Last week I received an e-mail from the Labour Party telling me it had reason to believe I did not support its aims and beliefs and it was excluding me from voting in the leadership election. I have voted Labour in every election since I was 18. I have been a full member of the Labour Party and even campaigned on the doorstep. But I did not agree with Labour’s policy of privatisation of the NHS (public funding of private health companies, according to the WHO definition, is privatisation). So I joined a party, formed by doctors, nurses and patients, to truly defend the NHS.
David Cameron explicitly promised "no more top-down reorganisation of the NHS". But, when the Conservatives came to power in 2010, they introduced the Health & Social Care bill, which they had concealed from the electorate during the election and which was bigger than the bill that had created the NHS in 1948. It removed the government's "duty to provide" healthcare for you and your family, a founding principle of the NHS, replacing it by a mere "duty to promote". Even the health minister would no longer have responsibility for your health. It would be left to the "market". In effect, the bill made possible to gradual abolition of the NHS.
My publisher had got me to do Twitter and, at the start of 2012, I noticed a tweet about Dr Clive Peedell, a consultant oncologist, who was trying to highlight the H&SC bill by running 160 miles to Downing Street from the former South Wales constituency of Nye Bevan, the founder of the NHS. I was training with my wife, an NHS nurse, for the London Marathon. So, on a freezing day, we jogged out to Notting Hill. And that is how I met Clive and ran the final kilometres to Downing Street with him and Clare Gerada, chair of the Royal College of GPs (and her Jack Russell, Lucy). Nine months later, Clive founded the National Health Action Party with ex-MP Dr Richard Taylor and other doctors, nurses and patients who were appalled at the way all the main political parties were wedded to the privatisation of the NHS, which all evidence shows is worse for patients.
I can't remember how I got invited to an executive meeting (I should stress I have never been on the executive committee) but I remember, when it came to "any other business", saying the party's Twitter feed was full of acronyms and doctor jargon. Little did I know that, Clive, sitting across the table, was NHA's Twitter feed! To his credit, over a cup of tea and cake, he said: "Why don't you help with our Twitter? Here’s our username and password.”
NHA saw the London euro election of 2014 as an opportunity to raise public awareness of what the government was doing to the NHS, which the UK media had failed to cover or critique, ignoring the overwhelming level of opposition. NHA's candidate was inner London GP Dr Louise Irvine, who had run the Save Lewisham Hospital campaign. When a court supported her and ruled that the government had acted illegally in downgrading Lewisham’s A&E and maternity departments, the government simply changed the law. Every party was allowed 8 candidates, in the London euro election, with all accumulated votes going to Louise. I got asked to stand and surprised myself by saying, yes. The others included an A&E consultant, a nurse, trainee surgeon, and actor and comedian Rufus Hound.
I should point out that NHA is not a party of power. It has resources only to contest a handful of seats. In the 2015 GE election it was careful not to inadvertently help a Conservative into power, recognising that the Conservatives are a bigger danger to the NHS than Labour.
And so I come to the point of this statement. Rules are rules. I understand that. And, yes, I have helped another party, which rules me out from voting in the leadership election. But NHA, the party I have helped, stands for exactly what the Labour Party should be standing for. I joined NHA in desperation because Labour had been heavily involved in privatisation of the NHS, and PFIs, which have plunged hospitals into enormous debt. Admittedly, Labour’s 2015 manifesto called for the repeal of the H&SC Act. But it pledged simply to “stop the drive towards privatisation” and “cap the profits” of existing private providers. The party said nothing about ending the wasteful “internal market”, which is estimated to divert 15 per cent of NHS money away from patients into bureaucracy.
It seems odd to be accused of not sharing Labour values when I have always voted for Labour and support a party whose values should be shared by the Labour Party – the desire for a publicly funded, publicly delivered NHS, which all evidence shows is the best system for patients not to mention the most cost-effective and efficient.
NHA would never have formed in the first place if Labour had been true to its values on the NHS (here is what NHA wants to Labour to do). It does not seem right to accuse me of not sharing Labour values simply because I have criticised its NHS policy. I would like the Labour party to get into power with a leader who is committed to a publicly funded, publicly delivered NHS, which is what is wanted by the overwhelming majority of people in the UK.