Tuesday, 5 July 2016

The Anniversary of the NHS: Parity not Charity

Tucked between the Trinity Rooms and the Hospital we celebrated the NHS’s 65th birthday this week in the Pocket Park.  
Built and given to the people in the 1880s, the Trinity Rooms acted as a ward in the First World War for troops, many, almost certainly, wounded on the Somme. The stone over the entrance of the hospital follows with the year 1919.
In the Pocket Park we reflected on the debts we all owe the NHS. James read words of the founding figure, Aneurin Bevan, whose friend, disciple, successor as MP for Ebbw Vale and biographer was a young Michael Foot.
 Also reported this week is news of Foot’s statue in Plymouth, his home city, defaced and daubed with swastikas. He was born overlooking Argyll Park, the original ground of Plymouth Argyll, and he was a lifelong supporter on the terraces where Plymothians were always proud of him.   
James Pentney

I was born at home in 1951
(Three years after the NHS came into being),
In a prefab, local authority council housing
Provided for WW2 servicemen and women:
It was the spirit of 1945,
The word ‘National’ was everywhere and on everything:
There was to be no return to laissez-faire,
There was to be no return to the 30’s and the Depression,
No return to the lottery of the market,
It was a thank you to the working class
For all the privations of six years of total war;

My birth wasn’t easy:
Dad rode out on his bike
To collect some gas apparatus
To aid my mother in her pain
And aid my passage into this world.

I dunno –
For all I know,
I might have died and mum might have died
Without the NHS and that gas apparatus:
I wouldn’t be able to remember those visits
To the NHS clinic for the free powdered milk and orange juice,
Or the visits to my bedside of refugee,
And survivor of fascism, Dr. Liechenstein;
And God knows what life would have been like for dad
And my sister and brother, without mum;

Granny and Grampy Butler came to visit me straightway,
For I was born on their wedding anniversary,
August 22nd;
Gramp was lucky – even though he was made unemployed
After WW1 and the family had to live in a Nissan hut,
He escaped wounding and trauma after four years at the front -
But in these early July days
Just after the centenary of the Battle of the Somme,
Let’s remember what support the wounded,
Traumatised and gassed veterans could obtain before 1948:
Patchy charity, the British Red Cross, the British Legion,
Poppy Day, nurses selling flags on the streets, cuts in the dole:

A true commemoration of the sacrifice of those soldiers at the Somme,
Would be the flourishing of a National Health Service in the 21st century:
No back to the future,
No flag days,
No war,
No charity,
But parity.

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