Who would have thought that I’d begin a blog championing the words of Beth Ditto. Regardless of my view on their musical talent (I’m kidding, long live the Gossip) there is something to be said about choosing “Standing in the way of control” as the title of their debut single;
“Nobody in the States was that surprised or shocked by what Bush did, but it made everyone I know feel helpless and cheated. I wrote the chorus to try to encourage people not to give up. It’s a scary time for civil rights, but I really believe the only way to survive is to stick together and keep fighting.” (Ditto)
And here we are still fighting, and man look where that fight has brought us. As far as I’m aware, there has never been mass civil disobedience to protect the NHS, which is what makes this Sunday’s Block the Bill so interesting. It’s definitely something I’ve thought (ok, dreamed and longed for) in my years of health campaigning – but as with all decisions on direct action it’s about the right time and the right place.
Now, it’s been a tiring year for NHS campaigners, and I’m beginning to agree with Ditto – politicians have a way of making you feel helpless an cheated. It appears that no number of letters to the editor, internet craze rap songs, impromptu performances outside the Department of Health or UK wide petitions have done enough to halt this colossal bulldozer. Yes, the democratic process is still to be played out, and I’m not one to question the democratic process *cough* but ………. I’m going to.
The farce of the listening exercise did very little to calm the nerves of policy analysts, and, well, anyone really. The pervasive influence of the private sector still exists and the professional bodies with the knowledge to truly speak out on these issues continues to be ignored.
I’m not saying it has been wholly worthless. 363 changes were made to the H&SC Bill in the Commons, the majority of which (you might be surprised to hear) were proposed by the government. Look closer at what these were however, and you’ll see that they were the same one-word replacement made 200-and-something times throughout the Bill. Not so impressive now, is it? Luckily there was always a sense that the Lords were the place where we could have the most impact, and with outspoken peers such as Dame Shirley Williams we can feel a little more assured that debate will be rigorous and challenging.
Is that enough? Campaigning groups have set up some excellent tools to lobby peers over the past few weeks, with the hope that public discontent will be heard through the legitimate democratic process. The problem I have with this process is that a nicely worded letter to Lord Owen (who just happens to be on our side anyway) makes me feel like I’ve done something, but it doesn’t make me feel I’ve done everything.
I feel, and have felt for a long time, a deep passion towards the NHS. Not because I have strong feelings for hand sanitiser and those flappy plastic doors that catch your bag when you walk through them, but because I love our health service. I truly love that Britain developed a health system based on equal access to good quality care for all. I cherish the fact, that despite where you live, how much you earn, what your health status is and where you came from, you have the right to get better. It feels to me, that a long poetic description of my over-emotional attachment to a network of hospitals isn’t going to fly too well with Lord Owen, regardless of his shared support. And that’s the problem with the NHS and our democratic process. I feel constrained by the words I write on paper, they don’t express me, and they don’t express the way I value a publicly funded health system, and the intrinsic value of health.
If Lansley insists on passing these reforms then there is one thing I know I can do that does express how I feel. And whilst 400 health professionals signing on to an open letter is of relative power and influence; 1000+ people standing in the way of control just feels like so much more. Block the Bill isn’t just about direct action for the sake of direct action. Block the Bill is a way for us to express our ourselves outside of the “political process” we’ve been made to feel is the only way. If you’re a citizen of this country and you value the NHS, then do something that makes you feel like you’re making an impact, and not just something that you have been told will.
Opinions expressed in this blog are of my own and not that of Big Society NHS