LED by its two Darlington organisers, The People’s March for the NHS, entered the town’s Market Square to cheers from supporters on Monday afternoon.

Day three of the protest march from Jarrow to London - to protest at what supporters say is the privatisation of the NHS - saw the marchers complete a 16-mile leg ending at Darlington.

The marchers include a core of around 50 people who plan to cover the entire 300-mile route, but along the way they were joined by well-wishers, including an 86-year-old woman in her wheelchair.

One of the two march organisers, Joanna Adams, said: “Every time you think you can’t go any further somebody beeps their horn and you feel better.

“The NHS is being privatised bit by bit, £12bn worth of services have already gone. We need to stop that process."

She said she was thrilled that their Facebook page had received 198,000 hits the previous day, suggesting growing national interest in the march.

Rohana Azam, the other co-founder of 999 Call For The NHS, the campaign group behind the march, said: “I feel a bit achey, but it was worth it for the reception we got in Darlington.”

Londoner Joe Treasure said he was walking in memory of his late brother Wilf, a GP who died tragically young last year.

“My brother was a passionate believer in the NHS and I am doing the Darlington leg in his memory because he once worked here,” he added.

The marchers and their supporters also attended a rally in Central Hall which was addressed by the leader of Darlington Borough Council, Councillor Bill Dixon.

Coun Dixon said: “It is fantastic that people are prepared to stand up and defend the NHS in this way. “

For more information visit 999callfornhs.org.uk