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So we go inside and we gravely read the stones…

12/07/2014

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We hopped on a Muswell Hill bound 43 bus. A bit like Madness but we were on the top deck. It was one of those gorgeous autumnal “go outside and kick some leaves” sort of days. So we did and like all our best walks we started off in the pub. Highgate has some decent boozers and this one brewed its own beer and had a lunchtime assortment of dogs, Telegraph readers, kids on scooters and Arsenal fans. Remember when pre-match nosebag consisted of chips and peas in the rain outside Macari’s chippy on Chester Road? Nowadays it’s all triple cooked goose fat chips and minted pea puree in these parts. But the beer was good.

Fortified we set out for Highgate Cemetery, wandering down a hill, which unlike many of London’s hills actually looked and felt like a proper hill. But not in a Sheffieldy way. As someone who spent a disproportionate amount of their late teens poring over The Communist Manifesto and Karl Marx’s theory of dialectal materialism, it’s a tad strange that it’s taken me over six years of London life to finally visit his resting place in Highgate Cemetery. The lady at the entrance to the eastern, overspill bit of the cemetery asked us for four pound each to get in. Eight quid? Like the hill, it felt a bit steep but we coughed up and wandered in with a map.

Highgate Cemetery is perhaps the most famous of several Victorian cemeteries that ring London, built at a time when central London’s churchyards were running short of space. It was opened in 1839 with the eastern section added twenty one years later. The eastern annexe is the final resting place of many distinguished, often politically active, London residents including the journalist Paul Foot, artist Patrick Caulfield and historian Eric Hobsbawm. And Jeremy Beadle. But towering over them all is the grand headstone of another bearded gentleman; the philosopher, economist and revolutionary socialist Karl Marx, one of the world’s greatest thinkers and a resident of London for over thirty years.

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“Workers of all lands unite”, the final line of The Communist Manifesto, booms out from the top of the headstone. But as I lowered my gaze I couldn’t help but notice that a small pot of yellow flowers, at the base of the headstone, had blown over in the autumnal breeze. It looked untidy so I bent down to return it to an upright position. As I did so I felt a small pinprick-like sensation in my hand but thought nothing of it.

“Do you need any painkillers, darlin’?” Two days later and I’m spending the night in hospital being fed several doses of intravenous antibiotics. The “pinprick” turned out to be an insect bite that by Monday morning had seen my right hand and arm become a swollen, purple, itchy mess. “You need to get yourself to A&E” was the advice of the nurse I’d seen earlier at the minor injuries unit. So here I was several hours later, in bed on the Orwellian sounding Clinical Decisions Unit, struggling with the “quick” crossword and enveloped in a warm fuzziness as the antibiotics coursed through my veins.

This’ll teach me to go messing with Karl Marx’s headstone. This visit to A&E and subsequent admission to hospital was, of course, my own stupid fault. With the pressure on emergency departments across the country rising to unprecedented levels, the privatisers and their lickspittles have proposed that the solution is to charge some patients for their visits to A&E with drunks and migrants top of the list.

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I don’t think they’d have looked too kindly on the homeless East European bloke sleeping off a vodka-induced hangover in the bed opposite me. Who can possibly argue with charging people like this for “wasting” valuable NHS resources? We constantly hear about the financial pressure that the NHS is under and this, for many, appears to be an obvious solution and, perhaps more pertinently, a potential vote winner. A recent study has estimated that two million attendances at A&E departments in England and Wales are related to alcohol.

But, of course, it’s not that simple is it? Where do you draw the line when it comes to “self inflicted” visits to A&E? What about the drunken youth injured after being attacked on his way home from the pub? The woman admitted with chest pains who has ignored repeated warnings from her GP to stop smoking and eat healthier food? The cyclist injured in a collision with a car after cycling the wrong way down a one-way street? The DIYer injured after a fall from a ladder?

And why focus simply on the least expensive part of hospital care? What about several long, complicated stays in hospital, costing several thousand pounds each, to treat cirrhosis of the liver caused by years of heavy drinking? Should a patient be forced to pay for this treatment as well? It’s not straightforward at all.

The people-who-know-the-cost-of-everything-but-the-value-of nothing will soon bring us, just in time for the general election, an “annual tax statement” which is meant to illustrate how our taxes are spent. So, for instance, someone earning thirty thousand pounds a year will be told that £1,280 of that money is spent on health. No doubt we will hear the angry voices of those fortunate enough not to have had to visit a doctor in the last twelve months disputing why they should have to pay for the health care of others. The current debate about the future of our health service is grim with the sense of social solidarity on which the NHS was built having seemingly largely disintegrated.

Karl Marx reckoned that a civilised society should be based on the principle “from each according to his ability, to each according to his need”. I reckon he would have liked the NHS would Karl. And I reckon he would have stood up and fought for it. These are trying times for the National Health Service as we know it. Stay vigilant comrades.

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From → London, NHS, Politics

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