Dr. Jacqueline Davis on the fight to save Britain’s NHS

The Fight to Save Britain’s NHS: Luncheon address by Jacqueline Davis, M.D.

Physicians for a National Health Program
National Meeting, Washington, D.C., October 29, 2011


First I want to thank you for inviting me here. I bring greetings from the land of socialized medicine and death panels, to the land of “islands of excellence in a sea of misery.”

I’ve never been to this city before and when I told family and friends about my invitation to Washington they assumed I was off to meet the president. I told them it was much more important than that. But just in case he’s listening – I could be free for tea tomorrow....


Of course the NHS faces the challenges that all health systems do, i.e. changing demographics, increased range and cost of treatments, rising patient expectation and the global financial crisis. But in the face of all these the NHS still manages to be one of the most cost-efficient and equitable health services in the world. And the public love it. At the end of the Labour government’s 13 years in power it had the highest satisfaction ratings ever, and it still is the most popular institution in the UK bar none, and that includes the royal family.

So if it’s so good, why are we having to fight for it? Because there’s another big challenge which all public services face and that is the neoliberal agenda which still has the upper hand despite its current manifest failures on a global scale.


A successful public service is an affront to the free marketeers. They simply won’t let the facts get in their way. Despite all evidence to the contrary they continue to insist anything the public sector can do the private sector can do better and more cheaply, and no evidence to the contrary will persuade them otherwise.

So the politicians for ideological reasons, and the private sector for financial reasons, have had the NHS – traditionally publicly funded, publicly delivered and publicly accountable – in their sights for some time. They have acted together, beneath the radar, to turn the NHS from a cost-effective integrated public service into a kite mark attached to a ragbag of competing private providers.


Up till now you trusted your GP to give advice on clinical grounds. But now – if your GP says no to treatment and/or referral is it because they want to pocket the money that is saved – which the bill allows them to do? Or if they refer you to Hips R Us down the road, is it because their wife has a financial interest in it? 25 percent of GPs already have a direct interest in the private sector. This suspicion will be very corrupting, and most GPs are worried about it.


We fear NHS services being reduced to a core of poor services for poor people, with those who can afford it topping up their personal health budgets with insurance or out-of-pocket payments and those who can’t afford it going without.

And we really fear the arrival of the private companies, many of them from the U.S., whose behavior leaves much to be desired. They want to “cherry pick.” leaving the NHS to pick up the complex expensive patients as well as providing the expensive emergency care and the training that is not attractive to the private sector. We fear they will behave in a fraudulent way as they do already in the USA.


Our organization was vociferous from day one, saying that the bill spelled the end of the NHS, and of course we were accused of shroud waving and gross exaggeration. But we stuck in there and joined together with other campaigning organizations and the pressure has built up over the last year. How did we do it?

We produced analyses and simple 10-point critiques of the bill in our regular campaign newspaper as well as special pamphlets and postcards. We wrote doggedly – all of us would take it in turns – to national and local papers and had a lot of articles and letters published.

We offered to do public talks, to our own groups and also to anyone from medical students to pensioners, and in fact those two groups turned into some of our most outspoken supporters. We helped organize online petitions. We put a lot of energy into lobbying politicians.

We have helped expose the scandals of the revolving door between government and the private sector and the infiltration of government by corporate interests. We have questioned the neutrality of so called think tanks and helped expose the strength of the health lobbying industry in Westminster.

We marched, we used social media to spread our message and some of us even got elected to the Council of the British Medical Association so that we could begin to change our union from within.


The problem we have come to realize is that we aren’t just fighting the Tory government; we are fighting the global medical industrial complex with all its power, influence and money. And its cozy relationship with today’s politicians.

It’s easy to lose hope but we mustn’t. We have to take on this cozy configuration of politicians and giant corporations which have come to a “comfortable accommodation” at our expense. We must change the tone of the debate with these people who know the price of everything and the value of nothing.

We must say that the market should serve society rather than society serving the market, that there are public goods and goals for which the market is not suited and that what matters is not how affluent a country is but how unequal it is. We must collect evidence and use it to criticize and expose. We must create the strong voice of civil society and we doctors have a particular duty to be that voice and we must organize and use it.

Firstly because – and we must never lose sight of the fact – we are right. Secondly, we are the patients’ true advocates and our patients are depending on us. And finally Aneurin Bevan, the great founder of the NHS, said, “The NHS will last as long as there are folk left with the faith to fight for it.”

We must be those folk because, personally, I am not prepared to let him down.

(Dr. Jacqueline Davis is a consultant radiologist working in a hospital in London. She is co-chair of the NHS Consultants’ Association, a nationwide group of distinguished physicians representing all specialties, and a member of the Keep Our NHS Public campaign.)

(You may have to cut and paste this link for it to work.)’s-nhs


By Don McCanne, MD

We share with the British concerns about the neoliberal attack on our health care services. In their case it is an attack on their public National Health Service, whereas in our case it is an attack on Medicare and other public programs and, even greater, a virtual blockade - a dysfunctional private financing construct that often uses public money - that prevents us from bringing comprehensive health care services to all of our people.

This luncheon address by Dr. Jacqueline Davis was a highlight of PNHP's recent annual meeting in Washington, DC. You may want to take a moment this weekend to read the entire address, available at the link above, and then savor it. You'll then understand clearly why we gave her a standing ovation, not to mention that it will reinforce your dedication to the cause of health care justice for all.