‘The N.H.S. stripped down like a derelict house’

Harry Leslie Smith is 91 and recently extracts from his latest book ‘Harry’s Last Stand’ appeared in The Guardian. He describes the contrast between the dire poverty of his younger years and the difference made by the introduction of the national health service in 1948. Before then he and his family lived under bare subsistence. Marion, one of his two sisters, had TB and died after years of pain, her body committed to a pauper’s pit and ‘interned in an unmarked grave along with a dozen other forgotten victims of penury’.

Unless you had money – and the family of a coal miner had little – you hadn’t the means to keep healthy. When the N.H.S. was formed, the first brick was laid on the road to the social welfare state, he says. It was a ‘transformational shift’ in how we as a country viewed our fellow citizens. It helped us to understand that we were in truth our brother’s keeper. He claims that such philosophy of how a nation shall live – ‘these beautiful structures of our society’ – is now under severe threat.

He finds it difficult to listen to politicans, some of whom have their own health insurance and shares in private health care companies, when they talk about how the health service must change. He argues that the govermnent’s Health and Social Care Act will create a two-tier health system and provide a gateway to privatise the health care system. He alleges that one fifth of the lords ( in Britain’s second chamber) who voted in the controversial act, were found to have connections to private health companies. ‘What has happened to the world my generation built?’he asks.

There was an enormously positive response in the next day’s Guardian letters page. People were affected by his concerns which were shared by many of the correspondents.

‘How is it that the elderly can forget so easily and vote for political parties which now includes the Labour party, who want to privatise all the services that working-class people depend on’?….’The piece by Harry Leslie Smith, so beautifully written, should be sent to every M.P.and member of ther House of Lords who voted for the Health and Social Care Act so that they can realise the enormity of what they have done.’…’..’We have heard so much about the excessive cost of the NHS, but this belies the truth that in England we spend less per capita on health than most other countries’….Rarely have I been so moved by an article..’

Being moved is one thing. Political action that affects and changes legislation is another. I think more and more people share my sense of helplessness in the face of a government for whom power and money are more important than justice and social solidarity.

What to do about it becomes more and more urgent.