A couple of months back, I took part in a protest in support of the Babington Hospital in Belper, which was threatened with reduction in services or closure. With the ongoing campaign to protect the also threatened Newholme Hospital in Bakewell and the targeted Oker Ward of the Whittington Hospital in Darley Dale, it feels appropriate to publish the transcript of my speech from the Belper protest, as a unifying call for support for our hospitals across the region:
"The NHS. Fondly called the envy of the Western World. Founded on the principle that everyone - man or woman, pensioner or child, labourer or manager, should be entitled to a basic minimum standard of healthcare - and should not be forced to pay an arm and a leg for it. That in a civilised society NOBODY should die of curable diseases or injuries because they don’t earn enough to be cured. On the 5th of July 1948, when the NHS first opened its doors, the Labour government of the day declared:
“[Your new National Health Service] will provide you with all medical, dental, and nursing care. Everyone – rich or poor, man, woman or child-can use it or any part of it. There are no charges, except for a few special items. There are no insurance qualifications. But it is not a “charity.” You are all paying for it, mainly as taxpayers, and it will relieve your money worries in time of illness.”
Now 68 years old, the NHS is viewed by governments as a troublesome maiden aunt - that unloved elderly spinster - desperately being palmed off to anyone who will take her. In 2012, under the Health and Social Care Act, the government finally abandoned all responsibility for her to a series of locally commissioned bodies. Significantly, this Act also removed the “burden” of healthcare free at the point of use - restricting the obligation to emergency services only. Any other services you may require are now provided solely on the whim of the Clinical Commissioning Groups. And thus our so-called “free” healthcare is now a postcode lottery; services provided varying from region to region. In Devon, routine surgery is restricted for obese patients and smokers. In North Staffordshire and Kernow, eligibility criteria was introduced for hearing aids, that will deny them to those with mild to moderate hearing loss.
For those newly diagnosed with cancer, it is better to live in North East Hampshire, where only 24% of those diagnosed will die within a year. Whereas in the London borough of Barking, delays in treatment result in a 38% fatality rate within a year.
Whilst one accepts that this favourite aunt cannot continue to meet every demand of a growing and ageing population, it is a considerable disgrace that one's life and death hangs in the balance of one's postcode.
I am a young person, and I am watching the systematic dismantling and piecemeal privatisation of this flagship equalizer; this leveller; which has historically regarded each human life as being of equal value regardless of age, wealth, or circumstance.
We stand at a Healthcare crossroads, on the edge of the point of no return - and if we choose to blindly follow governments down this one-way road there will be no way back.
We ought to have learned from the creeping privatisation of dental care; we now have some of the poorest dental health in Europe. People from deprived backgrounds are now three times more likely to lose all of their teeth than those from more privileged backgrounds.
We now have an NHS in which there are not enough doctors & nurses to go around. Junior Doctors are overworked and underpaid, and are being subject to a dangerous worsening of their conditions under new government contracts; there are not enough GPs to go around; and people are waiting several weeks for appointments.
Our NHS appears to be heading in the same direction as BHS.
Meanwhile, many treatments are being contracted out to expensive private companies, such as London’s Cromwell Hospital ran by Bupa - a third of whose brain-tumour patients are sent to them by the NHS, costing our public Health Service £7,300 per person.
We stand at a Healthcare crossroads. But we can choose - today - here and now, to stand up for this maiden aunt who has always been there for us in times of need. We can nurse her back to good health. We can choose to take a stand. We can fight against closures and cuts, locally and nationally.
Yesterday, I had the pleasure of meeting Harry Leslie Smith. He spoke about poverty in the 1920s and 1930s, about life before the Welfare State and NHS, and about how we are heading towards those times again. He spoke about the shame of moving from slum to slum in the night, the degradation of a life lived in poverty. He spoke of his sister Marion, who died in the 1920s of Tuberculosis at the age of only 10 years old, because her family could not afford to pay for her to receive proper healthcare.
Harry and his generation saw a time before the NHS.I will fight until my dying breath so my generation and I will NEVER see a time after it."
News of a walking protest from the areas affected, meeting in the middle to unite against hospital closures will follow on the Derbyshire Dales Labour website.