Panic hits the Tory ranks.
The Tories plans to succeed off a negative, nasty campaign is faltering. Rather than damage Labour, each attack makes Miliband look the more honorable man.
A crisis meeting is called. Top Conservatives gather round a table. ‘What should be do to get the public on our side? How can we show we’re nice? ‘Well, what do the public like? Has anyone met one lately?’ ‘The NHS seems popular’. ‘ah. Say we’re going to increase spending by….errr *throws dart at board* £8 billion a year’.
And so off to the media they trot. And the media ask ‘How are you going to fund this?’ to which they suddenly realised they forgot that bit. Osborne made Michael Howard’s legendary Paxman ‘Did you over-rule him?’ interview look tame when he was asked by Andrew Marr where the funding would come from, refusing to answer the question a staggering 18 times (Howard only managed 16).
My name is Lisa, I am an NHS nurse and I’m angry. I am so angry in fact, that for the first time in my career I have felt the need to take action, to speak out – I have become an NHS activist.
Having been a nurse of 23 years, I am entirely comfortable in the world of drips, wounds, blood and medical horrors, explaining complex diagnoses and caring for my patients. Thanks to the investment of the NHS that our society has gifted me, I have developed not just clinical skills, but also skills in communication, negotiation, in the assertiveness required to advocate for my patient and to challenge poor practice or abuse.
In recent years, outside my working life I have been involved in a high profile feminist campaign and in the last few months these two previously separate areas – the professional and the political, have merged, as I have been called to join the fight to save our precious and vital NHS. An NHS that I am watching slowly and quietly die, whilst everybody is being encouraged, by our greedy, millionaire-lead media, to look the other way.
When I first was asked to speak at an NHS rally in August of last year, I wasn’t sure what I was going to say, what I was allowed to say without risking my job. I wanted to talk about the damage I was seeing all around me, the piecemeal selling off of services and the impact this was having on the workload of colleagues and the experience of patients.
When we are ill or hurt the vast majority of us will turn to NHS services, at least in the first instance, for medical help, but many probably don’t realise how much of that care and what supports it, is already no longer in the ownership of the NHS –
- if we need transport to hospital this is likely to be provided by a profit making private company
- The hospital we stay in cleaned and maintained by a private company
- the porters who transport us from department to department, ward to ward – now contracted by a private company
- The treatment centre where outpatient appointments and procedures are carried out – private
- The beds we lie on maintained and provided by private contract
- The food patients eat, that is so vital to their recovery – privately bought in and distributed by private company
- The home care company who bring equipment and medication to the home, so that patients can give their own treatment – private
In fact if you look at the health service UK wide, you will find many vital services now provided by private companies – Maternity, Abortion services, Mental health, Minor surgery, Bereavement, Palliative care, Sexual assault referral services and Paediatrics to name but a few. The list simply gets longer and longer.
It was with all of this in mind that in the end, when I stood up on a stage, on that August afternoon, next to local politicians and incredible campaigners, I found I actually had quite a lot to say. I was nervous, but motivated and energised by the experience. Spurred on by the organisation of this huge action by just a few people, who felt so strongly that they were walking across the nation gathering support and raising awareness.
Moved to action by the passion of others and fuelled by the emails I was receiving from 38Degrees among others, I might ordinarily at this stage thought about writing to my MP, but sadly it had already long since become apparent, that was entirely futile.
Anna Soubry has been my local MP since May 2010 and I’m not a fan.
Now, I have been a socialist for pretty much my whole life, adult or otherwise, so I must acknowledge a bias here and when Anna replaced my really excellent and hard working Labour MP I was not at all happy. The loss of a local ally felt every bit as bitter to me as the prospect of handing a conservative government custodianship of public services, including the NHS and the education system my children were currently benefiting from.
However, I am a positive thinker and somewhat of a hippy in my middle age and so when I first became involved in No More Page 3, I did contact Anna by email to ask for her support. I wasn’t expecting a response, having heard of a poor record on answering emails, but was pleasantly surprised when, within a day or two of sending I received an invitation to meet.
After an initial cold reception to the campaign, Anna offered the benefit of her wisdom and experience at recruiting MP support and I remain grateful that she shared the petition with constituents in her newsletter.
But when I have tried to describe this meeting to anyone I find I am unable to explain or articulate quite what it was that rattled me; and why I came away with a feeling that it was not an experience I wanted to repeat. I’m not sure exactly what made me uncomfortable, but it is notable that despite this being a formal meeting (a young man was taking notes) she used the word ‘cunt’ twice in the first ten minutes, with a liberal smattering of expletives throughout. Now as a 41 year old mother of teenagers, who has been described as potty mouthed herself, I was hardly offended. But despite my own penchant for a well placed swear word and the acknowledged blue air of a nursing staff room, I was more than a little taken aback that this was considered accepted language when meeting a constituent for the first time. Perhaps this was Ms Soubry’s way of “breaking the ice” but it didn’t really help her feel like an approachable person. This was my voice in parliament after all.
Anna’s initial impressive fast response to my first correspondence was never repeated. I have contacted her on at least four occasions since on various issues (I still have the emails) and in every case, despite our previous meeting and my being on her mailing list, I receive an automated and sometimes a personal reply asking to prove that I am a constituent.
My emailed pleas are often last minute, prompted by campaigns and regarding a pivotal vote happening in the next few days. I send it off hoping it is read and my view considered it in time, but replies take one to two months to come and on at least one or two occasions have not come at all. When I do receive a response it is to explain why she voted in the opposite direction and by this time of course the issue has long since become redundant and debate is futile.
As a consequence when appeals come through now asking to write to MPs to garner support and encourage debate in parliament, I know there is nothing I can add, that taking the time to write an email will be time wasted. I feel ignored, unimportant and unrepresented and that is not how our democracy should work.
Thankfully there is now some hope that this is soon to change. Ms Soubry is no longer my MP *celebratory klaxon* and whilst she is standing again, seems unlikely to win. It appears this seeming ignorance of the views of constituents has been noted by more than just me and our previous Labour MP Nick Palmer is standing for Broxtowe again, back by popular demand.
Nick was the first MP I ever emailed back in the early 2000s. A concerned parent of two children with severe food allergy, I had questions and sought help regarding provision of allergy services. I sent off my heartfelt plea late at night and received an immediate reply that it would be looked into and later an offer to take up the issue in parliament and with the health secretary.
Whilst the nations allergy service provision may not have been magically fixed by that email exchange, by Nick’s help or by the letter I later received from the health minister of the time,this personable approach impressed me. Nick wanted to listen, wanted to help and gave me a faith in the system and an understanding of what it can be like engaging with an MP who actually does work hard to represent and advocate for his constituents.
At the latest NHS rally I was pleased to see Nick’s name next to others on a pledge to reinstate NHS services, going further than the promises of the Labour manifesto. The Bill proposes to fully restore the NHS as an accountable public service by reversing 25 years of marketisation. It aims to abolish the purchaser-provider split, end contracting and re-establish public bodies and public services accountable to local communities. It is a bold plan and may go beyond what any major party currently offers but at least I know, no matter what happens nationally, if Nick gets back in I will have an ally here in Broxtowe in continuing my fight for our NHS.
It was in September of 1992 that the health service began investing in me, just as it had thousands of nurses, doctors, physiotherapists and other healthcare professionals before me. The NHS has devoted it’s time and our money to science and research, it has learned how to give excellent care, has developed treatments and new drugs and has advanced and invested in hospitals and people.
These developments belong to us ALL and must continue to be available to us ALL.
The NHS is ours. WE have paid for this, WE have learned this, WE must never hand it over into a system that would only gift it to those who have and neglect those who have not and no matter what happens in this general election this fight must go on. In my area I know very well which way to vote if I want to vote to save the NHS as we know it, and if I want to have the open , responsive and positive contact with those paid to represent us.
My voice counts and so does yours, you simply need to decide: who is going to listen?
Lisa Clarke ( http://lisalouclarkey1.blogspot.co.uk/) / @LisaLouClarkey.