On Saturday, November 26, a group of local Labour Party members were out in Alnwick as part of the national campaign day, Care For The NHS, collecting signatures on a petition to call on Theresa May to provide more funding, and talking to people about their experiences of, and concerns about, the NHS.
Almost without exception people expressed their heartfelt appreciation of the care they had received from healthcare professionals, but many people across the political spectrum raised concerns about the general state of the service and the pressures on staff.
Areas highlighted were the loss of healthcare provision locally, notably Rothbury Community Hospital inpatient ward (you can sign the petition at you.38degrees.org.uk/petitions/save-rothbury-hospital-from-closure), overnight maternity cover at Hillcrest, and the overnight closure of Wansbeck, Hexham and North Tyneside emergency care units.
The centralisation of services at Cramlington was seen as particularly worrying. Although one or two people said their experience was very positive, many more commented on the service being overwhelmed, the impact on ambulance response times and patients having to travel long distances.
Some spoke movingly of their exhaustion and isolation in caring for relatives with mental health problems, reflecting the impact on carers, as well as sufferers, of a woefully underfunded aspect of our NHS.
We would not claim that we heard the views of a representative sample, but with few exceptions, people felt that the NHS needed more resources. This included people who, because of their political allegiances, felt they could not sign a Labour petition.
This is clearly a cross-party issue and there are non-partisan organisations like 38 Degrees, with whom you can register your view.
For those who are willing to stand with Labour to care for the NHS the petition is available at www.labour.org.uk/index.php/nhs-campaign
From the point of view of the democratic process, it is very worrying that no one we spoke to, apart from some health professionals, was aware of the Sustainability and Transformation Plans, which the Government has called on all clinical commissioning groups to produce.
You can access the plan for our area via the Healthwatch Northumberland website and register your views by January 20. However, the plans are very vague and difficult to understand, a view I believe is shared by the BMA, but many fear that in spite of some comforting language, they will further cut services.
Because of the way changes are being implemented these plans will not be debated by Parliament. I have written to Anne Marie Trevelyan asking about their impact on health provision in North Northumberland and await a reply.
Thank you to all those who braved the cold, gave their time and shared their experiences.