In the past few days, I’ve seen the people of York starting to wake up to the implications of a country with its health system turned completely upside down. My vantage point as a junior doctor in A&E has brought me in contact with people from all walks of life, and have had the pleasure of speaking to them informally about the NHS and the impact of the health reforms. Something which has been missing from the NHS reforms discourse is the patient voice – funny as patient-centred care is supposed to be part of the rationale for the upheaval.
A 90-something year old gentleman came in with chest pain last week and, as I always tend to, enquired about his life as a younger man as a distraction from cannulation. It’s far too easy to miss the real human aspects of delivering care – especially since we’re all pressured to work as quickly (and ‘efficiently’) as possible. This gentleman told me about his evacuation from the beaches of Dunkirk, his military campaign through North Africa, and his involvement in the D-Day landings. He was witness to the birth of the NHS and happy to say, he’s not quite on his last legs yet. It struck me that he may yet outlive the NHS. A saddening thought for someone who had been through some very tough times, and for a proud British institution born on the back of a bankrupted country during the ‘austere’ post-war era.
Another elderly woman said this to me, ‘Nye Bevan would be rolling in his grave if he knew what was going on with the NHS today’.
I believe that if we are to fight for what we believe to be right, it will take more than just sitting at this computer and blogging about it, or making flyers to hand out. It will require real conversations, real people to get up, get out and get your point across to fellow citizens, to knock on doors, speaking at public meetings and organising local groups such as Defend our NHS York. Our attentions must turn also to those decision-makers who may often be molly-coddled through ‘jittery’ situations by their aides. Democracy demands that we challenge them
I’ve been lucky to see and be a part of the fight up in York. York Stop the Cuts has been instrumental in mobilising the peoples response to local council cuts and bringing diverse members of the community together to fight a common cause. I spoke at a protest rally and public meeting this week. At both events, there were those who remembered CND marches at Aldermaston in 1958, poll tax rebels, there were socialists, greens, anarchists, labour councillors, first time activists dipping their toes in the water, trade unionists, doctors, former Lib Dem supporters… all lifted by the recent popular uprisings in the Arab world, all brought together for the struggle against the ideological onslaught on Britain unleashed by the Conservative-led government.
Almost all of the speakers at a public meeting yesterday, full to capacity at around 100 people, talked about the wider impact on the NHS: the increased burden on the NHS through cuts to disability funding, the cuts in jobs (including NHS). The threat of privatisation and NHS hospital closures brought back emotional memories of the effects of the pit closures, and how those old communities are experiencing epidemics of anti-social behaviour and drug use; declining social, mental and physical health. It was clear that the NHS holds a key position in the social psyche of the people of the UK.
The Big Society present at the meeting last night were willing to fight the government, march on Parliament on 26th March, and protect the NHS for the generation being born today. The attacks on the NHS in the guise of the Health and Social Care Bill are an attack on our society.
The Big Society NHS had spoken.