Has there been a time since the NHS was founded in 1948 that we haven’t heard calls of ‘the NHS is in crisis!’? Perhaps. Perhaps not. But it’s certainly something we hear an awful lot at the moment.
It’s hard to pinpoint when the current NHS crisis began. Perhaps it was around the time that, after years of a Labour government, the Conservatives came to power with their calls for austerity and everything seemed set to change. But if there was one event that really caught the public eye when it came to NHS cuts, it was the junior doctors’ dispute, and perhaps this has been the catalyst for the latest bout of social activism in support of the NHS.
On top of this we are living – politically speaking – in uncertain times. Over the last couple of years we’ve had a general election that didn’t go quite as people expected; controversial opposition leadership and challenges; Brexit; a new PM; and US politics making the world feel on edge. Perhaps these changes, which are no doubt making people feel uneasy, are also driving a need to hold on to what we know and what we hold dear.
And so we have a motivated public, angered by both the current state of the NHS and the threats that are being made to its future. If we combine that with a world now very accustomed to social media, where everyone can have their say and make their voice heard, we have the catalyst for activism and action.
There have been an enormous number of public petitions urging the government to do better, or differently, with regards to the NHS. Online petitions can be powerful. With 100,000 signatures, the issue can be considered for debate in the House of Commons, and regardless of whether or not they make it that far, petitions allow voices to be heard. There’s currently an ongoing petition with more than 700,000 signatures, calling for MPs to stop the NHS from being privatised and ensuring it has the funding it needs; another with more than 100,000 signatures demanding an end to pay restraints for NHS staff; and dozens of others recently closed with well over 100,000 signatures.
Are these petitions leading to change? It’s hard to tell. But there is without doubt a strong feeling of social activism geared towards supporting the NHS, of which these petitions are just one part. Last weekend more than 250,000 people marched in London to protest against NHS cuts and privatisation, in a peaceful yet impassioned plea to the government to keep the NHS afloat. It follows countless other protests and marches, and there will no doubt be many more.
What next for the NHS? Who can say? But it is certain that a motivated and passionate public, inspired by the social activism that petitions and social media afford, will continue to make themselves heard and challenge politicians who are seen to threaten the establishment that Brits hold so dear.