My own, personal, NHS – and why I will fight for it.

As I write, the man in my life is recovering from arterial surgery in a High Dependency Vascular Unit, in a Centre of Excellence, staffed by highly qualified, experienced, and dedicated nurses and doctors and others. He’s got lines in his arteries and lines in his veins; he’s got drains and drips and tubes; he’s got machines that go Bing! and monitors that go Bong!

You’re paying for that.

My own, personal, NHS has been with me my entire life. On 1st.February 1956, when my NHS was just 8 years old, my mother slipped on ice, and I was born later that day, 6 weeks prematurely. In those days, prem babies didn’t do too well – but the NHS saved my life. It gave me free vaccinations that protected me from polio, diptheria, and other diseases that were still killers back then.

You paid for that, too.

When I was 12, I had a burst appendix and peritonitis, and my NHS saved my life again. I was put in a womens’ surgical ward, stuck in there for 2 weeks, and I remember it clearly. There were starchy aprons and linen caps; student nurses in pink, lilac, and blue striped dresses; SENs and Staff Nurses in green and blue denim dresses; navy blue long-sleeved dresses worn by quite stern women who had very complicated lacy caps; and very frightening valkyries in dark green with even more complicated headgear who would turn up periodically and do grand rounds like the most senior consultants, progressing down the long ward like ships in full sail. No speck of dust escaped them, no untucked sheet escaped rebuke, and even doctors quaked as they approached. Wonderful nurses.

I wanted to be one of them.

When I left school, I had results good enough to get into university to study art, history or English; I still wanted to be a nurse. I worked in London for a while in an office; but I still wanted to be a nurse. Then in May 1975 I put on my first uniform and I started what was to become a lifelong love affair with my own, personal, NHS.

My NHS taught me how to be a nurse; then a good nurse; then a better nurse. It taught me how to care for people – the sick, the broken, the dying, the people who had lost their minds, and the people who couldn’t communicate. It put me through courses and exams and more courses so I could learn more and improve my practice. It gave me various certificates and registrations and diplomas. It gave me a career. My NHS gave me the chance to work in and lead teams of people who saved lives; it gave me friends for life; it gave me the chance to run projects and contribute to public health; all this and pay on top. Not a lot, but enough for me. For decades, I did something I loved, so I didn’t really work at all.

You paid for all that as well.

My father had fantastic palliative care at the end of his life. My sister and a few close friends have had cancer treatment that saved their lives. I’ve been looked after through several pregnancies and miscarriages; I’ve had the joy of delivering a wonderful daughter thanks to careful monitoring and fantastic midwifery. I’ve had many health problems in recent years; I have had caring, intelligent, and largely effective care for what has become chronic illness. I get the tests, drugs, treatments, reviews, and support I need to manage my illness and I am grateful.

Guess what? You paid for all that.

My NHS is a wonderful marvellous complicated amazing thing. My NHS treats 25,000 people every single hour of every single day. My NHS trains some of the best doctors, nurses, paramedics, therapists and technicians in the world. My NHS will save your life and not ask how much it costs. My NHS is the single most cost-effective health service on the planet. My NHS will look after your health and illness and emergencies and joys and much more and it will do it as long as our governments will allow it to.

That’s why my own personal NHS is your NHS too. That’s why we must fight for it, and it’s in more danger now than it has ever been. The Tories claim the NHS is safe with them, but the pace of privatisation and outsourcing increased under the coalition at an alarming pace, and it won’t stop any time soon; the TTIP will make some of the changes irreversible, and it’s coming….soon.

You will pay for that, too. And how.

Aneurin Bevan – “The NHS will last as long as there are folk left with the faith to fight for it”. I have that faith. I hope you do, too.

And the man I mentioned above? He’s doing just fine. All he wanted to know when he woke up was – no, not how his surgery went – the cricket score. The staff nurse told me that when she made the call to tell me he was OK.


You paid for that, too.


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