A few days ago I had a phone call from a TV producer called Sarah Bloch-Budzier, who sounded warm and friendly and wanted to know if I would be prepared to give an interview to BBC TV on what it was like to be among the first people to be treated by the National Health Service back in 1948. The interview was to be part of a programme the BBC will be collating to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the start of the NHS, which was on July 5th 1948. Naturally I said ‘Of course’, the rescue and preservation of the NHS being very important to me.
They arrived at midday on Monday, Sarah, who turned out to be as friendly as she sounded and is very pretty, an equally affable and handsome man called Hugh Pym, who is six foot seven inches tall and gentle, and turned out to be the same age as my younger daughter (I checked him out on Google later) and a photographer, laden with cameras and equally friendly, who told me his name which I’m afraid I’ve forgotten, because I didn’t write it down.
They decided to film in the conservatory and I was settled in my usual chair at the table and attached to a microphone and off we went. I won’t take you through the interview here because you can see it when it’s transmitted – or perhaps I should say ‘if and when’ because nothing is certain when it comes to television. The anniversary is on July 5th. I’ll give you a reminder nearer the time.
Hugh Pym is a patient interviewer and a knowledgeable one. I was impressed by the number of books he’d read about the run up to the NHS and its history. But I think I showed him something relatively new to him when I produced my copy of William Beveridge’s report and told him how it preached revolution, which seemed amazing to us at the time, and how he’d spelt out in patient detail just how that revolution could be achieved. I think he was a bit surprised to think that it should have been read by schoolchildren – I was a grammar schoolgirl when it came out and read it avidly when I was in the fifth form. But I tried to explain how popular it was – it was a best seller within days of publication and outsold all the other current best sellers put together. We talked for a while about how the war had given people a new and unusual opportunity to meet together and talk about the sort of world we wanted. We lived in working groups during the war not isolated in our homes, and we talked wherever we were, in factories, schools, the forces, air raid shelters. And I was aware as we talked of how very different our lives are now.
After they’d packed up their cameras and said good bye, I sat down and made a list of all the things I was thinking about, as my head was fizzing with them. It seemed to me then and it seems to me now that, if we’re going to restore our cherished and admirable NHS, we have got to tackle the lies and propaganda that this government has been pumping out about it through their tame media and, if we can, to expose what they are really doing to it behind our backs. At the moment they’re having everything their own way and that must stop.
Firstly. We should nail the lie that the NHS is ‘free’ and that people who use it are idle scroungers who are ‘taking something for nothing.’ THE NHS HAS NEVER BEEN FREE. We have always paid for it, as we intended to, week by week through our National Insurance contributions which were deducted at source from our wage packets, and also by our taxes. It was, and is, a matter of honour, which William Beveridge understood and stressed in his report. You pay in willingly so that the service – whether it be medical care, a pension or unemployment benefit to tide you over until you can get another job – is there for you and your family when you need it. That is the essence of the Welfare State.
Secondly. We should explain, over and over again, that there is a fundamental and insurmountable difference of attitude between the Health Service and the Welfare State, which do not exist to make a profit, and private services which do. The first attitude produces caring organisations, the second leads, far too often, to greed, some of it obscene. First and foremost and most importantly, these private services guys are there to make a profit, whether it be from health care, social care, railways, schools, exams. And the richer they are, the less likely they are to contribute to our society by paying taxes. You cannot serve God and Mammon.
Thirdly. We should make it our business to press for information about all the secret deals our leaders are, and have been, doing behind closed doors. They have already sold off a large proportion of our NHS to multimillionaires like Richard Branson. We need to know the names of all the people to whom they have sold these choice bits and for how much. The NHS was never theirs to sell. It was created by the people who voted in a Labour government in 1945 and it belongs to all of us.
And fourthly. We should press our new government to bring in a law that would require our MPs to tell the truth in the House. At the moment, because of a piece of antiquated flim-flammery that assumes an MP cannot lie ‘because he is a gentleman and gentlemen do not lie’, it is impossible for outright liars to be called to account. That must stop. The task of cleansing our foul Augean stables begins there.
If you are interested in all this, you will find more detailed information in a blog I put up on January 10th 2018. ‘Our NHS is very near its final destruction’.