Thousands of the UK's junior doctors — medical practitioners who work during their postgraduate training — took to the streets in London on Saturday to protest against new contracts that they say will push them past the breaking point.
Celebrities, including, fashion designer Vivienne Westwood and actress Vanessa Redgrave, were joined by nurses, cancer survivors, and a medical negligence lawyer at the protest. Healthcare workers say proposed pay cuts and longer hours will result in junior doctors making more mistakes while they care for patients.
The march began with a rally in Waterloo Place in St. James, before participants walked to Downing Street and delivered a scroll with hundreds of signatures to the Prime Minister David Cameron's residence. The demonstrators carried colored placards for those who couldn't be in attendance, with blue representing doctors who were working, and red symbolizing those who had emigrated in search of better conditions.
"Never before in my medical career have I been aware of such unity among doctors, nurses, and every other healthcare professional in this country," Lauren Gavaghan said from the stage. "We are not just doctors fighting for doctors, we are doctors who are patients. We are doctors who have families that use the NHS. We will give birth, we will die, we will all need somebody."
When Redgrave took the stage, she said doctors and nurses at West London's Hammersmith Hospital saved her life last April. "Don't give in because you'll win," she said.
Westwood, the 74-year-old fashion star, designed a t-shirt for the campaign, which Redgrave and many other demonstrators were wearing.
"You do have the support of public opinion," she told the crowd. "We need more doctors, not less doctors. Doctors who get enough sleep so they can give their best care to patients."
Another speaker said the British government was trying to turn the National Health Service (NHS) into a private, American-style system, something that would have repercussions for decades and cause people to be denied access to care.
The NHS choir was also in attendance, singing the song that was a Christmas hit last year.
An oncologist and member of the choir who gave her name as G Anandappa told VICE News that morale among doctors is low at the moment.
"It's being enforced on us," said Anandappa, who works at London Royal Marsden, a hospital that specializes in cancer treatment. "We're working really hard, working beyond our scheduled times anyway, going in at weekends, really trying to keep things running, and if they ask us to do extra work on top of that I think that would break us."
She said doctors feel like they've been left out of the decision-making process, though she added that there's still ample opportunity to speak to them about the changes. "We're part of the solution and somehow we've been made the problem," Anandappa said.
Charline Roslee, a 37-year-old junior doctor from Basingstoke, said she had already worked 70 hours this week. She asked: "Is it fair to be providing acute lifesaving care to patients when we're tired?"
Roslee said many young physicians in her field of orthopedics have emigrated because of the conditions under which they are expected to work. "My juniors [tell] me they're leaving, and I can't blame them," she said.
Roslee explained that she became a doctor because she realized the importance of healthcare workers while she was sick as a child. Financially, though, she says she may be forced to leave the UK, and that her life outside work has suffered from the strains of her workplace. "My family think I'm mad for keeping going," she said.
A lot of the ire was directed at British Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt, with the marchers chanting "Hunt must go," and "Trust us, not Hunt."
The protest Saturday was the third of its kind, and a 24-hour walkout is still planned for this Wednesday, when only emergency treatment will be provided in hospitals across the UK.
Follow Sally Hayden on Twitter: @sallyhayd