We must defend the NHS with everything we've got, writes Mark Serwotka
I’ve now been in hospital for 35 days waiting for a suitable heart for a transplant.
While, relatively speaking, that isn’t that long, I’ll admit it’s hard not to feel the frustration at our outdated organ donor system, which really needs to change. That is in no way to diminish the difficult decisions families face, and no transplant patient could ever repay the gift of life they receive.
It is, however, long enough to confirm something I have always known — that seamless public services rely on layers of people most of us rarely see.
When we picture the NHS we mostly think of nurses and doctors. But being in my position, you get to see so much more and it’s truly wonderful.
The porters who ferry you around, the staff who clean the wards and bring your food, the dietitians who say what should be on your plate, the physios who get you back on your feet, and the specialist nurses like my brilliant transplant co-ordinator team here at Papworth. To name just a few.
Of course, over the years it’s been politically convenient to invent a mythical ‘frontline’, and this is a point we have had to challenge constantly in the civil service. It is just that, a myth — because the people you see couldn’t function without the ones you don’t — but it’s provided cover for governments to hack away at staffing and resources in the hope no one will notice. Well, I’m afraid we do.
Take what happened to me just over a week ago. I was told there was a heart, I was getting my transplant. I was prepped and ready to be wheeled into theatre. My wife and son drove up to Cambridge and my daughter jumped on the first train she could from Bristol, where she is studying.
At the last minute, the team did the final examination of the donor heart and found it was diseased. I naturally felt gutted, and it was especially hard on my family. But the professionalism, the standard of care and the support we had at what was an incredibly emotional time were absolutely phenomenal. We couldn’t have been in better hands.
This is something I honestly think Jeremy Hunt and the Tories will never fully grasp, or don’t want to. They don’t have a genuine sense of how the whole NHS is run. Or our other public services, for that matter. They see them as bureaucracies, first to be vilified, the better then to be cut down to size.
I don’t know how long I’m going to be in here before my transplant, but my stay so far really has hardened my resolve to ensuring we defend our NHS with everything we’ve got.
That means defending the services from budget cuts and privatisation. And it means defending the health workers who have been treated appallingly, with their pay and pensions slashed, their contracts ripped up and even hints now that foreign doctors won’t be welcome in the UK in the future.
This last point makes me particularly angry because from day one, when I first started having problems in 2010, I’ve been looked after by fantastic and dedicated doctors and other professionals from all over the world.
We really can’t say it often or loud enough — our NHS is very special. The greatest achievement of a time of political optimism, when national pride meant public investment. Our health service is the envy of the world, and we can’t afford to let the Tories grind it down.
Mark Serwotka is general secretary of the Public and Commerical Services Union. This post originally appeared on the PCS website.
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