Campaigning to save the NHS: Wiltshire’s determined activist is up for the challenge
It was the first demonstration that Christine Gale had ever been on. On the last Saturday of September when the Tories were assembling in Manchester, she – with her partner Guy – and about 49,998 other activists marched to protest against cuts and in favour of protecting the NHS from the coalition government.
There were several other protestors there from Wiltshire and the Devizes constituency.
Saving the NHS has become Christine’s mission in life. Disarmingly she says: “I’m just an NHS user.”
She and Guy live in Castle Combe. Both are retired and Guy brings to her campaign a career’s worth of experience in design and typography.
Christine is no ordinary protestor. She has always been a ‘political person’ and a life-long Conservative voter.
Her grandfather was a traditional hardworking Tory who stoked boilers. Her father was a very successful self-made businessman who was a tremendous admirer of Prime Minister Thatcher.
Looking ahead to 2015, she told Marlborough News Online: “I’m going to vote for the party that reinstates the NHS as a public service.”
She was cheered to hear Labour’s Andy Burnham say at the Manchester rally that they would repeal the Health and Social Care Act that’s the basis of the current £3 billion reorganisation of the NHS. But before Labour gets her vote she wants to see that promise in their manifesto.
She believes that it is a waste of time campaigning on small, local issues, and that defenders of the NHS should concentrate on campaigning nationally: “What we can do is to say to MPs ‘In the next election we won’t vote for you unless you protect the NHS’.”
By protecting the NHS she means keeping it as a National service rather than a ‘notional’ service; keeping it public and out of the hands of private providers or profiteers; and stopping the Americanisation of the NHS.
Christine finds it ‘really scary’ that the forthcoming trade deal with the USA (watch out for its full name –Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership or TTIP) will leave the NHS open to almost mandatory privatisation by big American corporations.
Under this agreement the NHS would never again be able to be the ‘preferred provider’ of health services so campaigners are demanding the NHS is exempted from the TTIP.
She has mixed feelings about doctors and the part doctors have been given in commissioning NHS services: “Doctors should be making people well and efficient and accountable managers should be running everything else.”
Why did Christine take on the role of defender of the NHS? After her parents had a bad accident, she saw how the private sector could not cope but the NHS gave them ‘fantastic care’.
Later, when two other family members had cancer she saw again the worst of private care – but also great NHS treatment and some very poor NHS care leading to a case of MRSA and terrible bed sores. She knew then that the NHS must be protected and improved.
She did not believe the current government’s reorganisation and its firm belief in privatisation was the way to do it.
“When I started campaigning, I found it very difficult to get people interested enough to run local groups.” So she took her campaign out and about – and onto the internet.
She and Guy spent two days at the music festival at Little Somerford – going to a music festival was another first for them both. They handed out 1,500 of Christine’s wallet-sized protest cards and she was asked to give several short talks from the platform about the threats to the NHS.
She joined 38 Degrees activists for the Wiltshire petition against privatisation that was delivered to the new Clinical Commissioning Group at its Devizes headquarters in April. And she was appalled when she heard a politician dismiss 38 Degrees as people making vulnerable people anxious.
As someone who missed out on further education, she has surprised herself by making speeches at events. She once introduced herself as a “Wiltshire bumpkin” and had the audience enthralled by her passionate defence of the NHS.
Now she has taken to the internet and become part of the very busy network of campaigners aiming to keep the NHS strong, free and un-privatised. She started with a Yahoo group site but now has a website of her own which carries lots of evidence of what is going on behind the daily headlines.
She is in touch with NHS Action who want to put up NHS candidates in the 2015 general election – though Christine is not quite sure about single issue MPs - and with the KONP (Keep our NHS Public) campaign.
She certainly got fresh impetus for her campaigning from the Manchester march and was especially enthused by the ‘passionate speech’ by the TUC General Secretary, Frances O’Grady.
But she was utterly appalled to find barely any mention in the newspapers or on the BBC of the Manchester demonstration – the biggest the north-west of England has ever seen. “Even in what we call a democracy it seems it’s becoming harder and harder to get heard.”