London, United Kingdom – “The National Health Service is the closest thing the English have to a religion,” declared former Conservative Chancellor Nigel Lawson in 1992. How ironic it is then, 20 years later, the entirety of England is being forced into a new form of atheism by the Tory-led British government.
It is now only a matter of days before the deeply contested and controversial Health and Social Care Bill is expected to become law. As you read this, Britain’s House of Lords giving the bill its third and final reading. Commentators have suggested any of the Lords’ amendments may be considered, and Royal Assent granted, signing the law into effect, as quickly as tomorrow, March 20.
A summary of the proposed reforms are as follows:
- Abolishing Primary Care Trusts (PCTs) and giving their powers to groups of GPs
- Introducing more “competition”, so patients can choose where they are treated
- More focus on locally run services; budgets and facilities to be “managed and run” by GPs.
- Establishing an “independent” NHS Board for commissioning guidance and allocation of resources.
While writing this piece, not one person I spoke to was willing to go on record to be quoted as supporting this bill – just one illustration of just how detested and despised it is. The introduction of the Health and Social Care Bill is destroying a right – a fundamental right to free healthcare at point-of-need for all Britons. This right exists in this country, regardless of your age, health, wealth, background or beliefs and has been so since 1948. This is our NHS – from cradle to grave. We own it and we pay for it, but soon it is to be ripped from the hands that have carefully cherished it for decades and placed into the grasping claws of profit driven, private providers … //
… The elderly lead the fight-back:
Someone else who thinks the NHS is invaluable is June Hautot, a 75-year-old resident of Tooting, South London, who has been hitting the headlines over her relentless “Kill the Bill” protesting. The Keep Our NHS Public campaigner has been fighting hospital closures and creeping privatisation for 25 years and told me of her own experiences of the NHS.
“I’ve been on vital medication for 50 years and my first child died only five days old,” she said. “My second child was very sick and was transferred to another hospital – without the NHS, he wouldn’t be here today. The NHS came in just six months before my mother died, but the difference it made to her and my father was vital. Things were so much easier for them both and I am so grateful for that.”
June, who has become something of a heroine to many, has been described as “Wonderful”, “Woman of the week” and “The granny who bo***cked Lansley”. This is the moment she confronted and cornered Health Secretary Andrew Lansley outside Downing Street. Lansley, as you can see in the video, was startled out of his wits at being caught off the cuff, and was trapped by an angry June as he attempted to escape to attend a meeting.
“I honestly had no idea that Lansley was going to be anywhere near Downing Street that day,” explains June. “I went there to protest against Cameron’s summit on the future of NHS reforms, then out of nowhere Lansley appeared and walked smugly across the street towards me with his hands in his pockets. I thought to myself, no, you’re not getting past me until you answer my questions.”
As Lansley tried to get past, she shouted: “You can wait, you can wait for a change, just like people are waiting for beds now.” She told me that he then “did his usual”, and denied the health service was being privatised. June screamed at him: “Don’t you dare lie to me; you’ve been privatising the NHS since 1979.”
June is just one of a number of elderly protesters pounding the pavements, passionately protesting. She laughs as she tells me: “People say: ‘June what are you bothering to campaign for?’ I say to them: ‘You know why, us older people have grown up with the NHS and we remember what it’s like not to have it.’ The younger people don’t know any difference, but I remember going without, because we had to go to a little office and pay for our health. We need to fight to make sure it doesn’t go back to that for our future generations. The ones that will really suffer will be the vulnerable, the ones that can’t afford private healthcare. It is morally wrong to make profit out of people’s misfortune.”
Shirley Murgraff, an 81-year-old activist who spoke to Al Jazeera last year, is a lifelong campaigner for the NHS. She joined UK Uncut on a recent protest outside the House of Lords. The protesters blocked the road in front of parliament, and UK Uncut filmed the moment Shirley was picked up and carried away by police.
“David Cameron bangs on about his ‘Big Society’,” said Shirley, who has vowed never to stop protesting, “but what he doesn’t seem to realise is the NHS is the best example we’ve got of a big society. It’s a unique example of a civilised society, caring and helping those not so fortunate.”
Police carry 81-year-old Shirley Murgraff away from blocking the road outside parliament [UKUncut/YouTube]
She tells me that she “normally” protests with the National Pensioners Convention and that it’s been very encouraging to see older people leading the NHS protests.
“I always say to other pensioners, we don’t give up just because we’re old. We need to keep fighting, make our voices heard – and if they’re not getting heard, make them heard by increasing the tempo, pace and ferocity until we are heard.”
Professionals protest: … (full long text).
From cradle to grave: The death of the NHS? “Privatisation” in England’s universal healthcare system gives an alarming prognosis, warn medics, October 13, 2011;
British health activists occupy London bridge: Demonstrators shut down Westminster Bridge to protest bill that would “privatise the free healthcare system”, October 9, 2011;
British aid to India, The last mile, March 20, 2012;
The world economy – Can it be … the recovery? The outlook for the world economy is better than it was, but there are still big risks out there, on The Economist, March 17, 2012.