I honestly think that this is the most important piece that I have ever written. It is a little longer than most and will take you five or six minutes to read. It contains many links so may be a useful starting point if you are interested in further reading. If you don’t have time now please save it and come to it later, perhaps with a glass of your preferred tipple. You can then take time to read the most important links (in RED) and consider the implications more carefully. If you like it and agree with my conclusions then please share it with others. Above all – make sure that you take note of what you can do personally to help in the fight to save the NHS.
Wow what a week. Jeremy Hunt offended hospital consultants with unfounded claims of laziness and greed leading to the deaths of 6,000 people. The doctors responded with a Twitter campaign (#ImInWorkJeremy) which trended all weekend in the UK and they started an e-petition for his dismissal. This reached the 100,000 signatures required to trigger a parliamentary debate in less than 36 hours. The government response to the petition was dismissive and inflammatory and the docs started to realise a debate is not mandated. All of this was largely ignored by the national media except for a brilliantly funny piece on Channel 4s The Last Leg . Significantly this piece was triggered by social media using their #IsItOK tag. A second Twitter campaign (#WeNeedToTalkAboutJeremy – which was started by me) trended again with 45,000 tweets and a social reach of over 125,000,000. What a rollercoaster of a week – the power of social media at its best. At last politicians will sit up and take notice and the NHS will be saved. But actually the likelihood is that it will make no difference at all – or worse it could strengthen the government position. The hugely successful #CameronMustGo campaign last year rumbled on for weeks but he and the majority of the press ignored it and eventually it went away. It did no long term harm to his reputation or ability to push through policy. It did not stop him increasing his majority in the last election. What does not kill us makes us stronger and I suspect the experience will have made him less susceptible to being influenced by current and future social media campaigns. When the #WeNeedToTalkAboutJeremy campaign fizzles out – as eventually it must – it will leave Mr Hunt tougher and more resilient, unless there are permanent and significant consequences for his career. We have started a battle that we cannot afford to lose. It is absolutely essential that Mr Hunt and indeed all politicians of all parties realise that they cannot ride roughshod over such strong public opinion and get away unscathed. He must be publicly taken down a peg or two as an example to the others. I am not by nature a vindictive person and I am a little uncomfortable about this approach but I have managed to rationalise it. He is not stupid so we assume his actions are deliberate. He used dodgy statistics to undermine the NHS and promote fear in our patients for political purposes. He used the same, by then discredited, statistics again in the response to the petition. He lied about doctors’ salaries, numbers of consultants using the contract to opt out and the consequences for the NHS. He is on record as wanting to dismantle the NHS and hand it over to the private sector. Even the timing of his attack on the NHS could be seen as cynical – just before the recess so he can keep his head down for 6 weeks until the dust settles. I really think his actions were deliberately intended to provoke a strong reaction from clinical staff that can be spun by the press against us over the summer break. I have thought about it long and hard and have concluded that he has to go. Why is this issue suddenly so important? I described the inevitable decline and fall of the NHS if we do nothing in a series of three blogs published last year. I have summarised each in a sentence below but I strongly recommend that you take the time to read them. They are important for your understanding the magnitude of the current threat.
- There is unprecedented pressure on the NHS due to a range of factors which make it unsustainable without additional investment and some reorganisation
- Failure to invest and reform will lead to a decline in patient experience and staff morale, which will inevitably lead to an increase in expensive, inequitable and inefficient private healthcare provision.
- There is a solution but this will need decisive government action and we need to mobilise public opinion to achieve this before it is too late.
The Jeremy Hunt affair could be seen as the start of this public engagement process. So what should we do next? If we do nothing the dust will settle and this week’s activities will come to nothing. The government will continue their current policy and the NHS as we understand it will be dismantled and degraded. We need to increase the pressure on Mr Hunt and Mr Cameron, but without overreacting or doing anything that could damage the reputation of doctors and the rest of the NHS in the eyes of the public. We have to be professional and measured – but resolute and firm. Marches and demonstration are not very effective. The press has a record of ignoring even the biggest. They are transient and can easily be misreported to work against us. We need to focus on the use of social media to coordinate a prolonged campaign directed primarily at politicians but with the press and public firmly in mid. My suggestions:-
- All the pro NHS pressure groups should combine forces to coordinate a campaign to “Save the NHS”.
- The campaign should have a unique brand and an identity.
- It should focus on the plight of the NHS rather than individuals and should target all politicians though we should not forget the Jeremy Hunt issue for the reasons outlined above.
- We should seek high profile sponsors, raise money and invest in press and media advertising campaigns. The press may not cover the story as news but they certainly will for cash.
- It is absolutely crucial that we achieve the debate in parliament. Failure to get this will be a major catastrophe with dire implications for the NHS.
- We should continue the #WeNeedToTalkAboutJeremy campaign as long as possible – make sure that people look in every day, post their own tweets and share the best of the rest.
- We should continue to encourage people to sign the petition. Size is everything with this sort of thing. Just think of the power of a million signatures.
- We should promote other social media platforms. The Big Up the NHS Facebook group has 28,000 members and has real influence. Facebook is less ephemeral than Twitter. My blog calling for the resignation of Mr Hunt was read by 40,000 people and 80% of the referrals came from Facebook.
- We should target all politicians in all parties directly using social media, email and postal campaigns.
I am sure there will be more suggestion and I welcome any comments or ideas. You can post them here or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please do not underestimate the seriousness of the situation and make sure that YOU do something to help. Spread the word, join the groups, and sign the petition. Make sure that when you are considering having to buy your first health insurance policy that you do not reflect on first reading this blog and wish you had done more. Steve Smith Big Up the NHS.