British actress Vanessa Redgrave paid glowing tribute to the National Health Service on Saturday, while likening the current dispute over junior doctors to the Thatcher government's undermining of the NHS.
Speaking at a rally in Central London in support of the medics, who are currently in dispute with the Tory government, the 79-year-old activist told of being rushed to hospital in 2015 after suffering a heart attack alone in her flat in Chiswick, West London.
"My life was saved at the end of April last year by NHS consultants, NHS junior doctors and nurses in Hammersmith Hospital, thank you," she said.
Excoriating the government for overstretching NHS staff, Redgrave told of how her father, Sir Michael Redgrave, had his own care undermined by the Thatcher government during his 12-year battle with Parkinson’s disease.
"My father died aged 70 in 1985,” she said. “The hospital doctors told me and my brother that they'd got rid of the trouble he was in hospital for - Parkinson's disease had blocked his bowels. But they said next time it gets blocked don't bring him back, we haven't got enough beds.
“That was Mrs Thatcher's government, and my father was just one of the fathers."
British fashion designer and activist Dame Vivienne Westwood also addressed the several hundred demonstrators at the rally, which comes ahead of a 24-hour strike on Wednesday. During the industrial action, junior doctors will provide emergency care only.
Westwood told the crowd: "Junior doctors are the future and you will win. You are fighting to protect the National Health Service, the NHS. To protect it from Government cuts.”
“We need more doctors not less doctors. Doctors who get enough sleep so they can give their best care to patients," she added.
The action was sparked by reforms by Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt, including the introduction of a seven-day working week throughout the NHS. The government claims this will result in a better service for patients, however junior doctors contend that the change in contracts will mean they work more hours for less money. Extra shifts in the evenings and at the weekends will also compromise the standard of patient care, they argue.
The British Medical Association has called the reform, "bad for patients, bad for junior doctors and bad for the NHS."