Jarrow Crusade revived to highlight NHS worries
- 29 August 2014
- From the section England
It's a long old walk, and it's not for the faint hearted.
But since the 1930s, the 280 miles from Jarrow to London has been a marching route for those who feel marginalised politically.
Those taking part in the 21st Century version are now half-way through their trek, and have been picking up support along the way.
It was the idea of a group of Tyneside women worried at what they saw as increasing privatisation of the National Health Service.
I caught up with the 30 or so marchers as they left King's Mill Hospital at Sutton-in-Ashfield in Nottinghamshire. They were into day 12 and half-way to London.
"We've had a wonderful welcome from people along the route. There's been real enthusiasm to the campaign," said march organiser and GMB union official Rehana Azam.
"But our main message is to let people know that the NHS is in danger of being parcelled up and sold off to big private interests. And that we are determined to prevent."
Among the marchers from Jarrow is retired doctor Rajan Madhok, who came from India to work in the NHS.
He's also worked in the USA's health system.
"It's only when you've worked in other countries that you appreciate how special and exceptional the NHS is," he told me.
"It mustn't be allowed to become a privatised market place. That would be a disaster for everyone."
The march cut through the Nottinghamshire constituency of Conservative MP Mark Spencer. He accused the campaigners of scare-mongering.
"The NHS has been supplied by private firms since it was set up. The medicines and bandages are from private firms; even the GPs are, in effect, self-employed businesses.
"The key here is that the NHS is free at the point of delivery, and that won't change under a Conservative government."
But the so-called "People's March for the NHS" gives a strong indicator of the political battles ahead in the next general election.
Labour's Gloria De Piero joined the march as it made its way through her Ashfield constituency.
"Of course, I'm giving it my wholehearted support," she told me.
"Waiting lists are increasing at local hospitals here and nationally. People can see what is happening to their NHS and basically, they don't trust David Cameron to keep the NHS safe."
A more formal response came to me in a short statement from the Department for Health.
"By taking tough financial decisions elsewhere, this government has been able to increase the NHS budget by £12.7bn during this Parliament.
"We're committed to an NHS which continues to be free at the point of use for everyone who needs it."
The NHS Jarrow marchers have another week on the road; Northampton, Bedford and Luton are on the route. Then it's London and Parliament... and a big question: Will it have had the same impact as the original Jarrow Crusade? And will the sore feet have been worth it?