This weekend I was fortunate to be invited to speak at a very exciting event - Crash Call for the NHS. As a newly qualified GP and a member of a new organisation called GP Survival, I was giving a talk about our group and its aims at an event organised to bring awareness to the crisis in the NHS. This seemed like a fantastic opportunity to meet like-minded people who are concerned about our disintegrating health service, and to engage members of the public who could come and speak to doctors about the NHS, whilst hearing talks from impassioned healthcare workers. There was even an incentive; CPR lessons were being given by a London Ambulance paramedic.
I arrived at the location excited but nervous - I couldn't wait to be involved in this exciting event, but felt nervous about speaking in front of a large crowd. There were a few doctors milling about and setting up when I got there, and the numbers slowly grew. However, by the time the event was in full swing, only about 20% of the expected turn out actually came. The other observation I made was that members of the public were not easy to draw in - occasionally there was a passer-by who may have shown some interest in learning how to do basic life support, but once this was demonstrated, they soon left the area.
After a day of invigorating speeches I was left feeling motivated and encouraged in my personal crusade. But what I also felt was an overwhelming feeling of disappointment. Disappointment in the apathy shown by the medical community in their lack of attendance. Disappointment in the public for their lack of engagement. And disappointment in myself for the sense of futility that I felt.
It's easy to assume that others feel the same way you do, especially so when using forums that allow discussion about such topics. But I hope I wasn't misguided in thinking that this was a subject that everybody should be interested in. The NHS is an institution which we have all used, or can expect to at some point in our lifetime. It is an institution which we should feel proud of, and which almost defines what Britain stands for.
So did this poor turn-out from the medical community and the lack of interest from the public reflect how people really feel about our NHS? Do people really just not care? I like to think that most of the general public are completely unaware of the secret battle that is being fought between healthcare professionals and the government. But how do we educate them, if not at events like this? We can't trust mainstream media to get our message across, this was made very clear by the lack of coverage of campaigns such as the petition requesting parliament to consider Jeremy Hunt's position. And how can we expect the public to care about the NHS when its employees can barely bring themselves to admit that our NHS is on the verge of extinction?
Perhaps complacency is the biggest issue. Like that husband or wife that you've been married to for countless years, so long that you no longer see their attractive attributes, but just that picture of familiarity sat on the sofa when you get in. A permanent fixture, going nowhere anytime soon. But how many relationships end because of such complacency and a failure to see what a wonderful person is greeting you every morning and evening, and supporting you in your times of need? Often, you don't know what you have until it's gone.
Or maybe there really is just a sense of futility about the whole thing. Maybe it would be easier to sit back and let the powers that be take control and dismantle our health service, transforming it into whatever they feel is the best for the British public. My issue with this argument is that it is not for the government to decide for us. As many of the fantastic speakers at Crash Call reminded us, this is OUR NHS. We pay for it and we use it, so we should have a say in its future. If the general public was truly aware of what the alternatives are, and accept that they are in fact better, then maybe I could feel more comfortable with everyone sitting back and letting the changes happen. But I don't think this is the case. I think ignorance is bliss.
Here's what I say; ignorance is not bliss. Complacency and loss of something you should value is not OK. And if we, as NHS healthcare professionals, can't become interested in the future of our NHS, how can we expect the public to care? So now is the time for us to acknowledge how much the NHS does for us and that it needs to be salvaged, and that we can do it. With the public on our side, the government cannot continue in failing to listen to us. Together, we can stand up and be heard, but we need to realise that we may have to shout in order to save our NHS.