My name is Alex Ashman. This new year message is to introduce myself and to look to the fight for our NHS. That may not be a message full of seasonal cheer, but with the Clinical Commissioning Groups signing 2 year service contracts on 23 December, which will hasten along the Sustainability and Transformation Plans, neither the government nor NHS England are taking a break from the dismantling of the NHS.
As a surgical registrar I have seen first-hand the costly bureaucracies and rationing of care that resulted from the growing marketisation and privatisation of our health service. That's why I joined the NHA in 2012.
I've been on the national executive committee since 2013. This year all party members who have voting rights were invited to elect the new executive in the week leading up to the online AGM of 17 December. I am in mid-term as an executive member and I was elected to one of the co-leader roles, the other being currently unfilled.
I want to be clear about what I stand for. Below are the words that Dr Taylor and Dr Peedell wrote in the constitution when the party was first created. They sum up the purpose and ethos of what we are fighting for.
"The NHS was more than just a structure for the delivery of healthcare. It was also a social institution that reflected national solidarity; expressed the values of equity and universalism; and institutionalised the duty of government to care for all in society. The NHS marked out a space in society where the dictates of commerce and the market were held in check so as to give expression to socially directed goals, for individuals and society as a whole."
We are losing the NHS fast, particularly since the Footprints plan was published a year ago. But we need to keep in mind what the NHS is so that we don't get sidetracked into simplified demands for just more money or just keeping it free at the point of need. Funding must be for public service, not private profit. And the service itself must be comprehensive, accessible, universal and high quality, not a second or third class service for those who can't afford to pay..
If we lose these values we lose a lot more than a health service. We lose an enduring symbol of how we as a society care for each other. The NHS doesn't function alone. The work of the NHS is carried out against the backdrop of our wider society. We have increasing child poverty and homelessness, people being abandoned by the social security system, foodbanks and the erosion of health and care services. Once again this country has elements that Dickens would have recognised in a Christmas Carol.
This situation is totally unacceptable and it is not the country I want to live in. I want to retain the party’s original ideals whilst developing the NHA as a political and campaigning body. We have to save or restore our NHS, whatever it takes. What better new year pledge can we have?
This year you may be feeling disheartened, the cuts too savage, the destruction too deep but we must keep fighting for a better society, for real change to our democracy and a restoration of the public services of which we should all be proud.