The National Health Action Party has just announced its first batch of candidates for the 2015 General Election with GPs, a cancer specialist, a nurse, a mental health expert, a disability champion and prominent NHS hospital campaigners challenging a dozen seats including those of David Cameron, Jeremy Hunt, Iain Duncan Smith and Nick Clegg.
The "up-and-coming" political party, launched in 2012 in protest at the government's NHS reforms and creeping privatisation, is calling on voters to ensure the NHS is right at the top of the election agenda at the Party's annual conference at Conway Hall on Sunday, NHA co-leader Dr Clive Peedell said they could have a huge impact: "It’s going to be one of the tightest elections ever and voters need to realise that the very survival of the NHS is at stake. It won’t endure another five years of continued closures, cost-cutting and privatisation.
"If we could get even just one or two MPs elected, the public would know there’d be representatives in Parliament on whom they could always rely to act purely in the best interests of patients and of the NHS, without letting political ideology get in the way. For too long the NHS has been used as a political football. In the event of a hung parliament, it’s possible that we could be in a strong position to influence health policy.
"Huge numbers of people are disillusioned with the current political choices on offer. We hope that in the areas where we’re standing, voters will back our message about saving and improving the NHS and our wider concern for a fair and healthy society. We hope they will also welcome our call for a new politics, promoting the idea of MPs who can be responsive to their constituents rather than to party whips and lobbyists, and who represent voters rather than cheat on them.
"We don’t want to be politicians but someone’s got to stop the decimation of our NHS. A properly funded and publicly delivered NHS is the cornerstone of a fair, just and healthy society. We’re prepared to fight for that."
Among the high-profile seats being contested by the National Health Action Party, is that of Jeremy Hunt, where the chair of the successful Save Lewisham Campaign, Dr Louise Irvine, is fired up to take on the Health Secretary in South West Surrey: "I've faced Jeremy Hunt in the courts – and beaten him twice. Now I’ll face him at the ballot box. He needs to be held to account for what he's doing to our NHS and the way in which he has bulldozed democracy, changing the law to push through hospital closures when he was beaten in court. I look forward to a serious debate with the Health Secretary about the future of our NHS."
NHS nurse, Kathryn Anderson, will be taking on the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Iain Duncan Smith, in Chingford & Woodford: "Just because this is considered a safe Tory seat doesn't mean he shouldn't be challenged, and challenged fiercely. As the deeply unpopular Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Iain Duncan Smith has shown just how incredibly cruel and vicious the Tory party can be. I’m sure voters will want to register their disgust at how totally dismissive he is of people who need assistance when they are unwell, disabled or disadvantaged."
NHA co-leader and cancer specialist Dr Clive Peedell confirmed he'll be running against David Cameron in Witney, an area where he grew up and still has family connections: "I’m challenging David Cameron because he is ultimately responsible for the policies of his party and the Coalition Government, which include the dismantling and increasing privatisation of the NHS. The public don't want this and his party and the coalition Government had no democratic mandate to do it. He must be held to account at the ballot box."
The Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg is being challenged in his Sheffield Hallam constituency by disability rights campaigner, Naveen Judah: "Nick Clegg has led his Lib Democrats into a coalition of collusion and broken promises. He’s betrayed voters time and time again, enabling the Tories to trash the NHS, treble tuition fees, increase VAT and make tax cuts for millionaires. Whatever last minute pledges he makes to save his skin, he cannot be trusted – and he must be punished for his disgraceful disregard of voters."
There'll be "hard-fought" challenges elsewhere. In Maidstone, ex-GP Dr Paul Hobday, who has built up a strong local following, is taking on Tory Sports Minister Helen Grant who has a shaky majority: "Contributing to my decision to retire was the commercialisation of our NHS and the need I have to fight the Coalition Government’s undemocratic, clandestine privatisation, driven by my anger that the public are being kept in the dark. With all the main political parties promoting a market in healthcare, the electorate, who believe in Nye Bevan’s founding principles, are disenfranchised. The National Health Action Party is fighting for those principles and by standing for election I hope to be able to wake up the public to the terminal threat to our NHS."
In Truro, the experienced health board executive and businessman Rik Evans, who recently resigned as a director of the local NHS hospital trust in protest at the privatisation of NHS hotel services, will take on Tory Sarah Newton who has a meagre majority of around 400: "On May 29th I resigned as Vice Chairman of the Royal Cornwall Hospital Trust over the issue of privatising Hotel Services. I had been a member of the Board for over six years and a member of health boards in Cornwall for over 25 years. For me it was a matter of principle. The NHS is the greatest health care system in the world and now needs protecting from private profit vultures. I do not want to see a credit card accessed NHS in the UK and I am deeply concerned this is the way we are heading."
Two prominent hospital campaigners will be running too. Karen Howell, a well-known and popular figure in the Save Stafford Hospital Campaign, will be standing in the Stafford constituency: A major injustice is taking place affecting the people of Stafford and its community, its hospital and the hardworking dedicated staff, still struggling under the shadow of the bad name associated with the town. Stafford Hospital is now rated as one of the best hospitals in the country yet is facing a financially driven closure of its A&E, maternity, children's wards, and acute medical and surgical wards. It’s time to fight for Stafford, clear our name and preserve our hospital services."
And Dave Ash, of the Save St Helier Hospital Campaign, will be taking on the Lib Dem former health minister Paul Burstow in Sutton and Cheam: "Not only did Paul Burstow vote in favour of the Health and Social Care Bill, which has put both my local hospital and the wider NHS at risk, but he also voted for the hospital closure clause of the Care Bill despite tabling his own amendment to this bill, but then voted against his own amendment. When people challenge me asking why I care so much about our NHS even though I don’t work in it, my answer is simple: 'Why DON’T YOU care so much?'."
Other NHA candidates include Kent GP, Dr Bob Gill running against Immigration minister James Brokenshire in Old Bexley and Sidcup: "The last thing on my mind was getting into politics but given the track record of our elected representatives the decision was made easier. Standing for election for the National Health Action Party will hopefully allow NHS and its orchestrated decline greater publicity and raise awareness. Without mass public campaign against privatisation, it will be lost."
Brighton University mental health expert, Dr Carl Walker, is standing in East Worthing and Shoreham. "There's something about our National Health Service that transcends mere healthcare. It represents one of the last vestiges of virtue and social compassion in a time where our social fabric is being systematically unpicked by those who preach the creed of self-interest. Our health is the one aspect of our social lives that deserves to be beyond the urge toward self-interest and profit. We need to draw a line that says that, no matter who you are, no matter what circumstances you are in, no matter how much money you do or don’t have, you will always receive quality healthcare free at the point of delivery."
Oxford health journalist, Roseanne Edwards is standing in Banbury where Tony Baldry has just announced he won’t be seeking re-election. "I have spent over two decades as a health reporter, informing the public about the never-ending battle against expensive reorganisation, marketisation and cuts in the NHS. Now I want to do as much as I can to stop it."
Dr Richard Taylor, the other NHA Party co-leader, is also standing, having already announced he’d be vying to regain his old seat of Wyre Forest which he won as an Independent in 2001 and held in 2005. Dr Taylor is currently recovering from a hip operation carried out at Kidderminster Hospital, the very hospital he campaigned to save. He had this message: "I caused a bit of a rumpus when I unexpectedly first won this seat in 2001 and held it in 2005, campaigning to save Kidderminster hospital. Now the Coalition's disastrous plans for our NHS are plain for all to see, I think I have an excellent chance of completing my hat-trick. The previous two times I was fighting to save my local hospital. This time I'm fighting to save the NHS."