Health campaigners staged a high profile demonstration against the privatisation of the NHS at a Hartlepool health centre run by Richard Branson’s Virgin group.
Protestors waving placards dressed as medics and Branson outside the GP-led walk in health centre as part of One Life Hartlepool, on Park Road.
The event was organised by The People’s NHS campaign group and was attended by local residents, Green Party members and the National Health Action Party.
They were supported by members of the Save Hartlepool Hospital and Town of Hartlepool Challenge groups which are calling for services to be reinstated at the University Hospital of Hartlepool.
Robert Price, chairman of the Hartlepool Green Party and also chairman of National Health Action North East, said: “The NHS is being privatised by stealth.
“We are interested in protecting and maintaining a publicly owned and publicly run NHS.”
The campaigners also protested against Virgin Care operating under the NHS logo and said the public were being misled.
He added: “It is wrong to allow private companies to use the NHS brand to provide services for those who are ill and vulnerable and to portray themselves as part of the NHS.”
A Virgin Care spokesman said: “Virgin Care has run Hartlepool NHS Walk-in Centre since it opened five years ago and during this time we have treated more than 160,000 patients, with nine out of 10 patients saying they would recommend the service to friends and family.”
Hartlepool and Stockton-on-Tees Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) commissions local healthcare services.
Dr Paul Williams and Dr Nick Timlin, locality leads for the CCG said: “All organisations providing healthcare services on behalf of NHS Hartlepool and Stockton-on-Tees CCG are subject to the same procurement process, quality checks and controls to ensure that our services are delivered to a good standard.
“All providers of services have an NHS standard contract and are required to deliver both local and national quality requirements.”