Peter Kavanagh's column

Peter Kavanagh's column

13 February 2017

To paraphrase Shakespeare – now is undoubtedly the winter of our discontent! 

The cold chill of Tory austerity compounded with the utter confusion and uncertainty created by the Brexit vote and the inauguration of Donald Trump has left the UK and many of its residents in a state of shock – if not dismay.

But we must get our priorities right. 

To fight the Tories’ high-handed, dangerous and damaging attitude to our NHS must rank as all trade unionists’ number one priority in these uncertain times. Brexit is an issue the majority of trade unions lost the argument on and while we must still lobby for access to the single market our attention must be focused on one key area of British life – our NHS. 

As ordinary citizens of this land, generations of us have benefited hugely from this wonderful safety net created by the Labour Government of 1945. You need only start a casual conversation with anyone in this country about the NHS to feel the love, pride and admiration we all share for this great institution. Everyone has a story – or ten – of how they, or relatives, or people they know found comfort, relief and brilliant care at the hands of NHS staff. I can tell you a few myself having recently broken my right hand. 

Anyone who has lived outside the UK, particularly in places like the US where you have to pay for health care, will tell you, free health care at the point of need is an absolute cornerstone of human civilisation. You don’t want doctors thinking about money when you walk through the door, you want them to be entirely focused on treating your problem. And the very last thing any human being needs is to be ill and worry if they can pay for health care to solve the problem. 

A colleague here at London & Eastern Region, while living in the US, had to go to Cedars Sinai hospital in Los Angeles in the middle of the night because he was seriously ill. When he got there, although in great pain, before they would treat him, he had to talk to the pay desk and not the nurses about how he proposed to pay for any treatment he received. Once he’d done that he still had to wait for treatment but then, when he got to actually see a doctor, the first words out of the doctor’s mouth were ‘I’m Rod Stewart’s doctor. If you need any further care you can come and see me privately.’ And he handed my - by now - very distressed colleague, his business card. 

Can you imagine walking into your local A&E and the doctor doing a sell-job on you before even addressing your needs? If the Tories get their way – this is the future of our National Health Service. 

Already creeping privatisation via crippling PFI debt and outsourcing of vital services to private companies has hamstrung this mighty institution. The discord created by the incompetence of Health Minister Jeremy Hunt has weakened the resolve of doctors and many in the NHS who bear the brunt of having to make things work while the service is chronically underfunded. And if we don’t do something soon, social care will cease to exist! 

So we must now draw a line in the sand – before it is too late. This region, this trade union, will now be making a stand. This Tory Government has no right to destroy the NHS! 

Please join us on March 4 in London to march to save our NHS. It really is a matter of life and death. 

See you there.