With placards, banners and, in some cases, daffodils, campaigners took to the streets on Saturday to protest over, well, just about everything. NHS job cuts, service closures, marketisation - all were targets of the day of action which saw rallies and marches take place across England and Northern Ireland.

The events were co-ordinated by NHS Together, an alliance of organisations representing staff working in the health service, along with the TUC.

And it made for some strange bedfellows. Among the speakers and campaigners were those from some of the traditionally less militant unions, such as the British Medical Association. But then the events did come as GPs were digesting the news of a zero per cent pay rise.

According to TUC general secretary Brendan Barber, who addressed marchers in Sheffield, the government is in danger of squandering political credit earned through higher investment and improved services. He said ministers should take action to deal with financial problems, should stop imposing constant change and should move away from the current direction which was leading to fragmentation of the NHS.

Health secretary Patricia Hewitt came under particular fire. She might have found Crawley in West Sussex - where she was strangled in effigy - particularly painful.

Apart from inflicting symbolic violence, campaigners used many methods to get their message across. One intrepid group from Cumbria braved the mist and rain to unfurl the NHS banner atop England's third-highest peak, Skiddaw.

Others employed street theatre, stilt walkers and steel bands.

All marchers appeared to share a tremendous affection for the NHS.

Mr Barber was warning against allowing cynics to obscure the real achievements of the health service and its workforce. Presumably Ms Hewitt would back him on that.