HUNDREDS of people marched through York in protest against the “creeping privatisation” of the National Health Service.

Carrying banners bearing the slogans “public health not private wealth” and “patients before profit”, a crowd of about 400 marched from the Minster through the city.

In St Sampson’s Square, a rally described the Government-led changes as “unmandated and unwarranted”.

The changes, which came into force last week, mean GPs will choose how to spend health budgets and private companies will have a greater role in providing care.

March organiser Anne Leonard, a founder member of Defend Our NHS in York, said: “We are aware that many people just do not know what is happening to the NHS. Our practical aim is to bring the changes to peoples’ attention and alert them to the huge risk the NHS is facing in terms of privatisation.”

She said raising the private care income NHS hospitals are allowed to make from two per cent to 49 per cent will significantly reduce capacity for NHS patients, forcing people to take out private health care to avoid long waiting lists and creating an American-style system which “everyone knows does not work”.

Concerns were also raised that competition between private health care providers and NHS services was likely to mean the private sector will “cherry pick” the profitable procedures, leaving a reduced NHS to cope with complicated, expensive needs.

Speaking at the rally in St Sampson’s Square, Jillian Cresey, a GP and leader of Sheffield Green Party, said: “The NHS cannot be about competition.

“It simply will not work if we have private companies cherry picking the most lucrative parts of the service.”

What people at the rally said

• Jonathan Peters, 33, an executive assistant from York, said: “We’re here to support the NHS so it’s not run for profit and people can access it for free. You could see it as a slippery slope – if it’s opened up to some ways of privatisation how far will it go?”

• Kate Meyer, 56, a former NHS employee from Leeds, said: “We are here to support the NHS so it’s not run for profit and people can access it for free. It was built by working people for working people and it should be for everybody.”

• Mike Kenny, 62, a playwright of Bishopthorpe Road, said: “I feel not just this Government, but the one which follows it, needs to get rid of competition and begin to look at collaboration and care.”