With Out of Joint’s This May Hurt A Bit opening in our Theatre next week, we ask two of our guest speakers appearing at our post-show talks what they think the greatest challenges facing the NHS are today, and contemplate how theatre can contribute to the heated discussion surrounding the future of the NHS.
With news pages constantly alight from another new development in the NHS saga, Tom Morris (Artistic Director of Bristol Old Vic) wants This May Hurt A Bit to act as a focus for conversation in our city. He invites Bristolians to submit questions for our panels of experts, reflect on things important to us today and engage with us as we try to diagnose the state of the NHS.
Paul is a film, theatre, TV writer/director. He was artistic director of the Bristol Old Vic from 1987 to 1991, and co-created the medical drama series Casualty.
The original brochure announcing the NHS said: “It will provide you with all medical, dental and nursing care…But it is not a “charity”. You are all paying for it mainly as taxpayers and it will relieve your money worries in time of illness.” This simple promise has apparently been overwhelmed by increased demand, more complicated medicine, and a shortage of money. The greatest challenge therefore is how rediscover that early promise.
Drama in the theatre or on TV gives us a chance to explore the consequence of events and ideas on imaginary characters. When good it can trigger debate and I believe there is a major debate to be has about what kind of NHS we want, and whether we want it all.
Much of my work as a writer has revolved around medicine – I co-created the BBC series Casualty and the ITV series Breathless– and as I worked in the theatre, and at the Bristol Old Vic in particular, for many years, when the BOV put on a play about the NHS and I was asked to contribute I leapt at the chance.
Dr Jacky Davis
Jacky is a consultant radiologist in north London, co-chair of the NHS Consultants’ Association and an executive member of the National Health Action party. She is co-editor of NHS SOS: How the NHS Was Betrayed and How We Can Save It.
The English NHS is facing the biggest challenge in its 65 year history. Recent legislation, forced through against the wishes of the public and the health professions, threatens to effectively put an end to the publicly funded, publicly provided and publicly accountable NHS which has served us so well for so long. Aggressive privatisation, inevitable fragmentation of services and arbitrary financial pressures leading to cuts and closures are already affecting the service. Patients are seeing services reduced and local surgeries and hospitals under threat and staff are struggling to care for patients under increasingly stressful circumstances.
Recent governments have cleverly presented these changes as ‘patient choice’ and ‘empowering GPs and patients’ with the result that many are confused about what is occurring. The theatre is an important way of drawing attention to the dangers faced by the NHS to a wide audience, people who will go out and spread the word to their communities and beyond. Analysis of legislation and academic arguments don’t capture people’s imaginations in the way that a drama will. We already hear that people are coming out of the performances asking what they can do, how they can help fight back. It is often only when the threats are personalised, that their local services are threatened that people come together to fight the changes, but when they do they can be very effective, acting as David Cameron’s ‘Big Society’.
I’m really looking forward to taking part in the Q&A session after the play. The audience usually have many questions after hearing the truth about what is happening to the NHS. How could this happen? What can we do? Can it be stopped? It’s important that people go home believing that the NHS can be saved but that urgent action must be taken now and that they have a role to play.
The NHS is a cost effective and popular service, the most popular institution in the country. It deserves our support in its time of need and hats off to everyone involved in This May Hurt a Bit for taking that message out to the world.
Dr Jacky Davis speaks to Dr Lucy Reynolds (research fellow at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical medicine) and Prof Wendy Savage (a British gynaecologist, and advocate and campaigner of women’s rights in childbirth and fertility. She is co-chair of the pressure group Keep Our NHS Public.) on Wednesday 30 April.
Paul Unwin talks to Tom Morris, Ken Loach (film and television director) and Jonathon Tomlinson (GP at the Lawson Practice in London and a NIHR In Practice research fellow, studying moral development in medical education. He has been on the steering committee for Keep Our NHS Public) on Thursday 1 May.
Post-show talks are free for ticket holders and take place following all evening performances of This May Hurt A Bit from Tues 29 April – Sat 3 May. You can see the full schedule and book tickets here.
Production photography by John Haynes.