The one political issue which means the most to me is the NHS. It exemplifies how I believe we, as a society, should look after each other. It is the greatest achievement of the Labour Party and the best-loved institution in the United Kingdom.
While the NHS is a national issue, hence the name, I am committed to local, community, campaigning. Someone asked me recently where I see myself on a scale from the left to the right of the Labour Party. I answered that I’m not on that one-dimensional scale. You have to add a dimension, top-to-bottom, to find where I am. I’m down at the bottom, in the grass roots, fighting for change in communities with real people. You don’t have to be a Trot or a Blairite to realise that, for example, GP surgeries using premium rate numbers for patients to make appointments is morally wrong. The way to end this is through ground-up campaigning.
We’ve got your number
As the Tory-LibDem Coalition races on with the privatisation and fragmentation of the NHS, small but noisy local campaigns can still have successes for local people. The most commented on post on this blog is this one about the premium rate phone numbers used by local GP practices. By highlighting this breach of the doctors’ contract publicly and repeatedly I drew much criticism and even threats of legal action. However, I’m pleased to announce that one of the two local surgeries using the 0844 numbers has scrapped it and is now exclusively using a local number. The other one, Lightwater, continues to rip off its patients by having an 0844 number but also has a local number. This is inadequate, of course, and the campaign will continue until they scrap their premium rate number and apologise to their patients and me for their misleading and derogatory statements.
Ethical or unethical healthcare?
Another promising development, after a long local campaign, is that Surrey Heath Clinical Commissioning Group have agreed to consider changes to their constitution proposed by the Surrey Heath members of 38 Degrees. This would help ensure that only ethical providers of healthcare are used and not tax evaders or companies with criminals on their boards. Here is the latest letter I received from Dr Andy Brooks, the CCG’s Chief Officer:
It is important to remember that local Conservatives have opposed any restrictions on the commissioning of healthcare. A local Tory councillor, Denis Fuller, took to the letters page of a local newspaper to vilify me as a ‘hypocrite’ among other names, for trying to keep healthcare providers ethical. He objected to them having to pay tax in the UK.
This is what we are up against: the Conservative agenda is to sell off all of our public services and channel the money from them to private companies which they and their supporters benefit from. This is happening apace in the NHS and is why it is absolutely vital that we have a Labour government after the 2015 election. If I have to take some public abuse from blustering Tory councillors or some legal threats from greedy businessmen to achieve these local successes, so be it.