I received this email from the excellent 38 Degrees the other day:
Andrew Lansley’s NHS listening exercise closes in just 4 days. We need to move fast to flood it with objections to his dangerous plans.
Thousands of personal submissions to the listening exercise will make it much harder for Lansley to spin the results. He’ll have to publish the figures, whether he likes it or not. They will tell a clear story: the overwhelming response is against these dangerous changes to the NHS.
It’s easy and fast to send your message to the listening exercise using the 38 Degrees website. It only takes a couple of minutes. There are suggestions for what issues to raise, and you can see what other 38 Degrees members are already saying.
Get started here:
There are signs our pressure is starting to work. Yesterday, Nick Clegg said he thought Lansley’s plans need to be watered down and delayed.  But today’s Daily Telegraph reports that Conservative hardliners have started planning their fightback. They are determined to rush Lansley’s plan through.  We need to keep the pressure growing!
We’ve already created a huge stir this week with our hard-hitting newspaper adverts. Next week we will submit a copy of our 400,000-strong petition. So now, let’s back all of that up with thousands of personal submissions telling the listening exercise we don’t want our NHS ruined.
We have got until 5 PM on Tuesday, May 31 to send messages. Send yours now:
Lansley wants to use the listening exercise to claim he’s building support for his plans, so he can plough ahead. But by working together we can make that impossible.
The British Medical Association’s own submission to the listening exercise says Lansley’s plans should be scrapped.  Nurses’ groups, health care charities and patient groups all seem to agree.  If we all keep working together, we can protect our NHS for future generations.
The listening exercise closes in four days. Please take a couple of minutes to write in now:
Thanks for being involved,
Johnny, David, Becky, Hannah, Cian, Marie and the 38 Degrees team
PS: Here’s what the BMA said after submitting their listening exercise response: “the message from doctors is clear and simple – the Bill must be changed significantly, if not withdrawn altogether, if the NHS is to continue to improve.”  Send your message in now at: http://www.38degrees.org.uk/nhs-listening-exercise
 Channel 4 News http://www.channel4.com/news/clegg-signals-nhs-reform-slowdown, The Financial Times: http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/db0e43cc-878d-11e0-af98-00144feabdc0.html
 Telegraph: Tory MPs in campaign to stop Nick Clegg diluting NHS reforms http://www.telegraph.co.uk/health/healthnews/8540088/Tory-MPs-in-campaign-to-stop-Nick-Clegg-diluting-NHS-reforms.html
 Telegraph: Doctors repeat call for NHS reforms to be scrapped http://www.telegraph.co.uk/health/healthnews/8536450/Doctors-repeat-call-for-NHS-reforms-to-be-scrapped.html The BMA’s response to the listening exercise is here: http://www.bma.org.uk/healthcare_policy/nhs_white_paper/listeningresponse.jsp
Meanwhile, most of my (very Labour) Twitter and Facebook feeds are currently deluged with items about this selfsame subject. And it got me wondering as to why here in Britain we are so particularly enamoured of our health service.
My only other experience of living in a country for any length of time is Spain. I remember my contact with the Spanish Insalud – their equivalent of the NHS – as almost uniformly positive. The first summer I was over there they dealt very efficiently with a curious high temperature I was struck down with; they saved my wife’s life from the horrors of multiple meningitis with an incredibly complex operation; they brought our three children into the world with consummate skill (though, for a while, led us to believe our second child would be born spina bifida – a mistake of calibration I hope no health service cares to commit again); they made my mother-in-law’s last six months as comfortable as anyone could possibly have done …
And so it goes on.
But I could say the same of our homegrown NHS. And yet what I might suggest are significant cultural differences do exist – and do impact on how we believe such services should function.
In the Spanish system, families are not only not kept at a distance from the patients, they’ve always been an essential part of the procedures. From monitoring the state of the drip to keeping loved ones company, family members are fundamental to the Spanish way of hospital care. In fact, most Spanish hospital rooms (and they generally tend to be rooms for two or three patients rather than wards for ten or more) seem to be equipped with reclining chairs so that family members can spend all day and night looking after their relatives.
This is perhaps a true Good Society, writ absolutely large.
And under such circumstances, death, in general, is no stranger – medicine serves not to detach us from life but brings us closer to the process that leads us all to our very solitary end.
Not all Mediterranean circumstances are as I describe them above, of course – I have personal knowledge of people facing up to the inevitable as well as deliberately ignoring it. But I would hazard a guess that Mediterranean countries are far more publicly aware of death, far more accepting of its reality (you only have to see how the theatre of bullfighting has flourished for so long in Spain to understand this), than Anglo-Saxon countries.
This is why I suspect we in Britain and the US, even where in our very different ways (the former via supportive socialism, the latter via rapacious marketplace), spend so much of our time and political energies deflecting our attention and our resources from the need to face up to death’s inevitability onto procedures, systems, cultures and approaches which attempt to distance us from its march.
I wonder if, at least here in Britain, the way we pay for and do so much medicine is precisely because we don’t do God.
I’m not suggesting that we should do God.
Really, what I’m suggesting is that by not looking to face up to the afterlife or its absence we end up, essentially, creating health systems which – like gigantic corporations and their work processes – tend to break down every single part of our existence as participants into discrete entities which only experts can manage and ever have overall oversight of.
In this way, we become strangers in our own bodies.
In this way, we become strangers in our own worlds.
In this way, we focus on the medical games people play and ignore the realities of life which underpin them.
I don’t agree with the terribly self-serving proposals the Tory-led Coalition is looking to put in place. But I do wonder, in the light of my experience of at least one other culture I love and treasure, whether there isn’t any other more profound kind of change the NHS needs to undergo. The NHS, that is to say – and by extension, a wider British society.
The NHS, for the British way of life, is a sacred cow – and rightfully so. We are, after all, talking about our very own way of dealing with death. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t wonder if there aren’t better ways of managing our own feelings and reactions to such an emotive subject.
In the meantime, fight all you can to save this wonderful institution. But remember, when we talk about the importance of health, we may actually be describing our very uncertain relationship with death.