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'A fight on all fronts' - the global call to save the NHS

Posted by Natasha Matthews

Tue, 12 Apr 2016

Medsin-UK Director of International Affairs. Get in contact via international@medsin.org

This is the seventh post of a blog series written by delegates to the International Federation of Medical Students’ Associations (IFMSA), March Meeting 2016 (MM16) in Malta. Stay tuned to this blog series to hear about Medsin’s work at the most recent General Assembly (GA)! For more information, email international@medsin.org, and join our Medsin International Facebook page!

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After meeting with medical students from all over the world at the IFMSA March Meeting 2016, Lisa Murphy reflects an international perspective on the UK National Health Service and current junior doctor contract negotiations:

For me, the most valuable part of an international meeting such as the IFMSA's general assembly is engaging in discussion with student's from a vast range of countries, and hearing their experience of working in diverse healthcare systems. I heard concerning stories of healthcare systems plagued by privatisation, corruption and lack of resources. But what shocked me most was the immense support from all over the world for our fight to save our National Health Service. I spoke to many students who couldn't understand why it was in such jeopardy, and I struggled to explain to them how this situation had arisen and the degree of accountability the UK medical profession holds for allowing it to. It seemed as mad to them as it is to us that any government would want to destroy such an institution that has been instrumental in both improving the health of, and reducing the inequality in, UK society.

The NHS is the worst form of healthcare system, except for all the others...

Many students told me that they hoped one day to have a health service that is as equitable and effective as ours, and for access to health care to be a right rather than a privilege in their societies. They are concerned that if we allow the NHS to collapse a message will be sent to the global community that it is not a sustainable model of healthcare. That it is not wanted and supported by the medical community. That their own governments should not pursue a system of equitable access to healthcare for all. From Mexico to India to Singapore – the NHS was lauded as the 'dream' which these students aspire to for their countries. Most had no idea that it's dangerously close to becoming a dream for the UK as well.

“If you're not going to use your free speech to criticize your own government, then what is the point of having it?”

Being able to stand up, speak out and fight back is an immense privilege – one which I think many of us have been taking for granted. The British Medical Association has come under fire from some in the medical profession, but the existence of a trade union, let alone a medical trade union, is not as widespread as you might think. In some parts of the world, simply sharing messages on social media would be grounds for arrest and detention. And the protests and strikes that many of us have supported and participated in? Yes we have had to follow guidelines and regulations, but we are afforded protection against both our employment and our lives, enshrined in law. And as much as we might complain about the biased reporting in some media outlets, our relative freedom of press and information has been key to getting our message out there. The ability to come together as a movement and push for change is not just something we should appreciate, but something we need to capitalise on. Not only for ourselves, but for the many that can't.

Educate. Advocate. Act.

I have spent the last 6 months telling everyone I met that this wasn't just the junior doctor's fight, this was everyone's fight – but until now I didn't realise just how far that 'everyone' extended. Students all over the world are behind us. Not only that, they are calling us to action. The NHS isn't perfect, in fact the majority agree that it needs to see reform, as well as investment. But it is, as many have said before me, the cornerstone of what makes this nation a great one, and it's demise would only further the inequality which has come to prevail in our society. We need to come together as a cohesive and organised movement. To create a collective voice advocating for the survival of one of the last remaining bastions of equality. To ensure a fair and just world where equity in health is a reality for all. 

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