Just three score and 10 years ago, the great Nye Bevan, in whose shadow the NHS stands today, announced the National Health Service Act of 1946. This act was a beacon of light to working people who were too poor to afford health, protecting them from destitution.
But 70 years later, the poor are still sick and needy; 70 years later a life in poverty is crippled by ill health, substance misuse and premature death.
So, we’ve come to our secretary of state to cash a cheque. When Bevan set up the NHS he stated: ‘No society can legitimately call itself civilised if a sick person is denied medical aid because of lack of means.’
It is obvious today that Jeremy Hunt has defaulted on this obligation to remain a civilised society, as the gap between rich and poor widens.
One day we will live out the true meaning of the NHS – that all are created equal in health
But we refuse to believe the bank of health is bankrupt. We refuse to believe there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of global capitalism. We have come to cash this cheque and claim what is rightfully ours through taxes.
We must come together as a nation to remind the state of the fierce urgency of Now. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of privatisation to the sunlit path of nationalisation.
It will be fatal for GPs to overlook the urgency of the moment. The year 2018 cannot be the end – it must be the beginning.
There are those who ask the devotees of the NHS: ‘When will you be satisfied?’
We can never be satisfied until we end the 10-year mortality gap between rich and poor. We cannot be satisfied until all those with mental health issues are seen in a timely way. We are not satisfied until our elders are treated with the dignity and respect they deserve.
I say to you today, even though we face these difficulties, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the great British dream.
I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of the NHS – that all men and women are created equal in health.
I have a dream that one day there will be enough GPs to provide holistic care within 20-minute appointments, to foster personal responsibility in patients.
I have a dream that GPs will be supported by a team of healthcare professionals who work autonomously and carry risk.
I have a dream that vexatious complaints and litigation will be replaced by a no-fault compensation scheme, and doctors will no longer face manslaughter charges.
And if Britain is to be a great nation, this must become true. So let good health ring from the peaks of the Scottish Highlands. Let good health ring from the valleys of Wales. Let good health ring from the rugged coast of Northern Ireland. And let good health ring from each and every muddy field of England.
When this happens and we allow good health to prevail, all doctors, healthcare professionals and patients, rich and poor, can stand together and state: ‘We are equal. We are equal at last.’
Inspired by Martin Luther King’s ‘I have a Dream’ speech
Dr Shaba Nabi is a GP trainer in Bristol