I came to London from the Irish Republic in 1969 to train as a nurse. This is my story and why I’m fighting for the NHS.

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November 21, 2017 by Protect Our NHS


This is the talk that a Protect Our NHS (PoNHS) supporter gave to a group of students from the University of the West of England this month (November 2017)


I’ve come to speak to you as a member of the Bristol campaigning group Protect our NHS, which I  joined in 2013.

I’d like to speak about:

The NHS itself

  • Why I am passionate about it;
  • Why groups like PoNHS and many others are passionate about it;
  • and how you can help.


The National Health Service:

Founded in 1948 by a fiery Welsh man called Aneurin Bevan. He had seen extreme poverty & injustice and was determined to make a change.

1948 was at a time when this country was incredibly impoverished, in tatters, after the 2nd world war. But the answer wasn’t imposed ‘austerity’. Someone had a dream! And the fire and determination to bring into being a humane health service in which, in Bevan’s words ‘rich & poor are treated alike, that poverty is not a disability & wealth is not advantaged’.

He had a very long and very hard fight to introduce a comprehensive health service based on clinical need NOT on ability to pay.

He told the many politicians and doctors who were trying to stop him that:

No society can legitimately call itself civilised if a sick person is denied medical aid because of a lack of means‘.

I came to London from the Irish Republic in 1969 to train as a nurse. It was a lonely time and us immigrants weren’t always welcome. But after a short time I discovered something amazing about this country. I’d never heard of Aneurin Bevan. But I discovered that if you got sick you didn’t have to find the money for the doctor or hospital!

This was an amazing discovery! My mother had died some years earlier in Ireland, leaving 5 small children. When she eventually scraped together enough money for the doctor’s fees her cancer was very  advanced and she died soon afterwards. I didn’t know what was going on at the time. Neighbours explained years later that she had put off going to the doctor until the pain became unbearable, as she needed to feed the children. I didn’t know that. I just remember her crying quietly in the evenings.

Healthcare in Ireland is still a two tier service. Every time I go back to the land of my birth I see larger and larger health insurance company buildings. Insurance companies who make profit out of ill health!

And you know what insurance companies do. Same as with your car or your pet. They increase your premiums if you make a claim. They charge higher premiums or exclude you from cover if you’re a poor bet.  Witness the American model where 65% of bankruptcies are caused by healthcare costs.

In the Irish Republic there’s  a ‘medical card’ system where those who are judged to be ‘poor enough’ are exempt from charges. I only recently read Aneurin Bevan’s book ‘In place of Fear. A Free Health Service’, published in 1952, the year I was born.

He mentions the American friends who tried hard to persuade him that he should ‘fix an income limit below which treatment would be free‘.

Among other reasons for rejecting this idea he said it would necessitate proof & ‘lying & cheating & all sorts of insidious nepotism‘.

Oh yes!! My family were squalidly, grindingly poor but we weren’t ‘poor enough’ for a medical card.

So this is why I campaign with Protect our NHS.

It took me a long time to accept that the NHS was really being run down by successive governments.

I thought people whinged a bit too much about waiting times.  Stringent targets were introduced with financial penalties if patients were kept waiting 5 minutes longer than was allowed. I carried on working throughout one NHS reorganisation after another and tried to my best each day. To run faster. To try harder.

I gradually felt more and more beaten down and wondered if it might be true that this country couldn’t afford this compassionate publicly funded comprehensive NHS.

I felt saddened by the official endorsement of selfishness contained in a certain person’s pronouncement that there is ‘no such thing as society’.

I was still working in London then & many hospital buildings were being sold off but the money did not come back to the NHS.

And the celebration of wealth and scapegoating of the poor, the foreign, the other…

It’s so easy to get sucked into that way of thinking. We’re all human & can begin to feel resentful of others when we think they’re getting it easier than us.

Especially if we read certain newspapers!

2011: a certain person made a pre election promise there would be ‘no more top down reorganisation of the NHS’.

An election promptly introduced, with NO public consultation, the Health & Social Care Act of 2012. Paving the way for more private companies to cherry pick the profitable bits of healthcare.

Why groups like PoNHS and many others are passionate about the NHS

I started to read more and discovered that there were many people, speaking, writing books, protesting about the deliberate dismantling of the NHS. The expensive wasteful privatisation, GPs forced to become  business people. Clinicians forced to write tenders for contracts and compete with businesses.

Protect our NHS is an active campaigning group, which was formed in November 2012 in Bristol. Ordinary people who noticed the increasing marketisation &  fragmenting of care. Some of us are current or retired NHS workers. Some not. All are people who want to protect a well funded inclusive publicly owned health service. And to campaign for fair wages & conditions for all staff.

We have meetings twice a month in Bristol, Tony Benn House, Victoria Street. 1st & 3rd Tuesday of the month. 715pm-845pm.

New members always welcome.

We are not affiliated to ANY political party.

We campaign in many ways.

Celebrating the dedicated, high quality care in Our NHS by singing ‘Thank you for the care’. Flash mobs, videos.

Writing to our MPs, councillors. Collecting petition signatures.

Walking 300 miles from Jarrow to London with a group called 999 Call for the NHS. September 2014.

Cooperating with other groups & health campaigners.

We took cakes & fruit to the midwives on the pickets when they had their 1st ever industrial action. Supported the junior doctors strikes. That episode led to many more doctors becoming aware of the need to protect and the core founding principles of the NHS.

We support the NHS workers ‘Scrap the Cap’ campaign.

We spend time attending Council Health scrutiny meetings, asking questions from the public gallery.

Have you heard of the Sustainability & Transformation Plans (STPs)? The latest NHS reorganisation!

The new CEO of the joint Bristol, North Somerset & South Gloucestershire CCG recently admitted that her job is not to protect the NHS. She said ‘I leave that to you‘, pointing to us in the public gallery.  She said openly that her job is to find financial savings.

PONHS has a website, Facebook page, Twitter account.

Google us! Look us up. Take a leaflet. Join us. We need more young people!

Lots of us had to be dragged into the 21st century & use Social Media but we realise that it can help people to connect and use their collective power for good.

We are affiliated to Health Campaigns Together a national NHS  campaigning group- take their latest newsletter.

What you can do and how you can help

Read up about the subject.

Research the NHS Reinstatement Bill.

Save Weston A&E – Facebook page

Patients not Passports.

Talk to friends/family. Discuss why we’re encouraged to scapegoat the ‘others’: the poor, the old, the migrant, the smokers, the overweight.

Tell us about any positive or negative NHS experiences.

Find out who your local councillor is. Write about your concerns about health & social care. Individual letters better. Your MP. Media, mainstream as well as social.

Look out for campaigns, petitions, marches. Protest marches can be such fun! Especially in the rain!

I think the tide is beginning to turn and even those who with contrary views are starting to see that ‘austerity is bad economics’

The NHS will be 70 in July 2018.

Poetry competition. Book of poems to be published in March 2018, to mark that anniversary. Entries welcome. Prizes!



To end with I could use one of many inspirational quotes from Aneurin Bevan. This is just one, from ‘In place of Fear’

Society becomes more wholesome, more serene and spiritually healthier if it knows that its citizens have, at the back of their consciousness, the knowledge that, not only themselves, but also their fellows, have access, when ill, to the best that medical skill can provide


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Protect our NHS Meetings are held on the 1st and 3rd Tuesdays each month at 7.15pm. Come along to Tony Benn House, Victoria Street, Bristol BS1 6AY ALL WELCOME

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“That’s the standard technique of privatization: defund, make sure things don’t work, people get angry, you hand it over to private capital.” Noam Chomsky

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