Exactly six years ago, my life changed drastically when I was hospitalised, for 12 days, as doctors with the NHS tried — and eventually succeeded — in working out how to save a number of my toes, which, over the preceding months, had gone black and were causing me truly extraordinary pain. It is also important because, as I prepared to admit myself to hospital, at noon on March 18, 2011, I smoked the last cigarette in 29 years of enthusiastic addiction, a move that counts as one of the single most important things I have ever done on my life. As a chain-smoker of roll-ups, I was, very genuinely, killing myself by the time of my illness, and I am thankful that I not only carried on living, but also recovered my lung capacity, and began singing again (I come from a long line of singers, stretching back as far as my family’s memory reaches).
As for my illness, at the start of the year, I had first noticed what appeared to be a painful bruise on the big toe of my right foot, although I had no recollection of hitting it on anything to cause such a bruise. I then made a visit to the US to campaign for the closure of Guantánamo (for the first time on the anniversary of the prison’s opening), where I was in pain but still able to function, and, at the end of the month, I visited Poland for a week, to show a Polish-subtitled version of “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo,” the film I co-directed with filmmaker Polly Nash, where the pain grew much more severe.
On my return to the UK, my big toe was turning back, and was soon joined by my middle toe, and yet I was failed by both GPs and doctors at my local hospital, who didn’t understand the severity of what was happening to me. For the entire month before I was finally hospitalised, at my wife’s instance, when I was finally given morphine, the only effective painkiller for truly severe pain, I suffered the most horrible sleep deprivation, unable to sleep for more than a few minutes at a time, as every time I managed to fall asleep the pain would wake me up just minutes later. Just once, I managed to get locum doctors to give me two painkillers stronger than over the counter medications, and on the first occasion I actually got one good night’s sleep, but by the time I took the second its strength was insufficient to combat the ever-growing pain. Read the rest of this entry »
On Saturday March 4, 2017, tens of thousands of campaigners marched through central London to defend the NHS from the Tory government, which has been responsible for alarming cuts to NHS funding since first getting back into power in 2010, and which, in 2012’s Health and Social Care Act, facilitated increased privatisation of the NHS that is already undermining the integrity of the health service, as private providers take over more and more services, putting profits before care.
In an article last week promoting the march, I wrote about my involvement in the successful campaign to save Lewisham Hospital in 2012-13, but explained that now, “with the hardest of Brexits being pushed by Theresa May, and being used as a screen to hide anything else that the Tories want hidden, and with May herself revealed — to those who can see beyond the Brexit lies and the endless spinning of the bent right-wing media — as the most dangerous right-wing ideologue in modern British history, it seems reasonable to assume that, with no serious opposition, she will preside over the destruction of the NHS on a scale previously unrealisable, a process which, if not stopped, will actually kill off the NHS, the country’s greatest single institution, which works to save the lives of everyone who needs it, regardless of their income.”
The cuts to the NHS have been so savage that, in the first three quarters of the latest financial year, the deficit was £886 million, and, out of 238 NHS trusts, 135 ended the year in deficit. Read the rest of this entry »
Four years ago, I was involved in a struggle to save Lewisham Hospital, my local hospital in south east London, from destruction by senior NHS managers working closely with the government of David Cameron. It was an extraordinary grass-roots campaign, at one point involving 25,000 Lewisham residents taking to the streets, and, I’m very glad to note, it was ultimately successful.
Four years on, however, the political situation in the country is far worse than we could have imagined back in 2013, and, it is fair to say, the entire NHS is now at risk. Back then, the outrageous cost of a PFI development in Woolwich had led NHS managers to conclude that they could get away with a long-planned attempt to reduce the number of A&E departments in south east London from five to four, with Lewisham being the intended victim.
In overcoming these plans — which involved a successful judicial review — we were, I think, able to demonstrate that it was disgraceful for the government and NHS managers to suggest that 750,000 Londoners should be served by just one A&E, when Lewisham itself, with a population of 270,000, deserves its own fully-functioning hospital, as does every population centre of a quarter of a million people. Read the rest of this entry »
The NHS faces an unprecedented crisis, and it’s all the Tories’ fault (with the help of some senior NHS officials). A new report by the National Audit Office, the government’s official auditor, has found that “[t]wo-thirds of health trusts in England are now in deficit,” and “their total debt has almost trebled since 2015 to £2.45bn,” as the Guardian described it, adding that auditors “were particularly alarmed by the decision to transfer £950m [out of a total of £4.6bn] from the NHS’s budget for buildings and IT to pay staff’s wages.”
The report follows the revelation on Monday that, as the Guardian described it, “[c]ontroversial plans put forward as a way of improving the health service in England and ensuring its sustainability risk being used as a cover for cuts and running down the NHS,” as Dr. Mark Porter, the chair of the British Medical Association (BMA) council explained. The Guardian added that the BMA stated that the 44 regional Sustainability and Transformation Plans (STPs) put forward in September “amount to £22bn in cuts by 2020-21 to balance the books, which will have a severe impact on patient care” — an understatement if ever I heard one. The impact, if implemented, would be nothing short of disastrous.
Amyas Morse, head of the National Audit Office, stated that its report found that the NHS’s “financial problems are endemic,” and that this situation “is not sustainable” for a functioning health service. Her analysis of the crisis also included a recognition that “an increasing number of clinical commissioning groups (CCGs)” — the groups set up under the Tories’ complete (and manifesto promise-breaking) overhaul of the NHS — were “unable to keep their spending within budget.” Read the rest of this entry »
On Saturday September 3, I visited Parliament Square at the end of the latest March for Europe. The first March for Europe took place on July 2, and was attended by around 50,000 people. See my photos here, and my article about it here.
Saturday’s march and rally was a smaller affair, but many thousands of protestors marched in London, and in other cities across the UK, and I believe more people would have taken part had it taken place a few weeks later, after the end of summer had more thoroughly worn off.
The March for Europe organisation describes itself as “a diverse, inclusive movement seeking strong ties between Britain and Europe,” and it provides an opportunity for those of us who were — and are — dismayed by the result of June’s EU referendum — to leave the EU — to highlight our concerns; essentially, as I see it, that leaving the EU will be so disastrous for our economy that MPs, generally supportive of remaining in Europe, must demand that Article 50, triggering our departure, is not triggered. If MPs refuse, those of us who perceive how disastrous leaving the EU would be need to do all we can to publicise the truth about what our isolation would mean. Read the rest of this entry »
Exactly five years ago, I was hospitalised — with what turned out to be a blood disease that, manifesting itself via a blood clot, had cut off the blood supply to two of my toes to such an extent that they had turned black, and it was debatable whether they could be saved.
I had first started feeling significant pain in my right foot in the New Year, but had tried to ignore it, both on my US trip in January, to call for the closure of Guantánamo, and on a visit to Poland, at the start of February, on a short tour of “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo,” the documentary film I co-directed with filmmaker Polly Nash. By the middle of February, however, the pain was so severe that, for a month, I barely slept. Every time I fell asleep, I awoke in blinding agony within just a few minutes. All day and all night, every day and night, this sleep deprivation — ironic for a campaigner against torture, including sleep deprivation — continued without any relief.
I couldn’t get doctors to give me the pain relief I needed, and it took a month until consultants in south east London, where I live, accepted that my situation was so bad that I had to be brought into hospital, to finally be given the morphine that I had needed all along. However, it soon became clear that the hospital I was at had no real plan for what to do with me, so my wife, fortunately, and with my eternal gratitude, pushed for me to be moved to St. Thomas’s, opposite the Houses of Parliament (another irony, surely), where I stayed for a week and half, where some excellent doctors found medication that saved my toes, and where the staff allowed me, like some sort of quietly doped-up maniac, to find the one corner of the ward where I could get wi-fi reception, so that, ridiculously, I could continue working. Read the rest of this entry »
There are so many horrible aspects to life in the UK under the Tories that it’s sometimes difficult to keep track of them all, unless you’re unfortunate enough to be affected by all of them — the unfettered housing bubble, for example, and the similarly unregulated private rental market, coupled with a sustained assault on social housing; the assault on the unemployed and the disabled; the demonisation of Muslims; the hard-hearted approach to the current refugee crisis; the refusal to tackle the tsunami of anti-immigrant hysteria that has gripped the country since the global banking crisis of 2008 and that has, in fact, more often than not been deliberately stoked by the media, largely with the complicity of politicians; the endless widening of the gap between the rich and the poor; the Prime Minister’s failure to challenge his own right-wingers and UKIP by refusing to call a referendum on Europe, which any credible leader would have done; and, of course, the remorseless assault on the NHS.
As I mentioned last May, just before our thoroughly depressing General Election, when our sole Green MP, Caroline Lucas, launched a Private Members’ Bill, the National Health Service Bill (HC Bill 37), generally known the NHS Reinstatement Bill, with the support of eleven MPs from four other parties (including Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell), “Ever since the Tory-led coalition government passed the wretched Health and Social Care Act in 2011 (after David Cameron blatantly lied to the British people, by falsely promising ‘no more of the tiresome, meddlesome, top-down re-structures that have dominated the last decade of the NHS’), privatisation of the greatest and most important institution in the UK, the NHS (National Health Service, founded in 1948), has been increasing to an alarming degree.”
As I also noted last May, I have been involved in trying to save the NHS ever since the Tories first got back into power in 2010. As I stated, “I campaigned against the passage of the Health and Social Care Act at the time (see here and here), and then became heavily involved in the successful campaign to save my local hospital, in Lewisham, in south east London, from savage cuts (see here, here and here). [In 2014] I campaigned to resist the Tories’ spiteful response to Lewisham’s success, which became known as the “hospital closure clause” (see here and here), and covered the People’s March for the NHS, a grass-roots initiative that involved a recreation of the Jarrow March from the 1930s to save the NHS (see here and here).” Read the rest of this entry »
This article is the 17th in an ongoing series of articles listing all my work in chronological order. It’s a project I began in January 2010, when I put together the first chronological lists of all my articles, in the hope that doing so would make it as easy as possible for readers and researchers to navigate my work — the 2,525 articles I have published since I began publishing articles here in May 2007, which, otherwise, are not available in chronological order in any readily accessible form.
I first began researching the Bush administration’s “war on terror” prison at Guantánamo and the 779 men (and boys) held there over ten years ago, in September 2005, and I began researching and writing about it on a full-time basis in March 2006. Initially, I spent 14 months researching and writing my book The Guantánamo Files, based, largely, on 8,000 pages of documents publicly released by the Pentagon in the spring of 2006, and, since May 2007, I have continued to write about the men held there, on an almost daily basis, as an independent investigative journalist — for two and a half years under President Bush, and, shockingly, for what is now nearly seven years under President Obama.
My mission, as it has been since my research first revealed the scale of the injustice at Guantánamo, continues to revolve around four main aims — to humanize the prisoners by telling their stories; to expose the many lies told about them to supposedly justify their detention; to push for the prison’s closure and the absolute repudiation of indefinite detention without charge or trial as US policy; and to call for those who initiated, implemented and supported indefinite detention and torture to be held accountable for their actions. Read the rest of this entry »
Some of the worst nights of my life have taken place in early May — Margaret Thatcher’s first election victory on May 3, 1979 (when I was too young to even vote), and the 2010 election, on May 6, 2010, which brought a Tory-led coalition government, led by David Cameron, to power.
There were other dreadful nights, on or around May — the Tory victories on June 9, 1983, June 11, 1987 and April 9, 1992 — and after the anti-Tory euphoria of Tony Blair’s victory wore off, following New Labour’s landslide victory on May 1, 1997, the reality of a New Labour Britain was of course a huge disappointment, as the party embarked on its own neo-liberal trajectory, and the country became host to a housing price casino that was a poor substitute for an actual functioning economy — and, in 2003, also became the home of an illegal warmonger.
As a result, the rest of New Labour’s victories — on June 7, 2001 and May 5, 2005 — were also disappointing, as the party failed to remember what it was supposed to be, and continued, instead, as a general betrayer of its founding values. On those occasions, however, the disappointment in a Labour victory was, pragmatically, offset by slim gratitude that at least the Tories weren’t back in. Read the rest of this entry »
Ever since the Tory-led coalition government passed the wretched Health and Social Care Act in 2011 (after David Cameron blatantly lied to the British people, by falsely promising “no more of the tiresome, meddlesome, top-down re-structures that have dominated the last decade of the NHS”), privatisation of the greatest and most important institution in the UK, the NHS (National Health Service, founded in 1948), has been increasing to an alarming degree.
As Headway, the brain injury association, described the impact of the Health and Social Care Act, “The Secretary of State no longer has a duty to provide health services through the NHS, which increases the opportunity for private health care firms to deliver many services that were previously operated by the NHS.” The bill also replaced the bodies responsible for commissioning services — Primary Care Trusts and Strategic Health Authorities — with Clinical Commissioning Groups, nominally under the control of GPs (responsible for 60-80% of the NHS budget), but also providing another opportunity for private health care firms to infiltrate the NHS.
I campaigned against the passage of the Health and Social Care Act at the time (see here and here), and then became heavily involved in the successful campaign to save my local hospital, in Lewisham, in south east London, from savage cuts (see here, here and here). Last year I campaigned to resist the Tories’ spiteful response to Lewisham’s success, which became known as the “hospital closure clause” (see here and here), and covered the People’s March for the NHS, a grass-roots initiative that involved a recreation of the Jarrow March from the 1930s to save the NHS (see here and here). Read the rest of this entry »
Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo, co-director, We Stand With Shaker. Also, singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers) and photographer.
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