This is Deborah Harrington’s speech to the Fighting for Hartlepool Hospital rally on Saturday 15th October, as read by Steven Carne from 999 Call for the NHS
First of all I would like to say how sorry I am not to be here today.
I wanted to start by telling you about something I witnessed at a major London hospital recently after a physiotherapy appointment. I was at the bus stop, waiting for my bus home, when two security guards came out of A&E pushing a wheelchair. In it was a man who looked semi-comatose. At the bus stop one security guard tipped the wheelchair, while the other helped the man out. He couldn’t stand. They laid him down on the ground and left him there. It was a cold, wet day. His shirt and jacket were twisted up and I could see his back. It was covered in what looked like fresh burns. I called out to the security guards. They replied that he didn’t need emergency treatment so had no business being there. He was ‘just a drunk’.
There’s no good end to this story, I failed to do anything heroic about it, I’m not recounting it for that. I am telling you because I need you to know that that is what an NHS run on the financial ‘bottom line’ looks like, a business where targets mean more than people, not a service based on care and compassion.
If your reaction is that ‘people like that are abusing the NHS’ or ‘I don’t want my taxes being used to pay for drunks’, ‘it’s his own fault’, or ‘what’s that got to do with saving my local hospital’ then my answer is ‘everything’.
Ever since the NHS was created it has been attacked by those who dislike it on principle using the same arguments over and over again. We have a growing population. We have an ageing population. People will keep demanding more if it’s free. If you let tourists use it the same as us then it’s not fair on those who pay. And during the baby boom years the ‘ageing population’ argument became a ‘too many babies’ argument. And they say that we will never, ever, be able to bear the cost.
The NHS is nearly 70 years old. So are all those arguments. And they are no more true now than they ever were.
I could rattle off statistics, percentages and billions of £s, but I am not going to take up your time. I will stick instead with this:
The NHS is political, and all political parties over the last 30 years have allowed the arguments against the NHS to be heard louder and louder.
Now we have to make sure we make our arguments loud and simple and strong in response.
We want an NHS which is accessible. That means GPs and hospitals which provide acute care within easy reach of where we live.
We want an NHS which is comprehensive. That means it doesn’t target people’s lifestyles and blame them for their illnesses.
We want an NHS which is universal. And that means treating the street homeless drunk and the newly arrived migrant as well as those we think of as ‘deserving’, the ‘people like us’.
We need to fight for these principles, which can only be delivered by a publicly owned and provided service. And we need to do it with as much ferocity as the attacks that have been made repeatedly since the NHS was created.
Otherwise it won’t be just that drunk being turfed out on the street. It will be you and it will be me. Or someone just like us.