This isn’t about Doctors or Nurses, GP’s or Consultants. It’s about our Free Health Service

Yesterday morning, the silence was broken. Fifteen days after Jeremy Hunt made his inflammatory speech at the Kings Fund in Central London, giving NHS consultants an ultimatum on working weekends, and describing the rest of the staff as “lazy” and over-paid, the desperate voices of those people he bad-mouthed and those who support them were set free. After spending over two weeks building up in the virtual pressure cooker of social media, traditional news outlets have finally started to take notice.

Twitter

Jeremy Vine used his Twitter feed to break two weeks of silence around #WeNeedToTalkAboutJeremy.

Jeremy Vine is the first mainstream media broadcaster to openly take notice of #WeNeedToTalkAboutJeremy. He neither supports nor ridicules, merely highlighting the fact that there is a story here. Whether he decides to take it further and make it part of his Radio 2 show remains to be seen, but the fact that he recognises it, and has put it in the public arena, means that the hard part is about to start.

The public’s take on this is crucial, and the petition to debate a vote of No Confidence in the Health Secretary could be seen as a risky move. What is seen as a democratic register of the public’s view by some can also be questioned for it’s validity – ‘it’s just NHS staff signing’ or ‘people are just bored’. I mean if you can get a petition going to get a flavour of low fat yoghurt back on the supermarket shelves you could petition for anything. The danger with this petition was that the public wouldn’t take it seriously; that it was ‘those doctors whinging again’. Which is sad because that would miss the point completely.

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Reputation is everything in a career, especially in one as publicly scrutinised as the NHS. Mr. Hunts speech, where he (among other things) put the emphasis on consultants and their apparent refusal to work weekends as the reason for higher patient deaths on Saturdays and Sundays (totally wrong), has made a scapegoat of that particular senior role in the health service, while still allowing the Health Secretary to appear to maintain the view that he cares for the NHS. He turned the blame of failure of weekend access on a group of people who, yes, do have an opt out clause in their contract so they don’t work weekends but, as you will be able to read already in the Mirror, and from this weekend in the Independent, “88% of consultants are already working weekends”, based on a survey by the BMA of almost 900.

Independent

Preview of Independent cover – Saturday 1st August 2015

The Mirror starts to expose the lies.

The Mirror starts to expose the lies.

Here’s the truth about doctors, and I can say this because I’m married to one. People don’t become doctors or nurses for a dream working week. They don’t sign up because they’ll have time for lengthy breaks during the day, and they certainly don’t do it for the money. People become doctors because they feel they can help, they can make a difference. They spend at least 10 years training and honing their skills to be the best they can be before they are officially qualified, and even then, throughout their entire career, they never stop honing and training. They spend an increasing amount of time in an environment that never stops, having to tell patients often horrifying/heartbreaking truths, while diagnosing conditions from their encyclopaedic medical knowledge, all the time speaking to patients who may be as nice as anything, or rude and uncooperative.

Now here’s the thing about medical professionals – none of that bothers them. They will never complain about their job because it’s what they love, it’s what they signed up for. Long hours, no breaks, finishing late – it’s all part of the job, and that includes working at weekends. Doctors accepted this ages ago because of how our modern society functions. Thousands of people working shifts which includes weekends, and the staff at the NHS knew they would have to adapt to that. What staff at the NHS do not appreciate, is their own boss telling them that they are useless, they’re not doing enough and should work more but be paid less. This whole notion of a seven day working week for the NHS already happens because of demand and need from the public, but there is one fundamental question nether Mr. Hunt nor the Health Department has answered – how will this be paid for? For a hospital to be fully functional at the weekend extra staff of all levels are required. Then there’s support teams outside the hospital walls; social care workers, councillors etc. They will all require funding, which the the £8bn the Government pledged in the manifesto will barely touch.

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Here’s another thing about medical professionals; we, our society, will always need them. There will come a point where you need to make an appointment to see that nurse, or you need to sit down with a consultant, or you may need to pay a visit to A&E. The thing we are fighting for is how those life-saving services are going to be funded. We live in a capitalist society so all those man hours, knowledge and equipment need to be paid for. Time is money, and that money must come from somewhere. Do we really want to squander a universal free health care system that is paid for through our taxes and end up paying insurance premiums for check ups and examinations that may well be a waste of medical time, but will create a profit?

While I sit here telling you about all this, the National Health Service is being dismantled right in front of us. All this media attack from the government is a smokescreen, to turn public opinion against the ‘money grabbing work-shy doctors’ who in reality are working above and beyond what should be realistically expected of them, working way past the end of their shift to make sure patients get the care they deserve. In the meantime those patients are seeing ‘stories’ in certain right wing Tory linked media saying ‘leg pain is linked to cancer’ or ‘neck ache could be cancer’ or ‘Cancer Cancer Cancer’, (remember all the stories where “my doctor ignored all my symptoms and it was cancer”), increasing fear and therefore demand on medical staff way beyond capacity, so doctors have to not only deal with those who require much needed treatment and help, but also the “worried well”. This in turn portrays the doctors as unable to cope with their job, but don’t worry, here’s a privately run medical company who ‘really know how to do their job’ so everything’s ok. Oh, and what’s your credit card details please?

BBC budgetSince GP’s were forced to take control of the budget of all health services for their own locality back in 2010, they had to commission services on an increasingly smaller budget whilst patient demand has also increased exponentially. This has also meant time taken away from running their GP surgeries and stretching patient care even further, not that the doctors would ever let you see that. This model that the government imposed on them, against advice of medical professionals, was set up for GP’s to fail. It is this situation, imposed by the previous coalition government, that has paved the way for private companies to swoop in and take over. We already have the likes of Virgin Health providing their own service. As soon as patient demand picks up, they will be made to pay for extras and eventually the NHS will be nothing more than a brand name, the heart of its ‘free for all’ service ripped out. The public needs to step in and join the fight. The twisted facts that are being released to the media are nothing more than pro-government, pro-privatisation, anti-NHS propaganda, specifically designed to cause fear and confusion among the public.

The battle lines here are very clear; do you trust a government that manipulates statistics and twist figures to serve their own fictional narrative of ‘lazy doctors’, while many of them have their personal links to private health care companies which stand to take considerable profit at the expense of patient health, and who are conveniently recommended to receive 10% pay rises, or do you trust the diligent medical professionals who look after your loved ones without charge, that never complain about their vocation and are forced in to a pay-cut, while being strong armed to working longer hours, but are now fighting to get back their dignity and respect?

The only common ground that the doctors and nurses have with Jeremy Hunt and the current Conservative government is that they both want a seven day NHS. There is already a seven day NHS. The issue is that the Government don’t want to pay for it, so they are turning responsibility and blame on those who are doing the job. This is why it was imperative that the mainstream media began talking about it. Now, with the likes of the BBC’s Jeremy Vine, and the Mirror and Independent getting the story out of social media and in to the full view of the public arena, we can finally get the voices of these hard-working people heard and understood.

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Stand Up For Our NHS, Or Really Pay The Price

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A couple of nights ago I was sat with Wife O’ Mine watching DIY SOS. You know the show – Nick Knowles finds a family that’s been through the mill and basically gives them a new house, all with the help of willing volunteers who step to the plate simply to help. The family see the house, they cry, we, the audience cry. We cry because we remember that there is always someone going through a worse time than us, and it makes us grateful for what we have. I also think we cry because DIY SOS, as contrived as some may say it is, represents the best of us – complete strangers pitching in to help other complete strangers. For free. Because it’s the right thing to do.

With that in mind, here’s a video clip I’d like you to watch. It’s about eight minutes long, so please make sure you have the time, if not now then later. Please watch, all the way through. Don’t skip, don’t pause. Please watch, and listen.

That was of course a short piece from the documentary film “Sicko”, from the controversial Michael Moore. While you may disagree with some of the views and politics of both Mr. Moore and Tony Benn, what we cannot ignore is how quickly things have changed since that film was made. Back then in 2007, our NHS was the envy of countries around the globe for it’s high standards of healthcare and it’s clear ‘access to all’ policy, while in America the best healthcare was reserved for those with the fattest wallets (and, if you believe Mr. Moore, even then it wasn’t as good as the UK). So here we are, eight years down the line, and America’s President Obama is spear-heading his own “free healthcare for all” with Obama-care, while in the UK we’re doing the opposite. We’re selling off our publically funded healthcare system a piece at a time. And what’s worse, the mainstream media seem to not want to talk about it.

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Of course, I’m writing this on the back of Jeremy Hunt’s latest dig at medical professionals – belittling the work of hospital consultants and implying that they are “lazy” and don’t work at weekends and nights. Mr. Hunt is saying this to stop the NHS staff from being paid for working unsociable hours and effectively creating a pay-cut. This is when these highly trained individuals have not received a pay rise for the last five years, and MP’s have just accepted a 10% pay rise. Oh, and they get the summer off. The backlash to this outright contempt has been phenomenal, at least in the medical world and in the circles of friends and family of those people. The hashtag #ImInWorkJeremy made a point of showing the Health Secretary just how out of touch he really is from the profession he’s employed to govern. During his speech he never once invited the NHS to sit with him and work out a plan to help shape a better health service. Instead he told them that this is how it will be done, and if you don’t like it you will be punished. This highlights how little respect he has for all the medical staff, and the unwavering crusade to do away with free health care in return for lots of cash .

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Several petitions have been launched against Mr. Hunt, one even through the government’s own e-petition website. At last count they had over 190,000 signatures demanding a vote of No Confidence in the Health Secretary. Now that’s a pretty big number, so why aren’t the mainstream media paying more attention to this? Why is the medical profession being ignored (except by certain right wing newspapers who seem hell bent on attacking doctors and nurses and, oh yeah, have close ties with the Conservative party)? I’ve been keeping an eye on these mainstream media to see if there is any hint of them covering the story, but have yet to see any direct or indirect reference to the petitions on the TV or radio, and you have to know exactly what to look for on the internet. This worries me, a lot.

If only Graham Norton's idea to help people appreciate the BBC could be applied to the NHS.

If only Graham Norton’s idea to help people appreciate the BBC could be applied to the NHS.

The BBC is one of those companies. It is also, like the NHS, another one of the country’s fine public services, facing drastic cuts ahead of the new Royal Charter. Is that one of the reasons why they are distancing themselves? One of the BBC’s most high profile (and no denying, highly paid) talents, Graham Norton, had an interesting idea to make people appreciate the BBC more: “[..]switch off the BBC for two months” he said in a recent interview in the Daily Telegraph “and everyone would s*** themselves.” It makes sense, following that old adage of “you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone”. That strategy could work for a broadcaster. For a health service, a life-line, it’s impractical and immoral. The doctors/nurses/paramedics would never do that, because they care. They care about their patients. This is their Achilles heel, their weakness. The government know this, and like some kind of sadomasochistic super-villain, they exploit it for their own gain.

The only mainstream media outlet that has dealt directly with the petition at this is the Channel 4 show, “The Last Leg” (broadcast live on Friday 24th July 2015). Comedian and host Adam Hills went on one of his trademark rants targeting Mr. Hunt (as well as Michael Gove and his wife) saying that they are “badmouthing some of the hardest working, best qualified people in Britain, who are also woefully under-paid”. What he said in that short segment put succinctly in to words exactly how people in the NHS are feeling without relying on defending themselves against distorted reports and twisted figures. At this point I would usually show you a link to such a clip, and yet despite the usual practise of Channel 4 to upload Mr. Hills trademark rants for posterity, this one has, as yet, not officially appeared (although to their credit they have uploaded the hilarious clip of Mr. Hunt being followed around a car park by a guy playing a Sousaphone!). You have to wonder if the Government has placed some kind of restraining order on this material being made more public. The petition itself continues to grow with as many people as possible thankfully shouting about it through social media. As I sit here writing this, the petition is over 190,000 signatures. It needed 100,000 to ensure that Parliament will consider it for debate. The Government has responded to the petition (just scroll down the petition webpage to see it), but with nothing new – just hiding behind those distorted reports and twisted figures again. They’re trying to get out of their obligation to discuss this, and still the mainstream media say nothing. Interestingly another petition on the same website calling for the total legalisation of cannabis in the UK has 125,000+ signatures and is plastered all over the Guardian’s website, and doubtless others media outlets. I’m not saying this debate isn’t important, it just seems ridiculously selective. Surely the job of the mainstream media is to report on subjects and stories that are in the public interest. I can think of nothing that is more in the public interest of this country than the future of its National Health Service

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I refuse to even think that we as a country want to live in a society where the best health care is only available to those with the money. We’re not those people. Nick Knowles proves that! The problem that we have is that we elected a Government in to power who got in on the ticket of fear, and their closest opposition had no clear message on how they would handle things any differently. We put these people in power, but that does not give them the right to lord that power over us. We gave these people their jobs, they work for us, and somewhere along the line we seem to have lost sight of that. So before I sign off I want to point you in the direction of some other interesting articles that will at the very least make you think we are being played.

Remember the recent Fox Hunting debate? The Tories wanted to repeal the ban, the SNP thought they’d flex their newly pumped up political muscles and say “hell no!”? While all that was going on the Government quietly decided to launch an enquiry in to whether the NHS should be paid for through charges and insurance rather than tax. This was not reported in the mainstream media.

The UK’s leading private health care business Care UK has recently been exposed for a lack of care towards its patients, yet still manages to net an impressive multi-million pound profit. This is the sign of what Mr. Hunt is running towards – profit for the sacrifice of care. This was not reported in the mainstream media.

Jeremy Hunt has recently, and quietly shelved a key Tory promise to cap care costs for the elderly. This U-turn has apparently cost the tax payer £100m and is a prime example of the Conservative government not sticking to it’s election promises. This was reported in the Guardian newspaper.

There will doubtless be more loosely relevant stories in the coming days, especially if, as you see in that last article, people within Jeremy Hunts own party are getting annoyed with hm. Still, we must keep shouting. Please spread the news about what’s going on here. Sign the petition, share it. If you’re not sure what’s going on, ask people in the know. Read all the Facebook posts and Twitter feeds, not from the media, but from those who have been fighting to keep your health service safe; the doctors, the nurses, the ones who are on the front line of this ongoing immoral battle. Jeremy Hunt has, with the help of certain right-wing newspapers, convinced an entire generation that doctors and nurses don’t work hard enough, and that they are paid too much. As such respect for doctors is at an all time low. As an example GP’s are viewed as autonomous drug despensers whose (minimum)10 years of training and experience can be usurped by a quick search on Google. Wife O’ Mine is a GP. She returned home from work yesterday afternoon (oh yes, a Saturday!) having seen 76 patients (with one other GP) and spent the entire time apologising. Saying sorry to patients who could not get an appointment to talk about their high temperature of 37 degrees (normal body temperature!). Or saying sorry to a 15 year old boy for “only working 9-5 last week” forcing him to change his weekend plans with his mates. Which is interesting as that was the same day my wife left home at 7am and didn’t get back until 9 that night absolutely exhausted, having had not one break. (She told me she tipped her morning coffee down the sink, at 6pm!). Maybe I should ask where she was while I was with our two young children! She didn’t complain, she never does. Doctors don’t complain, not about doing their job. It’s what they signed up for. They just don’t appreciate being dismissed as overpaid layabouts. Surely government ministers at least can appreciate that?

Perhaps instead of going to the wrong place to get treatment on a bad foot, Michael Gove should talk to his old chums in his previous place of work about educating people how the NHS actually works, like where you should really go for a suspected broken foot. Hint: minor injuries units don’t have 24 hour x-rays, Accident and Emergency do!

Perhaps instead of going to A&E with his kids because he couldn’t get a GP appointment, Jeremy Hunt should have remembered that he runs the Health department and should therefore know that he could have gone to a 24 hour walk-in centre, which were created specifically to relieve non-emergency pressure on already overstretched A&E wards and staff.

Or they could have both gone to their private health care chums. Surely they could afford that, especially with that extra 10%. Wonder if they get mates rates?

Now is the time to back our NHS. Show support for these heroes, because that’s what they are – heroes. If we don’t stand up now, against our government – the self serving supervillains, pretty soon we won’t be able to walk in to an A&E department without our credit card.