activist and volunteer, said she wanted to give the NHS a “really good cheer” as she held a birthday card aloft to be signed by passing demonstrators.
One of her babies was delivered at St Thomas’ Hospital when her waters broke on the bus, and she has also received counselling after losing twins at nine weeks.
The Londoner said: “Everyone has come up to me saying ‘that’s a nice poster, is it a card?’, and taking pictures and saying ‘Oh I didn’t know it was their birthday’, because everyone thinks it’s just a march, but it’s actually a celebration so we need to get behind it and really trumpet big.”
“They’ve been there for me when I was sick and I just want to be there for them,” she added.
Saturday’s protest was organised by groups including the People’s Assembly and unions.
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesman said: “As part of our long-term plan for the NHS we will increase funding by an average 3.4% per year – meaning that by 2023/24 it will receive £20.5 billion a year more than it currently does.”