Thursday, 3 January 2013

If I were you I wouldn't have started from here.

There is of course the old joke; stupid English aristocrat asks; “Can you show me the way to Kerry?” Wise Irish peasant replies; “Oh, if I were you I wouldn’t have started from here”.

In 1945, while the Second World War still raged, the first election since 1935 took place. The crucial votes came from millions of servicemen and women, many stationed far away.

Everybody assumed that the great wartime leader Churchill and the Tory party would win. He didn’t, because no one wanted to go back to the 1930’s. There was a Labour landslide and this was because of the promise of a welfare state, free education and a National Health “scheme”, free for all and based on need.

The problem was that after the war, Britain was bankrupt and on rationing. There was no money for anything and in the terrible winter of 1947, potatoes froze in the ground and even the coal ran out; sold on the world market for desperately needed hard currency.

When the NHS was set up, the hospitals weren’t purpose built or planned. They were inherited from the old system. So, Charing Cross and St Bartholomew’s were ancient charity hospitals for the poor. The rest were the old Parish Union hospitals – like West Middlesex and Upton walk-in centre in Slough. These dark and depressing buildings were part of the workhouse system and all that meant.

To working class people that meant the fear of entering the workhouse and never coming out.

To Doctors and administrators whose attitudes were laid down by a Victorian view of “the poor”, who they divided into the deserving and undeserving, that meant contempt for patients and their problems.

If the people who built the NHS in the 1940’s had had a choice, they would have opted for new, bright, airy buildings staffed by young Doctors and Nurses, idealistic, caring and as forward thinking as themselves.

Instead, the system we have now, rose out of the chaos of war and inherited the buildings and attitudes of the 1930’s that everyone had voted to leave behind them.


Neil Harris

(a don’t stop till you drop production)

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