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The NHS march

Medicine Balls

Phil Hammond

Tuesday, 07 March 2017

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NHS march_March 2017_shutterstock_592875626.jpgWere you on the NHS march? 250,000 people took to the streets of London to protest against the underfunding and outsourcing of health and social care, and the perceived cuts that will inevitably follow the chase for £22 billion in efficiency savings. I was on tour at the time, but found a space between Didcot and Worcester to speak at the opening of the rally. I travelled down on my own but, reading tweets from nurses congregating at their Royal College to start the march, I decided to head for mine and meet up with like-minded GPs.

The Royal College of GPs was ideally placed for a march meeting point – bang opposite Euston station where many other marchers were gathering. But I realised all was not well when I tried to enter in my 'Born in the NHS' t-shirt. I’ve been to the college HQ dozens of times, but this was the only time I’ve been asked to show ID. Security men were gazing anxiously at the crowd outside, hoping none would try to come in and use the toilets. Inside, not a single GP marcher. Have we all simply given up hope?

There were doubtless GPs on the march, but no obvious presence or motivational speeches from the perspective of GPs, which I thought was very odd. I met lots of lovely people, and lots of angry people, and plenty who were both. There were some chants about the Tories and Jeremy Hunt that couldn’t be repeated in polite company, but the overwhelming concern was that our health and social care system is falling to pieces, and those in charge of funding and managing it from the top are completely disconnected from the reality at the bottom, largely because they have private health insurance.

And therein lies the problem. The government sees the NHS as a service for the poor, and anyone who can afford it should take out private health insurance. Any extra funding for health will come from growth in the private sector, not just from private healthcare but from private companies taking over services particularly in the community. Virgin already runs 400 community services and has just launched an online gaming site. So they now do end-of-life care alongside Black Jack and Roulette.

The bottom line is that the Conservatives do not view Labour as an election threat, so they can pretty much do what they like with pubic services. I doubt the recent march will make a jot of difference to their policies, but we do know that marching is great for your health. Several hundred thousand people of all shapes and sizes did a reasonably taxing stomp from Tavistock Square to Parliament. If we all did a protest march a day, our risk of heart attack and stroke would decrease dramatically. We could save the NHS simply by marching angrily everywhere. Could Jeremy Hunt’s secret plan be to enrage us so much that we all take to the streets and do two hours of aerobic exercise a day?

Picture: 4 March 2017 - March for the NHS. Credit: Ms Jane Campbell / Shutterstock.com

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Phil Hammond

Phil is a GP, writer, comic and broadcaster and been a lecturer in medical communication at two universities. He has been Private Eye’s medical correspondent since 1992 and a regular guest on several shows including Have I Got News for You and Countdown. He presented five series of Trust Me, I’m a Doctor on BBC2 and his Radio 4 sitcom about GPs struggling with the NHS reforms - Polyoaks - has been re-commissioned for a second series. Author of three books - Medicine Balls, Trust Me, I'm (Still) a Doctor and Sex Sleep or Scrabble? - he also has two DVDs. Phil launched a website to encourage NHS staff, patients and relatives to speak up when they come across poor care. He had a passionate argument with Andrew Lansley on BBC 1's Question Time, describing the Health and Social Care Bill as 'unreadable' and '358 pages of wonk'.

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