As I sat down to start writing this, I was surrounded by a storm. A Twitter-Storm, but none the less, mud was flying. On Sunday 2nd August 2015, hot off the heels of #ImInWorkJeremy and #WeNeedToTalkAboutJeremy, we had #SaySorryHunt; which kind of feels like the Return Of The Jedi of the ongoing NHS Hashtag Wars. I’m not belittling the work of anything that shines a light on Jeremy Hunt’s ongoing attack on the NHS, and the manipulation of the media to create fear and distrust between medic and patient, but I do at the very least question the hashtags target. This is because it is taking aim at one man. Yes, it’s the Health Secretary, the man responsible for running the NHS and also responsible for the ridiculous state it’s in, but Mr. Hunt is a small part of a much larger beast that wants to devour our health service and spit out it’s bones. Mr. Hunt is never going to apologise for his actions because he thinks he’s doing the right thing. Quite clearly he’s not going to change his mind. And even if we get a vote of No Confidence in his abilities as Health Secretary, there will be another to take his place, and continue with the policies that were created within an institution that has been wanting to privatise the NHS for years; the politicians.
On Sunday morning I was doing my regular patrol of the Twitter-sphere and came across a rather inflammatory tweet from a Member of Parliament. Geraint Davies, “Labour & Co-operative MP for Swansea West”, has since deleted this tweet from his feed (and replaced it with another that supposedly has more clarity, but still making general and harmful statements) presumably because of the responses he received from people who actually work as GP’s, and within the rest of the medical community. Now it may well be that the MP thought he was doing his job as a public figure by sharing something that he’d learned, however as someone who has claimed to be a supporter of the NHS in the past, and as someone who has a career in the public spotlight, you would think he would know better than to share a confusing and wholly unsubstantiated statistic with a public that are already in fear and confused by doctors. There is no doctor that I know that would delay a cancer referral because of cost. This is another unsubstantiated, libellous attack on GP’s
It is we, the public that are caught in the middle of this of this battle between medic and politician (which, despite what the latter would have you believe, started with their reprehensible behaviour towards the medical profession), and yet many of us don’t know it’s happening . After years of mis and dis-information from certain branches of the media, coupled with Mr. Hunt’s demoralising speeches on “lazy” work-shy doctors, high waiting times, cancer scares etc. the people of this country are either scared and distrusting, or have simply no interest. Even with the “NHS Hashtag Trilogy”, people are still not getting the point of what thousands of medical professionals are trying to say. I’ve had multiple conversations on social media with people trying to understand what it is I, along with thousands of others, have been trying to get at. Lots of people still think that #ImInWorkJeremy and #WeNeedToTalkAboutJeremy is all about doctors complaining they don’t get paid enough. Of course, that is not the case at all. And it’s so frustrating!
There are also those I spoke to who had no idea what #WeNeedToTalkAboutJeremy was even about. For all they knew, Jeremy Clarkson had been secretly filmed stumping his toe on a plank of wood and had wondered outside to punch a gibbon! Even people within the media didn’t know what this Twitter trend was on about, and that’s a sobering thought. Jeremy Vine was one of many news presenters that I wrote and tweeted, asking them to explain why this massive online backlash against the Health Secretary wasn’t being reported. To his full credit he was the only one that replied, but as you can tell from the conversation, he had no idea what any of it meant. Once he dug deeper, he seemed to get the picture.
This is what the NHS is up against – the desensitised population. The fact that people still do not the know the plight of the NHS and the damage caused by the Government is not their fault. Despite living in a world so well connected through communication, which should be widening our eyes and ears, we have become an increasingly insular society. We are surrounded by and are connected to multiple sources of information, yet have the ability to choose to read only what we’re interested in. On Twiitter I follow a raft of writers (and now NHS staff), while the person next to me just follows gossip sites giving the latest celebrity gossip. On the BBC app, we can choose what type of news we would like to be informed on, and remove from our feed the ones we don’t care about (not that it matters about the BBC when we’re talking about #WeNeedToTalkAboutJeremy – their silence on this continues!).
We have our own lives to lead, and our own stresses and strains to deal with in an increasingly frantic world. To quote one person I met today: “why are you worried about the doctors? It’s not like they won’t have a job any more. They’ll probably earn more money “. True, maybe they would, but like we all know, that’s not what this fight is about. It’s about the National Health Service. Keeping free health care for future generations. The fact that people always gravitate towards the money is just another example of the type of society we live in.
Take the rail industry as a prime example. This once publicly owned transport network went through a complete privatisation programme between 1994 and 1997, and it remains one of the worst performing rail networks in the western world, with continued delays in service and hikes in ticket prices. This is the epitome of privatisation, and the reason why we cannot let this happen to the Health Service. The very nature of private business is to make money through providing a service. There is always a bottom line. Cuts may be made to stay in the black. Shareholders will always come before the service users. In the case of a service that provides medical care and treatment, surely this would be completely unacceptable, as cost cuts would be potentially life threatening to the “customer”. If you’re lucky, maybe you get a private health care company that is financially well off. Maybe they’re able to provide you with services that you hadn’t thought you needed. You may be sold on the idea of this extra treatment, or diagnostic tool, or insurance product, for extra piece of mind. It would be the medical equivalent of PPI’s!
On 1st April 2013 (the date doubtless ringing alarm bells!), The Health & Social Care Act 2012 came in to force, much to the utter dismay of medical professionals. What the government dressed up as a step to making the Health Service fit for the modern world, was seen by those who actually know and work in the sector as ” the final stage in the systematic dismantling of the NHS […] carried out by stealth” (Doctor Youseff El-Gingihy, Guardian- 30 March 2013).
One major part of this act was to open up the medical field to competition. In much the same way as the opening up of the country’s telecommunications industry, it allowed private medical firms to swoop in with the promise of a better service than provided by the public one. The idea was apparently that doing this would help drive up health care standards through business competition offering more patient choice. The fact is that even before this act came in to force the “marketisation of the NHS has driven up costs and produced worse results”, thus repeating the failings of the privatisation of the rail network. It was made abundantly clear to those who understood this unknown (to the public) yet enforced legislation, that patient care would inevitably be reduced while “there are huge profits to be made for private healthcare companies”.
This is what the diligent, hard-working staff at the NHS want to stop, because they know full well it will compromise patient care. Full stop. Yes, their salary is effectively being cut due to unfair contracts being imposed by the Health Secretary, and that’s insulting for the medics and all others with cuts or without pay-rises while politicians at Westminster receive a pay rise. Yes, they work exceedingly long shifts and often unsociable hours, but that’s part of the job. What they despise is two things:
- The blatant bad-mouthing and lack of respect from politicians and the media who make unsubstantiated, scaremongering claims and accusations based on twisted facts and figures.
- The thought that they will one day be forced to put the size of a shareholders bank account over the care of a patient.
This insular society we live in has distracted the public from the fact that they are slowly losing their NHS. Free health care will soon be a thing of the past, and many people seem to neither know or care. There’s too many other things to worry about in life, “there will always be doctors”. We’ve had almost 70 years of the NHS, and as time has gone on we have taken it for granted. As time has gone on we have become an increasingly self-important society, where no one has bigger problems than us. This, coupled with the ridiculous scaremongering stories by the press and ill-informed politicians has created the “worried well”, who believe that because they “haven’t stopped sneezing all day” (true story – hay fever!) and because the health service is paid for by their taxes, they deserve to see a doctor more than someone who has chest pain and is in a full on heart attack. We as a society have forgotten to take care of ourselves, of each other. We rely increasingly on professional medical advice for symptoms that are in no way serious, while removing that attention from someone who actually needs it. This is why the NHS is stretched beyond breaking point, and this is why private companies can swoop in and save the day, as long as you have a credit card!
On a personal note I feel it’s time for me to stop talking about this for a bit. Talking people can’t hear a whisper, and yet when you shout at the top of your voice for too long, those people just turn and walk away. No matter what you take from everything I have written on this NHS fiasco, remember this: there is currently an online petition to debate a vote of No Confidence in Jeremy Hunt. Parliament requires a minimum of 100,000 signatures for a debate to be considered. The number is now way past that at over 211,000, and it’s still growing. If nothing else, keep one eye on this. If this Government continues to come back with ridiculous defensive statements based on the same twisted facts and figures that they have fed you for so long, or if they do not even call for a (serious) debate, then you have hard proof (more so!) that this Government does not have your best interests and those of your friends and family at heart.