Putting the NHS before politics
In reference to your article 'Miliband's adviser calls for BMA to strike' I wish to make clear my own views. It is not true that I am Ed Milliband's adviser; I was on the panel appointed by John Healey, then shadow secretary for health, to review the long term expectations of older people. The panel met only once. It was obvious from the outset that my membership was based on my long-term work as a GP rather than my political leanings. The secretary of state for health, Andrew Lansley, has chosen parliamentary privilege to distort the truth on this as well as my call for the BMA to ballot its members on industrial action. It is a patent untruth that I called on the BMA to strike over the Health Bill. I simply asked that at such a crucial time in the history of the NHS if the BMA should not be balloting its members on what action it should take over the damaging reforms at a time when the BMA had already balloted its members on the issue of pensions. Andrew Lansley has completely misrepresented my view and therefore it is important to clarify this for the public and politicians. It seems hypocritical that when I interviewed him for PULSE as opposition shadow health secretary, he was very praiseworthy of my pro-NHS stance, but now that I have opposed his reforms he regards my views to be politically motivated.
In dealing with any issues relating to the NHS I have always put the latter before my political aspirations. Indeed, my criticisms of New Labour's privatisation aspects of health reforms made Tony Blair remark that I was the "one that's being trying to wreck my NHS policy". For me the entire campaign against the Health and Social Care Bill is about saving a service to which I have devoted all my life. I came to this country over 30 years ago to work in what I believe to be the best healthcare system in the world. During those thirty years I have worked in many aspects of the health service and have also campaigned to ensure that the key principles of the NHS, including free universal healthcare for all, are maintained. I work in Tameside which is a deprived borough where the threat of privatisation raises the risks to those who need the NHS the most; elderly people, those with chronic disease, and the mentally ill are the most vulnerable from the coalition reforms under the Bill.
Political parties know that the NHS is highly valued by most people in this country. Even the Conservatives at the last election pledged not to undermine it, and yet within weeks of taking office the coalition had implemented reforms that were in neither party's manifesto and are based purely on right-wing ideology. The Bill aims to take away the responsibility of the secretary of state for health over the NHS, it will create more bureaucracy, introduce marketisation on a scale never previously witnessed, and turn GPs from clinicians into business managers. I am baffled as to why this Bill is being brought in now, at a time of austerity. The NHS was created in 1948 at a time when the country was recovering from the Second World War by Aneurin Bevan who asserted: "no society can legitimately call itself civilised if a sick person is denied medical aid because of a lack of means”. I am not against reforms but the ideology that a privatised health service can deliver the answers misses the whole point about why the NHS exists in the first place. In my view the fight over the NHS is comparable to Thatcher’s poll tax which led to mayhem across the country.
My response to the Bill hasn’t just been writing letters and articles about why it is seriously flawed. I also started my own e-petition because I was concerned about the lack of democratic accountability of the coalition government and I wanted the Bill to have its 'day in court'. The e-petition broadened the debate amongst all sections of society. It has inspired other activists, spread knowledge about the reforms, it has stimulated Liberal Democrat factions within the coalition to question their own beliefs and forced the Labour Party to raise its game. Opposition to the Bill has come from a wide spectrum including organisations such as the BMA, most Royal Colleges, as well as trade unions and patient groups. The epetition did have its day in court despite attempts by some MPs on the Business Backbench Committee to block it, salvaging a few strands for the democratic rights of those who use epetitions to force parliamentary debate over an issue that evokes public outrage.
The Bill may become law, but those like me who cherish the NHS will continue to fight for the right to universal healthcare as a basic human right regardless of whether they live in flourishing suburbs or inner city deprived areas.