Picture from the NHS protests in 2018. Picture from the NHS protests in 2018. Source: Diego Sideburns - Flickr / photo share in full as per license / licenced under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 / license linked below

With the NHS struggling to survive, it is vital that campaigning on the cost-of-living crisis puts it centre stage, argues Lucette Davies

It is four years since a national demonstration was organised in London for the NHS.  Although the destruction of our NHS has certainly not abated, the focus of public attention has shifted onto the cost-of-living crisis. It has felt demoralising as an NHS campaigner to witness the passion and resolve of so many activists dissipate, while at the same time to be hearing personal stories of poor NHS care increase in frequency. 

Yet just last week when our local group held an event in the town centre to discuss the future of our NHS, we saw something different. We held many a long conversation with people from all walks of life who had had enough. We spoke to people who had been life-long Tory supporters, but the destruction of local NHS services had changed all that. NHS staff described why they were at the end of their tether. People told us how they were desperate for change, angered by what is happening and often deeply distressed. The most frequent question I was asked was: “What can I do to help save our NHS?” 

Just a few days later, the Enough is Enough campaign organised rallies and marches in fifty towns and cities across the UK. Hundreds of thousands of people were mobilised, recognising their strengths as workers and voters upon which the system relies to maintain itself. It is an unfortunate omission that Enough is Enough has not included the reinstatement of our NHS in their list of demands.

People have had enough of the relentless attacks on our NHS. I can understand the exhaustion and demoralisation of existing campaigners, but there is a passion amongst the population which is being left untapped. As people across the country suffer a cost-of-living crisis it should be imperative that unions and campaigns take action on the fact that many people are now having to pay for healthcare. And even more will in the future.

NHS cuts and rationing

We have witnessed the rationing of NHS services for years now. Increasing numbers of us are now expected to pay when we use services that once were provided on the NHS. I am hearing people say that they are taking out private health insurance to avoid using an NHS that is close to breaking point. Other people are now choosing to pay for treatment so as to avoid being kept on waiting lists. Disgracefully, immigrant workers are expected to pay a surcharge in order to use the NHS services. 

It is of vital importance that the efforts being put into challenging the cost-of-living crisis keep a focus also on the fight against the destruction of our NHS, which is such an essential part of a decent standard of living for the vast majority in this country. 

NHS workers are currently being balloted for industrial action. That may then reignite activism in the fight against what is happening to the NHS as a whole. For often it has only been because of their dedication that health workers have been able to keep the service afloat. Yet, NHS staff have carried the burden of maintaining standards of healthcare, despite Westminster showing little interest in doing so, for too long. It is time the public and campaigners started to re-emerge with fresh energy and demand the reinstatement of our NHS.

Campaigning opportunity

We no longer need to worry about how to translate messy and complicated political changes in NHS policy to the public. We don’t even need to worry about trying to show why these policies will result in poor healthcare. Most people now recognise that the changes that have been brought in are not giving us a stronger, safer and more resilient healthcare system. In fact, most people are horrified by what has been done to their NHS. 

Liz Truss has also done us another favour. In just three weeks, she has demonstrated to the country that the Tory party is not the party of economic competence. She may have done a U-turn on the 45p rate of income tax, but she seems hell-bent on spending cuts. 

Backbenchers are already expressing opposition to further austerity, possibly fearing it may cost them their jobs. Public support in the past for spending cuts has often relied on people believing them to be an indication that the government was behaving responsibly when the economy was struggling.

But, as one radio presenter I heard yesterday said, government spending makes up part of the economy. Any spending cuts are going to have a knock-on effect that will reinforce the public view that this Tory party is an economic disaster zone. Our NHS will certainly not survive any further spending cuts.

The time has never been better to fight for our NHS for so many reasons. I sent an email to Enough is Enough to ask that they add the reinstatement of our NHS to their list of demands. Perhaps they need many more people to send such emails?

We also need to make sure that the People’s Assembly demonstration on 5 November has a message about saving the NHS at the forefront.

But most importantly of all, none of us should think that giving up on the NHS is an option.

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Lucette Davies

Lucette is a People's Assembly activist, member of Counterfire and founder of East Sussex Save the NHS