Medical students and doctors belonging to the newly created organisation “Big Society NHS” organised a Valentine’s Day themed protest against the Health and Social Care Bill, currently being debated in parliament. The bill, if passed through parliament, would pave the way for free-market style reforms within the NHS. The demonstration was held outside the Sherfield building, where secretary of state for health Andrew Lansley was delivering a speech to mark the opening of the Imperial College School for public health.
Big Society NHS feels that the voices of medical students, junior doctors, and the wider public have not been represented in the debate about the bill’s implications on patient care and the NHS as a whole. A secondary aim of Big Society NHS is to scrutinise Mr Lansley’s involvement with private companies delivering health care services.
James Chan, a doctor at York hospital who helped organise the event, explained the aims of the protest as being to: “Tell Andrew Lansley to stop having an affair with private health care corporations and commit to the NHS instead.’’ He added ‘‘We can’t just hand over our greatest national treasure [the NHS] without much of a public debate… there is no decision about us without us.’’
Over a dozen medical students, doctors, and other healthcare professionals assembled outside the building where Andrew Lansley was giving a speech, shouting slogans in support of the NHS and calling on the health secretary to show his love for an organisation that is the hallmark of UK society. The campaigners handed out leaflets and engaged in debate with those passing. A mock performance took place: two healthcare professionals dressed as Andrew Lansley and private health care lobbyist exchanged gifts. The lobbyist handed over cash in exchange for the NHS.
Beth Hall, a medical student at University College London and one of the organisers of the event, expressed concern about the difficulty of obtaining information about corporate lobbyists. She commented that although information is within the public domain, one needs to know where to look. She added that she became aware of the state of affairs after watching a video on the website of “Spinwatch” – an organisation formed to monitor the effects of lobbying and to promote a greater awareness of the process.
In the past few weeks, it has been revealed that John Nash, the former CEO of Care UK, a private health company, had donated over £200,000 to the Conservative party before the election. The above donation, included a contribution of £21,000 to Andrew Lansley’s private office whilst he was still shadow health secretary. Recently, Care UK was awarded a £53 million contract to provide healthcare services to approximately 5000 prisoners residing within several jails in the North East, even though the NHS trust that had been offering the service (Tees, Esk and Wear Valleys NHS Trust) was deemed as capable of providing a better quality service.
Tomasz Pierscionek is a junior doctor working in the north east of England with an interest in psychiatry and public health. He is a board member of the charity Medact and co-editor of the online current affairs magazine London Progressive Journal.