This article first appeared on the Leeds Unite Community blog page - https://unitecommunityleeds.wordpress.com/
Unions Together organised a rally for the NHS on Thursday 23rd April at Leeds Town Hall. With the warm up provided by the excellent Unite Brass Band, the whole event was ably and amusingly overseen by MC for the evening, actor Richard Wilson.
Nearly 1,000 people attended the event and heard an array of speakers, including Ed Miliband, UNISON General Secretary Dave Prentis, Shadow Health Secretary Andy Burnham, NHS campaigner Harry Leslie Smith, actor and mental health campaigner Iain Puleston-Davies, Wakefield Councillor and carer Michelle Collins, Labour parliamentary candidates Veronica King and Paula Sherriff. All emphasised the danger to the NHS of another Tory-dominated government.
The speakers also included Unite Community’s Callum Stanland, billed as ‘as an inspiring young campaigner’. Although Callum hails from Grimsby, he has recently been on attachment to the Leeds Branch and working in our Farsley Community Support Centre while undergoing treatment at Jimmy’s hospital in Leeds. Although there were several impressive speeches, Callum’s was particularly inspiring, linking the moving story of his own illness and treatment to the threats from the Tories to the NHS.
Callum’s speech was greeted enthusiastically by the rally’s audience and he was given a standing ovation. He was also presented with a special award by Andy Burnham in recognition of his efforts as a Labour and trade union campaigner.
Here is the full text of Callum’s speech.
Anuerin Bevan famously said “The NHS will survive as long as there are folk left with the faith to fight for it”. Well today I see a lot of people who have that faith, and now more than ever our NHS needs us to stand up and fight for it.
Our NHS is under threat from a Tory government intent on demonizing and privatising our most beloved national treaure. We have already seen 5 years of , cuts, attacks on the terms and conditions of NHS workers and vital services and treatments that are needed to ensure we are all guaranteed a good quality of life are now gone, as well as attacks on our NHS from their cronies in the right wing media.
At a time when we need our NHS most, we see cutbacks, wage freezes and private profiteers making a profit at the expense of the sick and injured.
All of us here today, and every single person in our country, will have needed to use, or will need to call upon the services of our most treasured NHS at some point in our lives.
Illness can hit any of us at any time; it doesn’t discriminate. Rich or poor, young or old, we can come to rely on our NHS at any time, sometime without any warning.
Until recently I was an ordinary 21 year old (well if you don’t include the trade union activity and spending my weekends knocking on doors for Labour), I’d just started working and had just moved out of my parent’s house. I hadn’t stepped foot in a hospital since primary school and I’d never even seen my GP!
Then one night I had excruciating pain. I went to hospital the following morning and after having every type of scan possible and a biopsy, on December 12th last year I was diagnosed with a very rare form of liver cancer. The next week I was back in at St James’ hospital here in Leeds to begin treatment.
When I found out I had cancer, it came as a huge shock. People like me don’t get cancer. It didn’t sink in at all. In truth I was more worried about whether I would still be able to see my favourite band play in London the next week (Manic Street Preachers playing ‘The Holy Bible’ in full at Camden Roundhouse in case anyone’s interested).
I made it to my gig (thanks to Teenage Cancer Trust) and started my fortnightly trips to Leeds for chemotherapy on December 21st last year.
Now 4 months later I have a new hairstyle.
My tumour has shrunk a lot.
And I only have one more course of chemotherapy to complete before I go onto the waiting lists.
And thanks to amazing support from family, friends and comrades I’ve been able to get on with life as usual, which for me including volunteering for my union Unite and campaigning for a much needed Labour win in just 14 days’ time.
And I must say a special thank you to every single member of NHS staff who has helped me during the course of my treatment. From consultants, doctors and nurses right down to the admin staff, housekeepers and porters. They all work incredibly hard and provide such amazing standards of care. It is an incredibly difficult job, especially on the young adult cancer unit and they do an amazing job every single day.
But the pressure these inspirational staff are under on a daily basis, while not having a pay rise is immense. I see every day the stress levels are through the roof and as much as they would love to give more care to patients, they simply don’t have the time.
Not a single member of NHS staff on our ward will be voting Tory in this election. That’s because one thing is clear: the Tories don’t want an NHS. In 1948 they voted against the NHS, Thatcher did her best to undermine the NHS and bring in an element of privatisation and now Cameron and his cronies want to finish the job.
The Tories don’t believe in a compassionate, caring society, where everyone does better and we look after those that need it. The Tories would rather doctors feel for your purse before they feel for your pulse. I dread to think what would happen not just to me, but to the young people I see on the ward, and to young people who will be patients on the ward in the future, if we face another 5 years of Tories doing their utmost to roll back all the gains working people have won since 1945.
This election leaves us with a stark choice between more privatisation of our public services, or investing in them, recruiting more staff easing the strain on hard pressed doctors and nurses, making sure cancer patients are diagnosed early so more people, including young people like I see daily on my ward, survive cancer and go on to live full lives. This election is about much more than who gets to live in Number 10, it’s a matter of life and death. That’s why over the next 14 days we need to do everything we can to ensure that we win, knock on those doors and make the phone calls that will make the difference. That’s how we’ll win this election and ensure Ed Miliband is our next Prime Minister on May 8th.