Why do people get involved in campaigns? For Dr. Kailash Chand, Tameside GP and chair of the Tameside Glossop NHS Trust, it’s about saving a service to which he has devoted his life. “I came to this country over 30 years ago to work in what I believe is the best healthcare system in the world.” During those thirty years he has worked in all aspects of the health service and has also campaigned to ensure that the key principles of the NHS, including free universal healthcare for all, are maintained. “I work in Tameside which is a deprived borough and this will affect those who need the NHS the most. Elderly people, people with dementia and so on will suffer if this bill becomes law.”
Political parties know that the NHS is highly valued by most people in this country. Even the Tories at the last election promised not to undermine it, yet within weeks of taking office brought forward a Bill clearly years in preparation. Dr. Chand sees this Bill as entirely ideological. “It will take away the responsibility of the Secretary of State for Health to ensure that the health needs of the population are being met. It will create more bureaucracy and turn GPs from clinicians into business managers.” He questions why this Bill is being brought in now, at a time of austerity. The NHS was created in 1948 at a time when the country was recovering from the Second World War by a Labour Government. Health Minister Aneurin Bevan asserted; “The collective principle asserts that… no society can legitimately call itself civilised if a sick person is denied medical aid because of lack of means”.
Dr.Chand likens the NHS to tap water. “We expect it to be there when we need it”. But he admits that the challenges for the NHS are huge, including an ageing population, new technology, the affects of alcohol and obesity “I am not against reforms but the ideology that a privatised health service can deliver the answers to these needs is wrong” He has likened the fight over the NHS as comparable to Thatcher’s Poll Tax which led to rioting and civil disobedience across the country. He believes the NHS Bill could cause the demise of the Con/Dem Government.
Dr.Chand’s response to the Bill hasn’t just been writing letters and articles about why it is seriously flawed. He also started his own e-petiton because, as he says, “I felt that no one outside the NHS was listening. My aim was to broaden the debate amongst all sections of society.” And it has certainly worked. At time of writing the petition has over 160,000 signatures. It has inspired other activists and the opposition to the Bill has caused major ruptures in the Con/Dem government and forced the Labour Party to raise their game. Opposition has come from a wide spectrum including Dr Chand’s own organisation the BMA, most Royal Colleges, as well as trade unions and patient groups. This week the MPs on the Business Backbench Committee refused time to debate Dr.Chand’s petition. He responds, “What’s the point of e-petitions if they turn down for debate the one that got the most signatures of any so far? It’s an insult to the very democracy we’re so proud of.’”
Other groups such as 38 Degrees are taking the campaign to another level. This week they have been asking people to donate towards putting billboards to tell David Cameron that doctors and nurses oppose the bill. In less than a week over £250,000 has been raised through individual donations by more than 15,000 people. Thatcher won three general elections but was brought down by the campaign against the poll tax. Will Cameron too be stabbed in the back by his Cabinet as his poll ratings slump?
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