[This is a story originally published in the Worthing Herald, republished here for submission for the NCTJ EPA. It can also be read here.]
A patient advocate from Sussex is calling for people to get involved with a campaign demanding better support for the NHS.
Thousands of people across the country have already signed up to represent the NHS New Deal campaign in their area.
Just Treatment, the organisation behind the campaign, is asking others who want to protect the health service to step up for their communities.
Izzie Jani-Friend, a freelance journalist who lives in Forest Row, has been a patient leader for Just Treatment since March 2020.
She was involved in an earlier campaign to get patients access to cystic fibrosis medication – a condition Izzie herself lives with.
Izzie said: ‘I owe my life to the NHS and I care so much about it because of my disability. This is why I’m a patient leader for Just Treatment.
‘I’ve seen first hand how the NHS has struggled – the underfunding, the cuts, the privatisation. It’s not okay and we need to fight against it.
‘I know this can make a difference, and if enough people get involved, it will put so much pressure on people to make change.’
Izzie is calling for people to show their support for the NHS New Deal, which sets out a series of demands which aim to keep the health system free from corporate profiteering.
Building on the support shown for the NHS last year, when people painted rainbows in their windows and clapped for carers, this campaign is being led by people at a grassroots, local level, supported by the team at Just Treatment.
Campaigners hope to secure better funding for the NHS by piling pressure on local and national elected representatives.
Diarmaid McDonald is lead organiser at Just Treatment, ‘We’re offering Zoom training for people to learn more about political lobbying, letter writing and speaking to the press, one to one support. We want to build a critical mass of people in a constituency able to speak to their MP.’
So far, 22,138 people have signed up to support the NHS New Deal, including 672 across the Sussex area.
The goal is to sign up 100,000 people across the country, which is around 150 people in each constituency.
Izzie said: ‘You’ve got a lot of people who are like ‘well, we’ve clapped, now what? What can we do?’, and people think that they can’t do anything. I think that this campaign is so important because everyone can get involved with it, and it can make a difference.’
The New Deal uses NHS stories as a way of bridging the political divide and getting the conversation going, sharing people’s experiences on the website and via remote talks.
Izzie added: ‘Hearing powerful stories from people who’ve experienced so much can change people’s minds about things.
‘Some might not be able to relate to the 12 hour shift a nurse or doctor has done, but they might be able to relate to someone who’s been unwell or been through a lot. Patients know first hand the struggles and the problems that the NHS is going through.’
The New Deal’s demands include giving everyone an equal chance to enjoy the freedom of a healthy life, and a promise to tackle the root causes of poor health.
It reflects campaigners’ concerns over privatisation and fragmentation within the health system, as well as the handling of data contracts and the high prices of drugs, which has meant that health services have not been able to avoid the medicines that people need.
Joining Izzie in her support of the NHS New Deal is patient advocate Anne Maclean-Change, who has been involved with Just Treatment for around three years.
The former palliative care nurse started working with the organisation as she fought to secure access to the medications that she needed to treat her incurable breast cancer.
She said: ‘We’re trying to grow the movement by promoting this campaign and getting more and more people onboard to spread interest at groundroots level rather than top down government ideas and policies which haven’t been proving effective.
‘It wasn’t something that I had ever done, the advocating, until I became ill.
‘But if it’s something that you believe in, then your voice and your thoughts do matter.
‘I think the majority of us who want to see the NHS continue and improve can join in this campaign and do whatever little or large they can to influence people or share the information – whatever they feel they might be able to do.’
Having worked within the NHS as well as being treated as a cancer patient, Anne has seen how stretched the health service is from both sides.
She said: ‘I think if we don’t do something soon, we are going to lose the NHS.
‘I can’t see how it can survive the last years of austerity and poor decisions and lack of funding and cutting beds and amalgamating hospitals.
‘The concern is real. Covid shouldn’t be used as an excuse for how hard it’s been – the years before the pandemic have contributed to the problems within the NHS.’
Diarmaid believes that the government has a lot to answer for following the Covid crisis.
Pointing to the scandals surrounding the PPE contacts and Test and Trace, he said: ‘When the government had the choice between investing in public care and locally instigated responses, they handed large contracts over to those with little experience and bad track records.’
However, Diarmaid thinks that the pandemic could inspire people to show their support for the NHS, and that change can be made through people power.
He added: ‘We want to mobilise as many people as possible, offering training to take leadership in building pressure on politicians.
‘We are seeing a huge national tragedy but it is also a moment of opportunity for us to demand the kind of NHS that we want.’
For more information, visit nhsnewdeal.org.