‘You’re probably thinking who am I?’, I found myself saying. ‘I’m a member of 38DEGREES, the online campaigning organisation. I’m an individual member. I wanted to show my support for the NHS. I’m meeting other members who live locally here for the first time. We want to collect as many signatures as we can to tell the government and all political parties to look after the NHS…keep it in safe hands.’
I’d made my way across the park towards the meeting place. It was a sunny Saturday morning. The birds were lively in the trees. It was warm even. I kept my eyes open for fellow 38DEGREES badge wearers, “I love NHS” but didn’t see any. Fiona was the first person I met at the meeting point.
‘Wouldn’t it be good if we could capture the stories people told us?’, she said.
Inside a craft fayre, I found myself answering questions from two stall holders about TTIP. ‘I’m not an expert, could be wrong. I think it’s a proposed trade agreement between the US and the European Union, opening up markets, including the NHS, to competition from multi-national companies outside of national government control.’ They signed.
I explained to a woman originally from Eastern Europe what the NHS was and why it mattered to people. She signed.
I was greeting the stall holders, offering them a leaflet. Some of them work or had worked in the NHS. One woman made her own exquisite jewellery. She told me she’d been a nurse on the High Dependency Unit at a children’s hospital. ‘I had to leave in the end. There’s only so much you can take.’ ‘I know that HDU,’ I told her. ‘I’ve been there. The staff helped save my son’s life…there’s the only time I ever saw nurses cry on duty. It was morning, during hand-over time.’ She signed.
A man told me,’ I’ll sign. I had treatment for bowel cancer two years ago and they looked after me royally in the hospital.’ I told him how well he looked. He did. His partner signed too.
Out on the street, me and my pair, Anne, stopped to talk to an extended family, made up of mum and dad, nan and the kids, making plans for the afternoon. We apologised for interrupting them and showed them the petition…’I’ll sign it’, the young mum said. ‘I work in the NHS.’ Her mum signed it too. ‘And what about the kids?’ The two girls were aged about 6 and 9 years old. They started laughing, a little shyly. ‘It’s for them we’re signing,’ said their mum. ‘They’ll have more use for it.’
We did get one seven-year old’s signature, next to the swings in the park, freely signed, underneath her mum’s. The young girl had first gone into a Walk-In Centre for treatment on a gashed nose. Later on, she’d gone into hospital for the day for a small procedure. ‘She loved it’, said her mum. ‘You loved it, didn’t you? She has two brothers at home, always fighting over everything. She had a bed all to herself in hospital, her own tele and her own remote control. She loved it, didn’t want to come out.’ Her nose looked good to me too.
We fell into conversation with a man, who told us he’d been a policeman. ‘Why is it a bad thing, privatising the NHS? I heard this morning they’re doing that in Manchester. How do you know it’s a bad thing?’’ That’s a good question,’ I said. ‘It may turn out ok,’ I said, ‘but it opens the door…’ What politician is going to refuse a multi-million pound pot to manage the health service? But tell me what experience do they have? Won’t it create more bureaucracy? And what if you live just over the ‘border’? Which hospital do you go to? Who pays? And if doesn’t work out, maybe, TTIP will allow a big multi-national organisation to come in and take it over. You’ve broken up the Health Service. It stops being national, anymore. Does it matter? And what if they introduce extra charges? Maybe, offer you private insurance cover for better treatment? That won’t happen, will it?
I didn’t think of these last responses at the time but it set me thinking. You can’t always have the answer. Sometimes, it’s more helpful to think about the question. Somehow, you get more out of it. Just as we parted, he told us, ’I had colon cancer eighteen years ago. They did a good job.’ He’d been through a restructuring in the police force, seeing management stripped out, officers not replaced , only then for consultants to come in later and growing management tiers again. ‘It didn’t make any sense’, he said. I knew a bit about it. My own sister had been a very capable manager in the police and had been made redundant. Yet, who would be out on the streets asking for signatures in support of the police? And where would we be without them..? He signed.
Our hour was nearly up, so we made our way back to the rendezvous. There, I met Rosie and Michael. She was a trainee nurse. For some reason, I thought about inequality. ‘Yesterday, I was in a workshop where we put forward a 1-4 pay ratio for the UK. Say the lowest earners would get £15,000 per year and the highest £60,000. I think you can live very well on £60,000. But someone else said what about the doctors? Would they go through all that training, if they couldn’t earn more? Michael said not all doctors earned so much. His mum was a radiographer. ‘How well she knows you, Michael.’ He looked at me..? ‘She can see straight through you!’ ‘My mum’s dad had been a GP. From what I’ve heard, he didn’t work for the money. One time, he was given a chair in payment. He said he knew where the chair was going and took it round to a patient’s house. His wife wasn’t very happy.’
‘That’s why I’m here too, I think. I remember listening to my nan talking to my mum, while I sat invisible on the tuffet. She and Mrs Snow were the two women in their street, who brought babies into the world and washed and dressed and laid out the dead. It cost half-a-crown to call the doctor out (that’s twelve and a half pence to you) and people couldn’t afford it. They would only pay it as a last resort. They probably couldn’t afford the prescription either.’
Four female footballers were packing their kit into the back of their car after a match. ‘What position do you play?’ ‘Striker.’ ‘Will you sign this petition in support of the NHS? It’s 38DEGREES…’ ‘We all work in the NHS. Give it here.’ And they signed it.
‘How many signatures you got, Anne?’ ‘Between 30 and 40,’ she said. ‘Me too. Not bad for an hour’s work.’
The staff in the Co-op signed it.
The woman in the bread shop, her husband and her son, the bakers, signed it.
In the Purple Carrot, all the staff and customers had already signed it online.
One person did say ‘no’…one of the stall holders. While I talked to the person next to her, I offered her a leaflet, which she took to read. ‘Changed your mind..?’ I asked her. ‘I work in the hospital, thought I’d signed it already.’ By the way, how many creative people are there working in the NHS? We’d met loads. ‘But this one’s different. It must have been a work one.’ She signed the petition.
‘Why’s it called 38DEGREES?’, I asked a woman in the park, as she signed. ‘It’s because they reckon 38 degrees is the tipping point. Up to 38 degrees, it looks like nothing is happening. But, at 38 degrees, it flips and then everything changes.’