One of the home-made banners at the march for the NHS last Saturday (4 March) reminded us that ‘you don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone’. Perhaps we take for granted the blessing of a health service into which we pay according to our means and from which we receive health care according to our needs, regardless of our ability to pay. That is why I was among the (at least) 200,000 people taking part in the march along with National Justice & Peace Network Exec member Kevin Burr, carrying our NJPN flags.
The march made its way from the home of the British Medical Association in Tavistock Square through central London, along Whitehall (past the Ministry of Defence where only a few days before I had been part of the Ash Wednesday witness against our nuclear war preparations, for which, it seems, we can always find the money) and down to Parliament Square. There we were addressed by, among others, local health campaigners, student nurses, actor Julie Hesmondhalgh, Jeremy Corbyn, Billy Bragg.
The NHS is in crisis due to years of cuts and re-organisations, debts created by the Private Finance Initiative, staffing cuts and the knock-on effects of the underfunding of social care. The private sector is already involved and a hasty trade deal with the USA could open up the NHS to wholesale privatisation. Local ‘sustainabilty and transformation plans’ appear to be a way to force cuts to local health services. Despite a promise to train 10,000 more nurses, the withdrawal of the bursary for nursing students has led to a drop in applications. And there was a strong message in support of migrant workers on whom our NHS depends; the government’s refusal to guarantee the status of EU citizens living in the UK leaves many of those workers in a state of uncertainty which may cause them to leave.
The march was organised by left-wing groups (The People’s Assembly, Health Campaigns United and Unite) so perhaps that is why there was no visible presence of faith groups (that I was aware of). But surely the defence of the NHS in which so many people of faith work and have helped to build is one campaign that calls for a broad alliance in which faith groups should be involved. Not least because they’ll be the ones asked to pick up the pieces once it’s gone.
Ann Kelly 6.3.17