Getting into the Houses of Parliament is a very difficult experience these days. In 1976, when Jo Richardson MP was fighting to get her private member’s bill on to the statute books – the Domestic Violence and Matrimonial Proceedings Bill – you could walk through the main front door and there was scarcely any security checking. Now it takes a good twenty minutes to get through to the Central Lobby – queuing in the cold night air, inching forward towards the room of metal detectors. It’s like Gatwick Airport used to be, but without the shops.
In those days, we were members of Women’s Aid, there to provide statistics and support for the member for Barking and Dagenham, as her radical bill became law.
This week we were attending the launch of the report of the Lewisham People’s Commission of Inquiry. The Commission of Inquiry, investigating the proposed closures at Lewisham Hospital, took place on 29 June this year. Over 40 witnesses, questioned by a team of barristers from Tooks Chambers, gave powerful and moving evidence to the panel and an audience of 400 people. On Wednesday evening, in room 46A, interrupted only by the occasional tolling of the bell calling members to vote, the report of that day was launched.
What a great night it was. The evening began with a fifteen minute video of the day of the Commission. Michael Mansfield and Baroness Warnock who had been on the panel, spoke about the negative effect that the Private Finance Initiative is having on our NHS – not least because of the enormous interest bills, being paid by us the tax-payers, which are crippling the hospitals. One of the A&E consultants and then the mother of a child with Sickle Cell reminded us what the proposals would have meant in real terms. And the words of Jeremy Hunt were read by an actor, explaining why the government’s defeat in the Court of Appeal was not going to stop them, in fact they were going to change the law so they could carry on without fear of similar legal challenge (Clause 118 of the Care Bill).
It was a powerful, uplifting evening. Both the Commission and the report were hugely successful, but there is no mistaking that the struggle continues. This government has no love for the NHS, certainly not the NHS that we all know and rely on.
Working on the report for the Lewisham Hospital Commission of Inquiry, I glance up and see the Guardian headline ‘NHS staff face jail for neglect.’ OK, we do not want neglect in our hospitals, we want the best care there can be. But there are already sanctions if people commit acts which end in injury or death for people. What we need is more nurses, better training for nurses and doctors, more money to be spent on the front-line. We don’t want to criminalise our doctors and nurses. We love them.
And this, for the government, is a problem.
People love the NHS, they are proud of the NHS. They rely on it and it serves us all well.
So what is going on here? My view is that this is all part of the attempted destruction of the NHS. The government wants us to start worrying about neglect, lack of care, low standards. By revealing all these ‘failings’ they hope we will start to lose faith in the NHS. They want us to worry about the NHS, to lose our sense of security about it. They do not want us to turn to the NHS. They want us to use private health care.
But why? Why do they want us to do that? Why would they want us to turn away from our beloved NHS? Who has an interest in the success of private health care? Is it those who have shares in private health initiatives? Where do we find those people? Can we find them in seats of government? Where are the figures about failures, disasters, neglect in the private sector?
If I were a person who wore badges – and I am someone who rarely wears a brooch – I would wear a badge that said ‘I heart the NHS’. For now I shall get back to the report of the Lewisham Hospital’s Commission of Inquiry. It will be launched on 27 November 2013 in the House of Lords.
Today all is talk of the Bechdel rating test for films. To pass there must be i) two named women characters, ii) talking to each other, and iii) not about men. It was devised as part of a cartoon strip in 1985. Mentally I scroll through my list of favourite films ‘Some like it hot’ – pass. The Apartment – the doctor’s wife talks to Shirley Maclaine, OK. Klute – Jane Fonda talks to her invisible therapist, and she also talks to one of her ex-colleagues. Is that good enough? Cabaret – Lisa Minelli talks to Marisa Berenson – in the wonderful language-class scene, and later about Marisa’s father’s library sofa – although that conversation is basically about a man. Private Benjamin – Goldie Hawn. Women have to talk to each other.
Get Shorty – does it have Green Onions? Yes. Does it pass the Bechdel test? No. Fargo? Argo? Hard to say. Mid-August Lunch – beautiful film. Four women who come to share an apartment over the summer in Rome while their adult children are away on holiday. Yes, they talk to each other. I think. Miss Congeniality, yes – good old Sandra Bullock. Shame that her last film which passed the test (the Heat, not Gravity obviously) was so terrible. She played an up tight police officer, whose partner was the more relaxed Melissa McCarthy. Terrible script, terrible plot. Sweetwater, (in France Sherif Jackson) a film with January Jones from Mad Men, where she is the star who goes out to avenge her husband’s murder, has very few women and they don’t talk to each other.
It makes you think. What are we watching at the cinema? What are films telling us about women? Sex in the City, Bridesmaids, Maid in Manhattan. Do they pass? Should they pass?