The political importance of the NHS

7 Jul 2014

Following the devastation left by the Second World War, and upon the election of a new Labour Government headed by Clement Attlee, Aneurin Bevan was appointed as the Minister of Health and Housing. As a life-long campaigner for social justice, he was an avid supporter of the rights of working people, and perhaps his most conspicuous contribution during his time in office was the creation of the National Health Service, simply known as the NHS.

 

Upon its foundation, Bevan commented that “the NHS will last as long as there are folk left with the faith to fight for it.” However, with the emergence of an ever-increasingly market-orientated society, and unprecedented demands to meet number quotas which view patients more as statistical figures than actual sentiment humans, it seems that the group of people that Bevan so proudly spoke of are rapidly disappearing. Critics can claim that this view is an overtly exaggerated one, but there is an expanding school of thought, the majority of whom work on our front line health care services, who argue that this claim is not superficial.

In actual fact, in an article published in ‘The Guardian’ newspaper, dated 3rd June 2014, Dr Mark Porter, the leader of the British Medical Association claimed that “our NHS is under huge strain from intense pressures, including rising patient demand and frozen funding.” The backdrop of this, for those who follow health news, was a speech by Simon Stevens, the Chief Executive of NHS England, that aimed to set out how the NHS can overcome the £30 billion gap between its funding and the demand for care by 2020 – just one of the sizeable challenges facing the NHS over the next year or so.

However, despite this rather depressive depiction, there is a group of highly passionate, experienced and concerned NHS experts and service users who are prepared to stand up for the NHS.

Founded in May 2012, the National Health Action Party (NHA) is a ‘coalition of doctor, health workers and ordinary people who have come together to defend and improve the NHS.’

Describing itself as the ‘UK’s largest growing political party’, since its creation the NHA party has gained just over 11,000 followers on Facebook, and 50,000 followers on twitter. This is an extremely impressive growth spurt for a newly-founded political party. 

One of the reasons why it might have been so successful is that its leaders know what they are talking about – they are experienced, trained and fully qualified healthcare practitioners, Clive Peedell being a cancer specialist, and Richard Taylor being a retired hospital physician as well as the former Independent MP for the Wyre Forest, gaining a percentage of 58.1 in the Wyre Forest constituency general elections back in 2001.

But this is not just a national issue. In actual fact, National Health Action Party members, supporters and medical healthcare practitioners are being encouraged to stand in local, general and even European elections. The constituency of the Wyre Forest is perhaps the most synonymous constituency with the party – its political structure being shaped largely by healthcare political activism. Indeed, Dr Richard Taylor, who was successfully elected to the House in 2001 after an intense election campaign against the closure of the Kidderminster Hospital, but defeated at the 2010 general election, is standing again in 2015, as the Prospective Member of Parliament for the Independent Community and Health Concern Party. He has also been recently awarded an MBE for his for services to the community in Worcestershire... especially to Kidderminster Hospital.

With a 34% election turnout rate at the 2014 European elections, which the Prime Minister recently referred to as “depressing”, and humiliating political defeats for the mainstream parties, perhaps the next few years will see the rapid emergence of an independent group in the House of Commons? Who knows? But the thought is attractive.

By Craig Bateman

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