It was more than ten years ago that a friend of mine visited London from Japan with his wife and young daughter. The girl had chronic illness of epilepsy and she had it returned towards the end of their stay. She was immediately admitted to St Thomas’s Hospital and a bed was allocated for the night. The next morning she got better. The parents who spent the night at hospital were relieved. They were also very surprised that the hospital did not charge them a penny. This would not happen in Japan for international visitors. At the same hospital, my daughter was also treated immediately when she cut her chin at school.
I am sure there are many stories like this on NHS.
Equally, there are those “horror stories” on how badly some patients are treated by the system. Actually, when I needed a stitch-up in the middle of the night, it took 5 hours to get that simple treatment at an emergency hospital.
It would be fair to say that NHS needs some reform.
A couple of weeks ago, a London bus driver – John – was addressing my meeting where we talked about quality public services. He said that if the ConDem government successfully get its hands on NHS, it will go through the same path that the bus industry had gone through over the past 20 years through deregulation. He said he can see many parallels to his own experience in what is envisaged with NHS. For example, it will be operated for profit and so cuts will be made on unprofitable businesses.
It is also true that the railway industry and its workers in many parts of the world have gone through similar experiences to these bus workers. Each experience of the rail unions who went through restructuring could differ but when I held our conference in 2008, 170 delegates agreed that railway workers are not afraid of reforms. In fact, technical renovations to improve their working environment are much welcomed. However, the changes in the industry over the past three decades have been heavily driven by the neo-liberal policy which boosted the business profit at the cost of workers and the integrity of the system.
I recently saw a TV program on BBC which said that the GDP in this country has grown by 40% in the last two decades but most of that has gone to the upper class of the society. That is the sort of the world that we live in – Rich get richer and the poor poorer.
I have a friend who just retired as a GP. He says quite disdainfully that the current plan by the government is really to sell the NHS to American businesses. Today, I joined the Happy 63rd Birthday NHS March which Unite the Union organised in Central London. Its leader, Len McCluskey said more or less the same thing in his speech. What about then the Labour Party? Would they take a completely different path to reform the NHS? Some participants at the rally were skeptical. In fact, its leader, Ed Miliband has already said earlier that the public sector unions’ strikes on 30 June were “wrong” as the negotiations were still in session. Shame on you and you have showed your true colours.
Still we have to fight. This will be a real tough one but unless we fight back, we will never win. That is the lesson we draw-up from unions around the world. To add, when you are going through an unprecedented attack, reach out to your members as much as you can for their wisdom. I know a few who survived the tidal wave that way.