Last night, 500 health professionals marched through London to join more than 2,000 colleagues and campaigners for a rally to Save Our NHS; Jos Bell was there.
Last night, 500 health professionals marched across the river from St Thomas’s Hospital past the tower of Big Ben and into Central Hall to join more than 2,000 colleagues and campaigners for a rally to Save Our NHS; Jos Bell was there
Aside from the occasional heckler and two demonstrators calling for strikes who were quickly bundled out, the audience was of one rallying voice.
A stream of speakers from across the breadth of health workers – from professors to auxiliary staff, interspersed with the occasional politician and video-link solidarity messages from US colleagues, the words rang out consistent and true.
Peter Carter offered the poetry of his profession:
“We are a whole family in the NHS – we are here when the sun comes up and we are here when the darkness falls.”
Dr Clive Peedell, co-chair of the NHS Consultants’ Association, limbering up for his second Bevansrun, did a couple of circuits of the stage to loud cheers before he vented his anger that the bill would ‘bring back fear to the poorest’.
He also cited Patrick Dunleavy of the LSE saying the bill “has all the hallmarks of a policy fiasco”. A desperate thing when it entails the health and wellbeing of so many millions.
Dr Hamish Meldrum, who said the BMA “is proud to stand shoulder to shoulder in support of the NHS”, also chose to take the opportunity to put a current favourite Dave myth into the ether:
“The BMA has supported the NHS since 1948, we just oppose policies which restrict the freedom of doctors to act in the best interests of patients.”
Cathy Warwick of the Royal College of Midwives, having already explained the acute dangers presented to women by a bill she views as fundamentally unchanged from its original, and mother to be of twins, Vikki Mills, called the government’s bluff by saying that as a patient she was very clear as to the intentions of the Bill – and it worried her greatly, especially as she could already see the impact upon her community midwifery team.
Dr Kailash Chand – instigator of the now 175,000 signature e-petition, received rousing cheers when he said the NHS was the finest achievement of the 20th Century, while Dave Prentis, general secretary of UNISON, said it was more popular than the BBC and more popular than the Royal Family.
Then to comedy royalty, Jo Brand, with her background in psychiatric nursing and stand up, engaged the audience with a fusion speech:
“I have a soft spot for Nick Clegg – face down in a bowl of custard.”
Then on the overall prognosis:
“This is going to cause depression – and what do we do when we are depressed – we treat ourselves. And that’s exactly what we are going to have to do!”
Words like splinter, fragment, break, destroy, profit and legal action were accompanied by speaker after speaker calling for collectively opposing the bill and all its works.
TUC general secretary Brendan Barber brought forth huge cheers of agreement when he said:
“Our NHS is not for sale and never must be! Nobody voted for this!”
Interestingly far more observations and mentions were made of David Cameron than of the hapless little Lansley, who was barely referred to. Clearly the PM is now seen as key to the continuation of the Bill – Dr Chand raising cheers of agreement when he said he was unsure whether Mr Cameron was “at best a PR man or at worst a con man”.
He was followed by Professor John Ashton, determinedly unwilling to be stifled by the Lansley approach to discouraging freedom of speech, railing against “this shower – this Dickensian mob who know the price of everything and the value of nothing”.
As a means of highlighting the impact of the Liberal Democrat and Cross Bench peers’ voting patterns, Dr Alex Scott-Samuel, director of Liverpool’s Public Health Observatory, stressed the Bill would result in suffering and death on a large scale and invoked Ghandi’s words:
“Non co-operation with evil is as much a duty as co-operation with good.”
Repeated again and again from front line staff who know the impact first hand:
“This bill is not fit for purpose”;
“It is not about care”;
“It does not assure patient safety or staff security”;
“Patients who need treatment will not get it”;
“Extra layers of management”;
“Profit before patient and business before health – and all for shareholder dividends.”
It could be said, however, that as far as the government is concerned it is indeed every bit fit for the purposes they intend – as paramedic Jim Fahie from the Chartered Institute of Physiotherapists asked:
“What is the real motivation behind it?”
Lord Owen, visibly both angry and moved offered, apologies that the House of Lords had not stepped in to stop the bill:
“The poison runs very deep – it is deliberately placed within… to privatise, challenging the basic values of the NHS. No other institution is as loved – we must build up the strength in the country to make sure it comes back. We must fight for its return.”
Andrew George MP stepped up to the plate but, particularly when he tried to excuse the actions of his House of Lords members, found himself at a heckled disadvantage, bearing the brunt of anger against the party whose actions – with respect to the NHS – he does not support.
And finally, shadow health secretary Andy Burnham brought these vociferous proceedings to a fitting climax; accompanied by his full shadow team, he, like others, evoked Nye Bevan:
“The NHS will last as long as there are folks left with the faith to fight for it.”
He praised all present for “such a fantastic celebration of our NHS – during the fight of our lives”.
In response to the government’s unwillingness to engage in debate in response to Dr Chand’s petition, he also revealed the Opposition Day Debate next Tuesday will once again focus on the health and social care bill – appealing to politicians across the political divide to recognise the NHS represents something special which is worth defending.
However, in recognition of the 11th hour, he also promised that if he becomes Secretary of State for Health in the future he will repeal the Act and restore the NHS.
As one of the speakers afterwards said, it’s a great pity we didn’t do this three or four months ago.
In the meantime, let us leave the final word today with paramedic Dave Skidmore, who pleaded:
“We cannot and must not let Cameron extinguish the NHS flame.”
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• The damage to public health of Lansley’s bill shouldn’t be ignored – Jos Bell, March 6th 2012
• Even GPs implementing Cameron’s health reforms have come out against them – Daniel Elton, February 28th 2012
• Look Left – “A mess… unnecessary… setting the NHS back”: Another attack on the health bill – Shamik Das, February 26th 2012
• Being aware of the risk, how can the government carry on regardless? – Jos Bell, February 25th 2012
• How the coalition is breaking the NHS – Alex Hern, February 15th 2012