Save the NHS from the Tory Butchers: How Doctors Saved Me and My Family, and How People Forget That Insurers Don’t Cover Pre-Existing Conditions


Andy Worthington in St. Thomas's Hospital, March 23, 2011 (Photo: Dot Young).Please support my work!

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.

Those articles, if you’re interested, are here, here, here and here (cross-posts plus some of my own commentary), plus Syria: Amazingly, The Next Crucible of Revolution in the Middle East? and Political Prisoners in Syria: An Urgent Crisis Now!, my reporting on the earliest stages of Syria’s civil war, On the Anti-Cuts Protest in London, 500,000 Say No to the Coalition Government’s Arrogant, Ideological Butchery of the British State, my report on the 500,000-strong march against the Tories and the austerity programme, which I watched from my hospital window, and Intimations of Mortality — And Why This Is the View From My Bedroom, my confessional article about my illness.

I’m revisiting my illness five years ago not primarily for reasons of self-obsession, but because it remains hugely significant to me that I was looked after by consultants, doctors and nurses working for the NHS; that’s the National Health Service, an organisation that, I have always found, draws people to it because they understand the ethos of working for the common good — for a service that is a business, not a business that provides a service.

As the Tories continue to try to destroy the NHS, having opened the floodgates to private healthcare companies, it’s important to me on this anniversary to sound a few alarms — primarily about how, without being challenged in way that has not yet happened, the Tories will be content to let the NHS fail, as they don’t care about how many people’s health that affects, or how many people die, because they have only one intention: to do away with the existing model, a health service funded through general taxation, and to replace it with a private, insurance-funded system instead — one with the promise of endless profits for the Tories and their cronies, and, of course, the exclusion of the poor.

Please don’t think I’m scaremongering. The Tories are absolutely, obsessively committed to destroying the state provision of almost all services, with a handful of exceptions, including, funnily enough, their own salaries and bloated expenses. Their obsession is a form of mental illness, but one from which they cannot be cured. To save the NHS, they must be removed from power, or have their minds forcibly changed — and I don’t mean for a moment to suggest that saving the NHS, or saving everything else they have their sights on (our schools, for example, and much of the welfare state) can be accomplished by sitting back and waiting for the next General Election in 2020.

Make of that what you will, but bear in mind that my anger at the Tories, and my love of the NHS, comes not only from how the NHS saved me five years ago — and how the blood specialists who have looked after me ever since, at St. Thomas’s sister hospital, Guy’s, have persistently exemplified the same dedicated service as I received in 2011, conducting world-class research while providing a service for everyone, not just those with money.

Andy Worthington in St. Thomas's Hospital, March 23, 2011 (Photo: Dot Young).My anger at the Tories, and my love of the NHS is also derived from how my wife and son’s lives were saved by other consultants, doctors and nurses, at King’s College Hospital, in 1999, when my son was born ten weeks prematurely, and, over the course of the next seven weeks, until he could come home with us, I saw first-hand how the most incredibly dedicated medical personnel provided superb care for every baby in their care — and their distraught parents — and, again, without any regard whatsoever for whether those suffering had money or not.

For roughly half the cost of the US system, made fat on the huge profits of healthcare companies, the NHS, via general taxation, provides a world-class service that excludes no one, and, moreover, doesn’t deal with endemic discrimination and favouritism based on wealth. Both Gordon Brown and David Cameron had reasons to thank the NHS when they had severely ill babies, and while we were in King’s those who must have been thankful that they were able to avail themselves of such dedicated care included a woman from Zimbabwe and a very young woman from the Aylesbury Estate in nearly Walworth.

Crucially, in a system based on taxation, no one asks you when you arrive, critically ill, how you intend to pay for your healthcare, and, when you leave, no one asks you for payment either. For anyone who gets ill in a system dominated by insurance and payments, the stress for those who aren’t fabulously wealthy is immense, and the removal of that stress the single most important thing that society as a whole can provide.

That’s no exaggeration. If you’ve never been ill, then you should know how lucky you are, but you should also know that, young or old, illness — whether mild or catastrophic — can strike any of us at any time, and if, like me, you end up with a rare blood disease, an insurance-based system will have no interest in you. Those with pre-existing health conditions are cared for by the NHS, but will be locked out — or made to pay massively, for life — in the Tories’ vision of the US system.

So if you care, please fight back — and fight back now. It will be too late to whinge if the NHS is destroyed, and I will derive no pleasure from saying I told you so. Act now. Get rid of the Tories (and Labour’s Blairites who are no better), and save our beloved NHS!

Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer, film-maker and singer-songwriter (the lead singer and main songwriter for the London-based band The Four Fathers, whose debut album, ‘Love and War,’ is available for download or on CD via Bandcamp — also see here). He is the co-founder of the Close Guantánamo campaign (and the Countdown to Close Guantánamo initiative, launched in January 2016), the co-director of We Stand With Shaker, which called for the release from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison (finally freed on October 30, 2015), and the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by the University of Chicago Press in the US, and available from Amazon, including a Kindle edition — click on the following for the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. He is also the co-director (with Polly Nash) of the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (available on DVD here — or here for the US).

To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to Andy’s RSS feed — and he can also be found on Facebook (and here), Twitter, Flickr and YouTube. Also see the six-part definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, and The Complete Guantánamo Files, an ongoing, 70-part, million-word series drawing on files released by WikiLeaks in April 2011. Also see the definitive Guantánamo habeas list, the full military commissions list, and the chronological list of all Andy’s articles.

Please also consider joining the Close Guantánamo campaign, and, if you appreciate Andy’s work, feel free to make a donation.

13 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    When I posted this on Facebook, I wrote:

    Exactly five years ago, I was hospitalised after a blood clot turned two of my toes black. Thanks to the care of NHS doctors and nurses, my toes were saved, and I continue to be looked after with exemplary care by the NHS. So here I revisit those days – and the care my wife and son received when he was born prematurely 16 years ago – in a passionate defense of the NHS against the Tory butchers who means to destroy it, and I ask you, if you care (and you should), to take action to get rid of this wretched government before they succeed in their malignant mission to destroy the NHS, the greatest institution in the UK.

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    This is one from the heart, my friends, and I hope you appreciate it. Today is also something of a milestone for me, for another reason: when I was hospitalised on March 18, 2011, I gave up smoking after a 29-year addiction, which was one of the most significant decisions of my life.

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    Ann Alexander wrote:

    Can’t believe it was 5 years ago, Andy. It’s great to see you so healthy looking now.

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Ann. I hope you and Rab are both well. It’s been quite a journey for me. First the gorging on biscuits for a year after giving up smoking, then getting into cycling around London and quite obsessively taking photos, and then, last year, finding that despite the cycling I’d started piling on the pounds again, followed by a new low-fat regime that I’m finding works well. The challenges life throws at us as we get older, eh?

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    To support the NHS, please check out the NHS Reinstatement Bill introduced by Caroline Lucas and, to date, backed by 77 MPs, which I wrote about here:
    However, the Labour Party is not supporting the bill, for reasons set out here, which I don’t find entirely convincing. I think the Tories need attacking on all fronts all the time when it comes to saving the NHS:

  6. Andy Worthington says...

    And of course the junior doctors deserve all our support, with further industrial action planned following Jeremy Hunt’s imposition of unfair contracts. Hunt, an arrogant privileged millionaire, is losing his battle to persuade the public that incredibly hard-working doctors aren’t working hard enough, but he needs to be taken down, followed by the government itself. This is from March 17, by Dr. Johann Malawana, chair of the British Medical Association’s junior doctor committee:
    And here’s info about the latest strike plans:

  7. damo says...

    Sitting back and hopeing the torie …..just might……be voted out in 2020 is not an option failier to act…….will result in the total destruction of the nhs and wellfare state it will be gone and the tories will have rigged the system to stay in power indefinatly ….if you are chronicly ill and havent the wealth you are going to die…..if you become unemployed …you will become destitute and starve and you will die……this is allready starting to happen osborne and the tories showed us their true colors on wendsay with the budget ……when will the thick population of this country get it into there thick heads …the torie mentality is unless they can profit from you by money,contacts,sex,… are of no value or use to them ……in fact you are useing up…..there profits,there resorces……exactly when will people fight back…..jesus christ its not rocket science …..the tories are destroying people and the welfare state ….right in front of our eyes.

  8. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, I agree, Damo. It was apparent to me after the Tories got into power in 2010 that they were the first government in living memory to openly disregard those on the lower rungs of society, financially, and to break with the notion that the government’s role was to, at the very least, pay lip service to the notion that the obligation of government was to look after everyone. That’s essentially the step that the Nazis took, and it helps to explain how easy it has been to dehumanise parts of the population – with, obviously, the help of the media, and the lack of strong voices urging the kind of concern for the poor that used to be the province of the religious.
    I only hope that the suggestions of serious back-pedalling by Osborne on the cuts to the disabled are true. He’s certainly appalled many of his own MPs, who genuinely seem to believe in the paternalistic view of politics that Osborne has so dismissively dismantled since 2010 – but who also recognise that, whatever the intentions regarding the disabled, it is unacceptable to impose cuts at the same time as giving tax breaks to the rich.
    As for Iain Duncan Smith, it’s depressing that so much of the media is focusing on anything other than the fact that he’s made a naked political move, jumping before he was pushed from the limply pro-EU camp led by Cameron and Osborne, in the hope that we leave the EU and he’ll get some massive role in government in return. No one should forget that he has the blood of countless disabled people on his hands, and it’s absolutely no one’s fault but his own. He is, and remains a repulsive human being.
    I must confess, though, that I’m enjoying watching the Tories destroy themselves – but now my main fear is that Fat Boris will somehow emerge from it all unscathed, bizarrely continuing to charm people in significant numbers – even though he’s smarmily predatory with barely suppressed violence below the surface – to fulfil his life’s dream, becoming the King of England; I mean, Prime Minister. Let’s hope he sinks with the anti-EU camp if we manage to vote to stay in; if not, Cameron resigns and Boris will be there, with, I’m sad to say, his little stiffy ready to f*ck us all.

  9. damo says...

    I hate to say this andy but people have become so dumb and distracted that …..boris more than likely will become prime minnister just like trump more than likely will become president it wouldnt supprise me …..lets hope im wronge

  10. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, I hope you’re wrong, Damo. I don’t see Trump winning in the US, but I’m less sure about Fat Boris, as I now call him – so much more obvious since he had his haircut! I guess we just need to escalate the criticism, and do it incessantly.
    Have you noted how the replacement for IDS, Stephen Crabb, is getting sustained attacks immediately – for his cheating expenses, homophobia and more? This is what we need. A relentless assault on them, and their feigned credibility.

  11. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks to everyone liking this very personal reflection – and a cry from the heart. To support the junior doctors, please visit this page:
    You can also buy a Vivienne Westwood-designed T-shirt:

  12. Anna says...

    Hi Andy, I was remembering your sore toe only a few days ago when travelling by train the same way we did five years ago and I recognised from the train window the concrete stairs to the pedestrian passage above the train tracks, which you valiantly conquered in spite of your painful foot, unknowing as yet how serious a state it was in.
    This time we did not need to change trains. I was with two film directors, heading for the same cinema in Łódź and oddly enough, one of them had a terrible tooth ache, which he has been suffering from on & off since a very long time but he got a dentist appointment for after one year. Not easy, being a refugee in Europe …
    He’s back home since yesterday and I do hope that I will not get as worrying messages from him as I received from you that time.
    Just got home myself last night after the first two legs of my third Afghan film festival :-), the preparation of which has kept me fully occupied for the last few months to the extent of not even reading your posts until today. Hope to catch up with them soon :-).
    And hail again to the doctors who five years ago saved not only your toes but probably your life.

  13. Andy Worthington says...

    Hi Anna,
    Great to hear from you. I’d been thinking about how I should get in touch, as I hadn’t heard from you for a while.
    I do hope your Afghan film festival went well. Such a great project!
    See you soon, hopefully. We do hope to visit one of these days, but it’s a busy time right now, as Tyler has significant exams this summer.

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo and We Stand With Shaker. Also, photo-journalist (The State of London), and singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers).
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