On June 30th in London we celebrated the 70th birthday of the NHS. A 70th birthday party should be a happy affair; a chance to reflect on a long and fruitful life lived, a time to rejoice in the triumphs and benefits of deeds done and lessons learned, a time to come together and be thankful.
We did come together, and we were thankful, but we were also sad, angry, passionate, determined and utterly sick and tired of the negative headlines, the lies, the lack of consideration and the almost criminal neglect of our NHS from this government. This wasn’t merely a birthday party (where everyone was invited), but a protest, a rallying cry, an expression of anger. This wasn’t what a birthday party should have been about, this wasn’t the vision founder Nye Bevan had for his beloved NHS – this isn’t how it was ever supposed to be.
During the time of the 70th birthday celebration we were treated to an outpouring of the finest stage-managed rhetoric and insincerity from members of this government and indeed from the Prime Minister herself. The same woman who last winter maintained the NHS was “better prepared than ever before” was simultaneously cancelling urgent cancer operations. This same woman waxed lyrical about the benefits of a public healthcare system and denied there was any crisis whilst patients died in corridors and in the back of ambulances waiting to be seen. The same woman whose government have robbed the service of so much stood up and said she would “always put it first”. If all of this doesn’t fundamentally insult your intelligence, doesn’t fuel a productive anger; then there’s little that will.
On June 30th I was in the privileged position of being backstage at the demonstration, of standing with the NHS Choir as they began the afternoons proceedings that would see politicians, celebrities and clinicians standing side by side in their defence of our best loved institution.
They opened with a cover of Rachael Platten’s Fight Song.
Founder of the NHS Aneurin Bevan famously asserted that “the NHS will last as long as there’s folk left with faith to fight for it”; he arguably predicted a time when the Tories would threaten the service to the point where summoning an organised opposition would be necessary, but I wonder if he could have imagined to what extent and with what consequences. I wonder if in reality even he would have predicted that a Conservative government could take a service that saves lives to the point of near collapse. His encouragement to fight has never been more pertinent than it is today.
It is a wholly ridiculous, not to mention heart-breaking state of affairs when NHS staff who only want to help their patients, who only want to do a good job in a profession that calls them have to sing this song and watch as 50,000 members of the public join them in protest, banners waving, streets closed causing a spectacle. It’s truly heart-breaking how a movement must be summoned in opposition to those in government who would see people suffer and die in order to serve a political point.
What are we fighting for? Properly funded, publicly provided healthcare for all of us, nothing more, nothing less. Healthcare free at the point of use, (including by the way, for those who have picked this fight in the first place). Who are we fighting against? The government, the very ones elected by the people to protect us, the ones we must trust to look after us all. The ones who have officially failed in this most basic and fundamental of duties.
A couple of years ago I wasn’t politicised. I, like so many other people; cheerfully buried my head in the sand, mistaken in the assumption that our NHS would always be there because the reality was too awful to contemplate, but mainly, (if I’m honest), because I’d never really even stopped to consider the alternative.
So, two years ago when our doctors pleaded with the government for better patient safety and their pleas fell on deaf ears, I sat back. When I bothered to really listen to reports of a winter crisis for the first time I sat back, and when I was lucky enough to hear campaigners speak on the news about threats to their local services, I sat back.
I, we, all of us won’t and can’t sit back any longer, we will stand up and be counted. We will keep fighting, keep singing this song until there is no need to sing it any more, until people stop dying needlessly, until the NHS is given the funding and attention it deserves, and until people can go to work without worrying whether impossible conditions may see an end to their careers.
So don’t sit back when they try and close your local hospital, don’t sit back while they privatise your local NHS services and don’t sit back when they try and tell you we cannot afford our NHS. Don’t sit back as little by little this government set about trying to destroy the only pure advert for socialism we have left.
Lobby your local MPs, talk to your friends, families and neighbours. Protest your health service cuts, join Keep Our NHS Public or another local group, take up banners, speak to the press, make noise, save the service for your children. Fight for your NHS as a publicly provided, publicly owned service.
Don’t sit back; stand up.