All over England, many people are only vaguely aware that the end of the NHS is even on the horizon, let alone nigh.
How do we know this? Evidence comes from ordinary citizens who have responded to a call from 38 Degrees to help defend the NHS. Often these are people who have never before taken to the streets. At a series of “Save Our NHS” petition points in the West Midlands we have seen how passers-by who reluctantly accepted leaflets about privatisation-by-stealth walked away reading, before stopping and returning to ask incredulously: “Is this true?”
People can hardly be blamed for their surprise. Anyone who depends on the mainstream media for information will have read much about the NHS’s unexpected fall from grace in recent months, but little about its rapidly accelerating transfer into private hands.
The nation’s newspapers once had a reputation for exposing abuses and scandals. But this time - for reasons that still aren’t clear - they have missed some big stories. In earlier decades investigative reporting would uncover wrongdoing at the highest levels, but nowadays the media itself is largely made up of global multinational corporations, which often share the same investors. For them, it is strictly business. In Government too, there is a revolving door that sees a steady two-way flow of corporate advisers and former Ministers that blurs and conflates the ambitions of both.
Major protests all over the country have gone largely unreported, to the puzzlement and anger of the communities involved. Just one example is last Saturday’s “Defend London’s NHS” march, which - despite a 7000-strong presence on the streets - was hardly mentioned by the major news outlets. Though NHS supporters have rallied and demonstrated against what they see as the destruction of the service, much of the rest of the population don’t yet see it that way. If people have any opinion at all, it is often just a strange feeling that, while they weren’t looking, the NHS went badly wrong - neglecting and killing patients. Though millions have reason to be thankful for the NHS, the spectre of a bad ‘other’ NHS is managing to take hold, while its looming privatisation slides under the radar.
Fortunately for us, there are now other channels through which people can keep an eye on what is happening. The internet and social media is revolutionising communication. Anyone with a computer can now see how more than 200 MPs and Peers have current or previous interests in the private health sector; how the industry has bankrolled MPs and even Ministers; and even how the industry has actually written the legislation that will enable them to cherry-pick the easy and profitable services they want to corner.
Perhaps it is too easy to blame mainstream journalists. A recent gathering of England’s national and regional health correspondents told a different story. They complained about being marginalised, overstretched and having dwindling resources. Several admitted that they couldn’t cope with the scale and complexity of the pre-2013 NHS, let alone the new one, with its four additional layers of bureaucracy. One regional journalist from the BBC – which has attracted particular criticism from NHS campaigners for appearing to look the other way for the last 18 months - felt the corporation was ‘doing its best’ under difficult conditions.
Whatever the reasons, one thing is clear: there are just not enough journalists to sufficiently commit to in-depth coverage on the issues we care about.
So what do we do? In the end it’s down to everyone concerned about the future survival of the NHS to communicate the news to ordinary people - starting with our next-door-neighbours, friends and families.
More than that, it’s down to ordinary people to start newsgathering. The new NHS needs citizen journalists who monitor their local NHS bodies’ activities both online and with attendance at local meetings and events.
How? Well, a good place to start is right here. 38 Degrees and Open Democracy OurNHS have come together with “Reclaim Our NHS” as a way to help represent the public and get our stories heard. I encourage you to help us lift the lid on what is happening by adding your voice.
More locally, we’re working on other schemes. And we need volunteers. But I’ll bring you more news on that very soon...