Today I dragged myself out of bed to attend a local protest fighting to save the NHS.
We started the march at the local hospital, and then the 300-strong of us proceeded into and around the city before finishing with several speeches from campaigners, local MPs and union leaders. Call me an activist, but there’s just something about marching along with hundreds (or ideally thousands) of people, waving placards and chanting in unison, that makes me feel alive. I think it’s just the feeling of solidarity, and the knowledge that all these people cared enough about the issue to get up on a saturday morning and commit their free time to this public display of opinion. It’s a good feeling.
If you don’t know what’s been going on, let me lay it down for you.
Since 1948, Britain has had a National Health Service which is free at the point of use, available to absolutely everyone and publicly funded by the taxpayer. Although we’ve all moaned about the quality of service from time to time, the fact remains that it’s brilliant to have such a service, and many countries – even very rich ones – don’t have anything like it. Now, the Coalition government is in the process of cutting large portions of the NHS and privatising what’s left.
A lot of people are rightly furious about this, as we strongly believe healthcare should be a civic right and not a commodity.
In April 2013 the government changed the law, meaning that they now have no legal obligation to provide healthcare as a public service. Privatisation has already begun, and a shocking £1 billion of taxpayer’s money has already been used to pay shareholder dividends of private “health” corporations. £3 billion of our money has also been wasted on reorganization – turning what was recently a public service into fragmented and lucrative business opportunities. This is all in a time of political austerity, where 5,600 nurses have recently lost their jobs, waiting lists are lengthening, ambulances are under stress and the government has proposed £20 billion of spending cuts on healthcare within just two years.
One of my local hospitals recently had a success story related to this, but it was a prelude to further worry. A health minister wanted to shut down their accident and emergency ward, and their maternity ward. There was huge local opposition, and the community (aided by the staff of the hospital) won a campaign to keep these vital services. However, the government now wants to change the rules. A proposed amendment to the Health and Social Care Act will enable them to shut down not just departments but whole hospitals, even if local GPs say they are essential.
I think all this is diabolical.
We can’t have something as important as healthcare handled by the market, as a commodity. What if people can’t afford it? In America, where they don’t have a public health service, there is a gaping chasm between the healthcare of the rich and poor. The rich can afford cutting edge treatment, the middle class fork out for average healthcare and the poor make do with shoddy treatment at best or nothing at worst. This deepens inequality and stokes the fire of ”class warfare”.
I don’t want that to happen here in the UK, so that’s why I marched.
Public service, not private profit!