"A citizen's job is to keep their mouth wide open" - Anita Roddick
We live in bleak times.
Our present is fractured by uncertainty and growing hopelessness, and our future is looking like a return to Victorian England; the poor have their supports taken away one by one, while the rich get even richer. Our bedrooms are being taxed, welfare is being slashed, and the most vulnerable in society are losing their benefits. While more and more public services vanish, multinational corporations are allowed to evade tax. Under the rule of a capitalist aristocracy, this is a “broken Britain” where Cameron did much of the breaking.
And the final straw in the disintegration of the social contract: the dismantling of our NHS.
Britain loves its health service. We love it in a way that has no parallel in other countries. In fact the NHS is even more cherished than the monarchy, with 72% of people declaring the NHS to be "a symbol of what is great about Britain". And for good reason. Universal access to health in Britain since 1948 has tremendously improved the health of the nation - life expectancy has increased by just over ten years for men and by more than eight years for women, while children are five times less likely to die in infancy than they would have been 60 years ago. Given that austerity kills, it is preposterous that this is the time when our government should choose to target healthcare for cuts.
The Health and Social Care Act came into force on April 1st 2013 - with no democratic mandate, massive public opposition and dissent from virtually every medical professional body. A joke on us all, we have been betrayed. Our government has seen fit to put our health up for sale, and far from speaking up for it, the media have either misrepresented the issue or been silent on it. These two forces have colluded in trying to divide patients from the people who care for them; their doctors and their nurses. But the problem is not the people who deliver our healthcare, but the people who organise it.
If there was ever a time to stand together, this is it. The reforms are even now causing pain and suffering. Services such as podiatry and physiotherapy are no longer available without cost. Nursing jobs and hospitals face the axe in order to meet the government’s demand for £20 billion in “savings”, while the ill-conceived NHS 111 has already lead to deaths and increased A&E attendances, bringing the system to its knees. There is a growing sense that we are paying for the crimes of others.
Where the government and the media have failed us, we, the public can step in. Let’s fill the void. Our coalition of voices can drown out theirs.
The letters NHS represent so much: they stand for social equality and universal healthcare; they stand for the doctors and nurses who treat us and our relatives; they stand for the miracles performed daily by modern medicine; they stand for the financial systems that make sure we don't have to worry about paying; and they stand for care over profit.
“Reclaiming Our NHS - Dispatches from the Frontline” is an initiative between Open Democracy’s Our NHS and 38 Degrees to provide a public platform and whistleblowing service for ordinary people to speak up about the healthcare reforms as they see them. We hope this space will make it clear that the public will not stand meekly by while the NHS is being dismantled. Moreover, as a collation of experiences from around the country, it can be used to hold our politicians accountable for their actions. We also hope that it can act as a resource for campaigners to make contact and organize together. Whether you are a seasoned activist, patient, healthcare employee or simply someone who cares, we want to hear from you.
Because that is what “Reclaiming Our NHS” is all about. It’s your stories, your experiences and your words. This is news of the people, by the people, for the people - citizen journalism in its truest sense.
“The drop excavates the stone, not with force but by falling often”. Those in favour of a public healthcare system are in the overwhelming majority. By sheer persistence and weight of numbers we can start turning the wheels of change. Start now. Speak up for Our NHS, and together we can reclaim it.