Get the Betamax out again, mother! by Barbara Nadel

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‘Lordy, Lordy!’ as those two gorgeous gals, the Fat Slags, from the very rude adult comic ‘Viz’ would say, ‘it’s the bleedin’ eighties again, man!’ ‘Viz’ was a product of those troubled times here in the UK and so they, and their characters, should know. So do I.

It isn’t superficial, this eighties-isation. Big hair and red braces have not, I don’t think, started to make a come back. Leg-warmers have been seen but I don’t think we’re in dangerous territory (i.e. Rubik’s Cube) just yet. No, the nineteen eighties are rocketing back into British life in the shape of the cuts to public services our new government wants to make. Basically if it is funded by the state and isn’t a nuclear weapon, they are going to cut it. Our free healthcare service, the NHS (National Health Service) is, admittedly, to be an exception to this rule. But then that would be very stupid in both practical and political terms. The concept and the reality of free healthcare is one of the few things that brings a smile to your face when you’re poor. You might be jobless, miserable and hungry but at least if you get ill, someone will look after you. In fact I think that attacking the NHS is one of the few things that might bring the masses (both ‘washed’ and ‘unwashed’) out onto the streets. So they won’t do that. Not directly.

However, the NHS is, we are told, going to be ‘reformed’ – again. ‘Reform’ is a word I hate so much if it were a person I would knee it in the balls and then punch its teeth out. Margaret Thatcher started ‘reforming’ everything in the eighties. It meant thousands of lost jobs, massive social inequality and a mindset turned towards excessive greed that was later exploited by the lovely and fragrant Mr Tony Blair. Apparently these ‘reforms’ are going to be aimed at giving local General Practitioners (GPs) and the communities that they serve more control over their budgets. In other words spending will no longer be controlled centrally but devolved to individuals. Don’t get me wrong, I get it. I get the whole tailoring services to specific local problems and needs. But we have been here before – cue big hair and Patrick Swayze. And yes I am biased because my husband and I were poor students with a kid in the 1980s. Scum that we were, we got grants (for the young, this was a system where the state paid for your studies), went on marches against things like joblessness and homophobia and ate a lot of mouldy vegetables. We also, until the late eighties when things improved for us, struggled to find anyone or anything that would just give us a chance. I had an accident during that time and had to go to hospital for a few days. I can still remember laying in my own blood on crackling, paper sheets trying to sleep while the elderly patient in the next bed waited in vain for her incontinence pads to be changed. Someone, somewhere hadn’t ‘prioritised’ her.

You shouldn’t, in my opinion, give individuals exclusive control over vast amounts of state money. We are all human and if we are given money we will all want to spend it on what interests or concerns us. For instance I am sure that if I were in charge of a health budget, services for people with mental health problems would improve enormously. But I am not a GP (luckily some would say) and so I will never be in that position.

GPs are fallible like everyone else and, although I am sure that many of them will do very well for their patients in their new ‘reformed’ world, others will not. As it is now, but more so, the services provided by the NHS will become a postcode lottery. ‘Cancer? Oh, you’ll have to move to Blackpool if you want that dealt with. Dr Tumour is a wonderful surgeon you know. You’ll have to swap your cancer for Mrs Jones’s Parkinson’s disease. Where you live now, in Milton Keynes, is a world leader in Parkinson’s.’ And so on.

I fear getting back to the eighties. I’m older now and I don’t want this, again, for my child. Maybe what I need, what we all need, is some reformation of the concept of ‘reform’. What we need to do is to get back to people and what is best for them as opposed to trying all the time to please and cosy up to the forces of high finance. Simple minded in its, well simplicity I know, but then maybe these things aren’t that hard after all. Maybe it’s just in the interests of our governments, whoever they may be, to make us think that they are more complicated than they are. After all, back in the eighties, as I recall it, even getting dressed for a party was complicated – all that make-up, all those ruffles, all that hairspray!

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