The NHS saved my family. More than once. Last February, my father died from lung cancer. For a few years before that, the NHS treated him with compassion, care, and tenderness. His last months were made endurable through the amazing nurses in the Newcastle General Hospital. In 1979, my brother was born. Within days of his birth, he contracted encephalitis which has left him blind, paralysed down one side and with severe learning difficulties. The NHS nursed him, nourished him, offered tests, treatments, physio and occupational therapies. The NHS ensured my brother was able to grow to adulthood where he now works as a gardener in Yorkshire. A blind gardener. That still amazes me, but that’s another story. My sister is asthmatic and has been in and out of casualty dozens of times. I’m the clumsiest man in the kingdom and break a bone a year. In short, if I paid 80% tax and NI for the rest of my life, my family will still have had our money’s worth out of the National Health Service.
That’s why the reports that Andrew Lansley, shadow health secretary, has taken £21,000 from a company which operates private hospitals are so disturbing to me. That a potential secretary of state would put himself in the position to be beholden to an organisation or individual which stands to gain from his influence is incredible. It’s either stupidly naive or amazingly brazen. This on top of the story of David Cameron meeting with right-wing think tank Nurses for Reform, which states that it “believes that the government should re-cast the NHS as simply a funder of last resort…. It believes that the state should set free – through a range of full blown for and not-for-profit privatisations – all NHS hospitals and healthcare provision”. And let’s not forget Dan Hannan, scion of the right, calling it all a 60 year mistake. Taken together, we start to see a picture of a health service no longer free at the point of use. We start to see a health service run for commerce and not care, profit and not patients. A health service not giving care for all, but care for those who can afford it. Not for the many, but for the few. It’s a horrible picture.
A great hero of mine, a man who is inextricably linked with the National Health Service, said “Not even the apparently enlightened principle of ‘the greatest good for the greatest number’ can excuse indifference to individual suffering. There is no test for progress other than its impact on the individual”. The vision of a Tory-run NHS that is unfolding before us would be far from the greatest good to the greatest number, and countless numbers of individuals would have their lives devastated.