Dismantling a Dream

“While the beehive of administrators and deputy administrators and assistant administrators and their public relations protectors has doubled in the last twelve years, it is the doctors and nurses and their vital support people that are being cut back.”

A Labour government imposing cutbacks on the National Health Services is the theme of Dismantling a Dream. Pilger recalls the establishment of the NHS in 1948 and Health Minister Aneurin Bevan’s declaration that the “silent suffering” of the old, young, chronically sick and handicapped had no place in a civilised society. But, in December 1976, an official report revealed that thousands of children who could be saved were dying. “The gap between the social classes in healthcare has been widening for 25 years,” says Pilger.

Evidence of patients being affected includes 50 senior doctors at a Northampton hospital stating that some were dying as a result of cutbacks. Whole sections of “Britain’s most civilising post-war achievement” were being torn down, says Pilger, who visits Murray House, a Surrey hospital for the mentally and physically handicapped, and Hackney General Hospital, in London.

At Murray House, one member of staff says that minimum safety levels are not met and patients are un-stimulated. Many need physiotheraphy, but there is only one physiotherapist for 150 patients, available only half a day a week.

Hackney General had been described by 45 junior doctors as “squalid” and a senior consultant anaesthetist tells Pilger that the practice of farming out expectant mothers to the Salvation Army’s Mothers’ Hospital, with no resuscitation time or a full-time anaesthetist, puts mothers and babies at risk. A surgeon says a lack of beds means he has just sent home five people suffering from cancer of the bladder who are due for their annual review operation. A consultant psychiatrist reveals that two people who should have been in hospital committed suicide out in the community.

Across the country, those needing hip and knee replacements are waiting for up to three years and Pilger reports on horrific conditions at other hospitals, in Liverpool and Oldham. “It is the doctors’ and nurses’ modest demands for life-saving equipment, for beds, for basic standards of hygiene that are being denied,” he says.

Dismantling a Dream (Pilger, ATV), ‘Personal Report’, ITV, 12 September 1977

Director: Nigel Evans; series producer: Richard Creasey (27 mins)

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The John Pilger archive is held at the British Library