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Bridge closed by NHS reform protest

A busy London bridge was forced to close as thousands of protesters joined a demonstration against the Government's controversial health reforms.

Westminster Bridge was shut to traffic as around 2,500 demonstrators took to the streets outside Parliament to highlight their concerns, a spokeswoman for direct action group UK Uncut said.

She said trade unionists, pensioners, comedians - including Josie Long and Mark Thomas - and health workers were among those occupying the bridge between 1pm and 4.30pm.

The protesters wanted to highlight their concerns before the House of Lords debates the Health and Social Care Bill later this week.

The spokewoman said: "It was quite an unprecedented act of mass civil disobedience, with people from all walks of life coming together. Many of the people there were saying that the Bill is going to be a bad thing for not only patients but society as a whole."

A Scotland Yard spokesman confirmed that officers were in attendance at the demonstration but it concluded peacefully with no arrests.

Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the Public and Commercial Services union, said: "UK Uncut has described the threat to our NHS as an emergency and it is absolutely right.

"The Government's Health and Social Care Bill represents the gravest threat to the NHS, one of our nation's finest achievements, since its foundation. Peaceful protest and civil disobedience have a long and proud history in this country, and are a perfectly legitimate response to plans that no-one voted for and no-one wants."

A Department of Health spokesman said: "The principles of our modernisation plans - patient power, clinical leadership, a focus on results - have been widely supported, as reported by the independent NHS Future Forum.

"We accepted all of their recommendations to strengthen the Bill but the most destabilising factor for the NHS would be greater uncertainty and delay of reform to the ultimate detriment of patients. We simply won't secure the future of the NHS without this bill."

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