I speak from experience when I say there are certain benevolently gifted positions you’d rather not be in the running for. Being number one on people’s prayer lists is an example I’ve experienced over the last 156 weeks, I suppose making me something like the Bryan Adams of my mum’s friend’s church group. That thought at least has just made me smile.
Unfortunately, in the last couple of weeks I’ve also become “brave” cancer patient standing up against the creeping privatisation of the NHS. It started when I received a letter from Jimmy’s hospital confirming my next appointment. Tucked inside, an advert from private healthcare company Nova touting “access to the latest and most innovative technologies and therapies” at its high profit-turning cancer clinic on the fourth floor of the hospital.
My tweet “Disgusted to receive this with my appointment letter for NHS palliative chemo @NovaHealthLeeds @Jeremy_Hunt @JonAshworth @jeremycorbyn”, with a photo of the flyer, has been retweeted more than 1,000 times since, and counting.
Shadow health secretary Jon Ashworth rang me impressively quickly to promise his support and Labour MP Alex Cunningham called on Jeremy Hunt to order an immediate inquiry. So many strangers, including radiologists, nurses and oncologists working in the NHS, got in touch with the most heartening messages of love, advice and support.
So many strangers in fact, that it was the collective that received the first response from Leeds Teaching Hospitals Trust the next day, a Saturday – “Thanks for your interest, Twitter. We will look into this next week and let you know what we find out” – before reassuring me that they had withdrawn the ad and would be reviewing its use.
That Monday I went for chemo. Posters and leaflet holders displaying the same ads for private healthcare had popped up around the first floor NHS oncology unit. The safe space for so many often scared and vulnerable humans like me had been devalued and with it the dedication and hard work of its staff called into question.
I doubt the private patients on the fourth floor are exposed to direct marketing reminding them that they could receive their care on the NHS ward below, albeit, I suppose, with longer waiting times and sometimes reduced offerings of drugs and treatments based on cost, thanks to large-scale cuts and privatisation at the hands of a Tory government that relinquished its responsibility for the country’s proudest public service with the introduction of the Health and Social Care Act 2012. Not such snappy marketing copy, granted.
Feeling fuggy from the chemo I appeared on BBC Look North and spoke to the Guardian and the Sunday Times suggesting all marketing of private companies should stop and patients affected should receive an apology and reassurance, where possible, that their bank balance doesn’t influence their prognoses.
I know it’s not professional to admit this (though that ship may have sailed since I joked on Twitter about taking a long, toxic, post-chemo piss on Nova’s floor) but tears have kept coming into my eyes as I’ve been writing. I’m upset and exhausted, but I’m buoyed by the strength of feeling I’ve witnessed for saving our NHS from rich shareholders looking to make a profit from others’ ill health. I’m also aware that NHS staff forced to accept private partnerships that go against the principles of the NHS have been silenced, so it is up to any of us with a voice to use it now.
Because sometimes, one little tweet can turn into a collective roar even Jeremy Hunt might hear.