Recently, an elderly friend of mine called Muriel Simpson died at the Old Vicarage nursing home in Clay Cross.
The NHS had been her life, working as a nurse and then as matron of Clay Cross Hall care home. She was also a campaigner for local NHS services and a big supporter of the Friends of Clay Cross Community Hospital.
She had been there at the birth of the NHS and remembered life before it existed. There were doctors, she said, who made sure that if you didn’t have money and you had nothing to barter with, would still look after you if you were sick. But generally, if you couldn’t pay, you couldn’t get care.
Even with illnesses that were perfectly preventable, if you didn’t have the money, very often, you died.
Seeing what difference it made on pit villages all around North Derbyshire, seeing everyone who needed medical care getting it, no matter if they could pay or not, that, for Muriel, was the single most important thing that Labour had achieved in her lifetime.
But Muriel warned me that unless we look after it, we will lose what is best about our National Health Service, and that is its ability to care.
The NHS has been reorganised. Again. Funding for GPs and Primary Care Trusts has changed. The Ambulance service is being dismantled and over-stretched with ambulances queuing outside A&E departments waiting for a free nurse to check the patients in before they can pick up the next emergency.
But the biggest crisis we are facing is in social and elderly care. Because of the success of the NHS, we are living longer. That should be a source of celebration, a reason to be even more proud of our NHS. But the truth is, fewer elderly people are getting the care they need at home.
In Derbyshire, the Home Help service was cut under the Tories. It is now being reinstated by Labour. But the damage was done and meant that fewer people could live independently at home and ended up either in expensive care homes or even more expensive hospitals.
Apart from anything else, this puts additional pressure on already-overstretched nurses and NHS staff meaning that they have even less time to give the care and time they want to patients.
Muriel had a fall and ended up in the Royal, in Bolsover Community hospital and finally at the Old Vicarage. The care she was given was exemplary. Every time I visited her, she introduced me to the staff and nurses saying to me “Tell David Cameron from me, these people are doing everything they can, but with too many people to look after, they can’t work miracles! They need more nurses!”
They did work miracles and they ensured that Muriel had a comfortable and dignified death.
But Muriel was right. We have to protect the NHS and we have to keep reminding ourselves what it was like before it existed.
Because unless we do, very soon, there may not be an NHS to celebrate.
by Natascha Engel