For many the outpourings of praise heaped on Mrs Thatcher strike the sourest note.  For us she symbolised how our country began down the wrong road; from a post war journey where we hoped for greater social justice, equality, tolerance and comradeship to the rise of rampant individualism, the death of society and the rise of greed is good.  Those who gained no doubt welcomed the change as they banked the proceeds, but the promised trickle down from allowing greed to triumph never materialised – the price was not worth paying.  The price for many families and communities was very high.

During her period in office our NHS went through some of the darkest days, starved of funds prone to annual winter crisis with patients often waiting so long for vital treatment that they died.  Her response was not to invest, to support the hard pressed staff, to show her personal support.  Her solution was the start of fragmentation and the rise of the myth that competition is what delivers reform best. The solution she favoured of privatisation, markets and competition eluded her throughout her time in office and it is ironic that in the week of her death we see the worst aspects of the pro markets Health & Social Care Act coming into force.

When we think of all she stood for we can work out what we need to do to prevent it.  Labour in power did much that restored our NHS in terms of investment and support but it never fully removed the quasi market; trying many equally unsuccessful versions of commissioner/provider split.  But our NHS has proved resilient and the ideological drive to destroy it has not yet succeeded.

For the next general election Labour has to offer a real alternative of the kind now being developed by Andy Burnham beginning with the repeal of the Health & Social Care Act and all that symbolises.

“If Margaret Thatcher is re-elected as prime minister on Thursday, I warn you. I warn you that you will have pain ­ when healing and relief depend upon payment.”

Neil Kinnock 1983

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One Comment

  1. Richard Grimes says:

    One benefit (!) of having a long term condition is that I have experienced the NHS as a constant user since 1976 (when I was 11).

    The clearest memories of the early years was of hospitals with shiny floors. I don’t know why, but it had a big effect on me. In hospital, being worked at 6am to the sound of Ed “stewpot” Stewart when the nurses switched on the radio on the ward tannoy and then the sound of the floor polishers as the cleaners moved in. I have the same, strong memory of the paediatric clinic: highly polished floors.

    I moved to the adult clinic two years after the Thatcher government started. It was the same hospital but a different building. My memories of that clinic was pealing paint on the outside and a filled waiting room on the inside. The most bitter memory was the battle (as they were called then) the British Diabetic Association had with the government over disposable needles. I was expected to inject twice a day with re-usable needles. These got blunt quickly, but I was expected to use them for months. As a result I developed scar tissue in my injection sites – I still have some lumps on my legs from that time, even though I have not injected there for 30 years. The hospital, noticing the lumps, eventually gave me packets of small numbers of disposable needles, but their budgets were constrained. Finally the Thatcher government relented and I got sharp needles on prescription. I cannot tell you what a big difference that made! Blunt needles is hardly the best way to persuade a teenager to self inject.

    My memories as a student are hazy (not what you think! my head was being stuffed full of science), and I had, what my consultant called, “a holiday from diabetes”. When my “holiday” was discovered, the consultant went through my notes and apologised because for two years of attending his clinic I had never seen anyone more senior than a registrar. The number of senior doctors was low. For the last 15 years I have always seen a consultant at the hospital, things are very different now.

    A few years later, at the tail-end of the Thatcher era, my daughter was born. The hospital was across the road from where I worked and (with a sympathetic employer) I went with my wife to all of the antenatal appointments. They all had the same format: appointment at 8am, wait, wait, EMERGENCY! doctor disappears to ED, wait, wait, doctor returns, wait wait, finally see the doctor at 1pm. The staff were working hard during that time, but there just wasn’t enough of them. One thing is for sure, there was no NHS coasting in the late 80s/early 90s! My daughter was born in hospital: we were in a single room and there was one trainee midwife looking after several mothers.

    With the Major years came fundholding (by then I had moved to another area) and I remember my fundholding GP telling me: “I’ve just been on a diabetes course, but since you’ve been a diabetic for 17 years I think you know more about it than I do!” It was a joke, but not encouraging. I was told that I could not go to the diabetic clinic at the hospital because the GP had not contracted them. Fundholding gave patients less choice. Later, I moved house again, this time to a non-fundholding GP and I was able to demand care in the local NHS hospital.

    Over all, my memories of that period was of waiting for hours in clinics, clinicians asking me to save money (like cutting BM sticks length-ways so I had twice as many in a pot), crumbling hospitals (buckets in the corridor when it rained) and demoralised staff. I don’t want to return to that.

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