DOZENS of protesters took part in a march and rally against the privatisation of NHS departments in Cornwall.
The protest, culminating on Lemon Quay in Truro, was led by public service union UNISON to highlight the dissatisfaction of staff at the proposal to put so-called hotel services out to tender.
The decision to privatise the departments, which include portering, cleaning, catering and security, was made at a board meeting of the Royal Cornwall Hospitals Trust and will affect 600 jobs in the county, it was said.
Diane Sockett, a domestic assistant at Royal Cornwall Hospital, said: "It is just passing the buck to someone else and that is going to make life better for them but puts the problems back on the workers and patients.
"If they do this and make us private it will be a ripple effect and before you know it, it will be nearly all the NHS that is taken over.
"It is frightening. It is people's lives that they are risking. It is what our fathers and grandfathers fought for, so that whether you are a billionaire or if you haven't got any money, you can get healthcare."
The move is claimed to be the largest example of NHS privatisation in the country.
Protesters say they fear the NHS is becoming more focused on cost-cutting than patient welfare.
Julie Richards, a cleaning services assistant at West Cornwall Hospital in Penzance, said: "I went for the job because I wanted to work for the NHS and I expected to retire from the NHS. We have great pride in our jobs and I'm afraid of we get taken over we will be stretched too far.
"Why start at the bottom with those working for minimum wage? Why not start at the top?"
In a statement UNISON said: "UNISON fears that services and patient care will be compromised by the drive to cut costs and to make profits for the shareholders.
"The current services provided by the NHS staff are high quality and cost-efficient. The in-house team has been delivering savings year on year and improving the services provided. UNISON believes that if there are any more savings which could be delivered these should be ploughed back into patient care not paid out to private company shareholders.