Campaigners march for the NHS. Photo: Getty
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"NHS principles aren’t intact": how the public is trying to protect its health service

This conference season, all parties have announced new plans to save the NHS; but how do those members of the public trying to protect their health service feel?

It had been another grey morning in a long line of dismal August days, and the streets of Nottingham were still wet from the latest summer soaking.

I’ll admit, there was a part of me that feared what I might find as I headed out to meet the NHS march. I was afraid of stumbling across a sad, aged version of the legendary 1936 Jarrow Crusade it was honouring; a musty heirloom handed down through generations of waning engagement in politics and activism.

I arrived in the centre of Bulwell, on the outer reaches of the city, and joined a small crowd that had already gathered to greet the marchers. By then the dreary clouds were just loosening their grip over the Midlands sky and the sun was starting to flicker through.

***

At first it was just a pulsating dot on the horizon. But it kept on coming from around some hidden bend; a trickle, then a stream of people, heading our way.

Pretty soon our little huddle was caught up in a flash flood of bustling colour, sound and energy. Campaigners of all stripes filled the square: unions, healthcare workers, pro-NHS groups, the Labour party, the Green party, Women of the World, bearing the tribal colours of a dozen activist groups, together. My fears disintegrated with the clouds.

It was an electric moment, one that was to be repeated again and again before the march was through. The organisers, an all-women group of NHS campaigners from Darlington nicknamed the "Darlo Mums", had set off from Jarrow two weeks before, heading all the way to Trafalgar Square to spread the word around the country.

I found Rehana Azam, one of the founders of the march, and as I walked along beside her I asked what had spurred her and the others into action.  “The principles of the NHS aren’t intact,” she said. “We felt it was our civic duty to bring people’s attention to what’s happening to the NHS. The final straw for us was Clause 119 and the battle for Lewisham before that. If it can happen to one hospital then it can happen to any hospital”.

It’s just one of many vivid memories from that strange day in August. I remember the ambiguous mood; a blend of anger and hope. And the people we passed by, showing anything from bemusement to approval to expletive fury at what was unfolding before their eyes.

We had a chance encounter with a health care assistant who came out of her house just as we streamed past. Slightly baffled, she walked with us for a while. She told me about her own working conditions at a private health care company not too far away, where she works on a zero-hours contract, without holiday pay, sometimes picking up the full 40 hours per week she needs, sometimes only getting 15.

“There’s never any guarantee,” she said, before dashing off to work.

The next time I saw Azam it was in a very different scene. It was seven days later, at the finale of the march, and she was on stage in Trafalgar Square addressing a mass of supporters and onlookers. Wandering around the crowds in that altogether more tumultuous setting, there were some of the same faces I’d seen days before, but this time in among thousands more – GPs, nurses, registrars, consultants, activists, union members, academics and members of the public.

It was one last warm shiver of what I had felt back in Nottingham; the streets were filled again with the colours and sounds of a hopeful movement.

***

These are ominous times for the health service. This week, some of the UK’s most senior medical professionals warned that the NHS is at “breaking point”, morale is shattered, and the whole founding principles of the service are in peril after four years of Conservative reforms.

Yet David Cameron claimed at his party’s conference that he is the only one who can be trusted as the guardian of these principles. Very few in healthcare trust him any more.

With a total reorganisation of the system now well underway despite a solemn promise to the contrary, a tidy majority of new contracts going to private companies since the Health and Social Care Act came into effect, and the web of links between the Conservatives and the health care companies that reap these rewards emerging, the prospect of five more years of Tory rule turns those who oppose privatisation cold.

If the fears of campaigners on that march are realised, there is a very depressing future ahead. Campaigners like Dr Bob Gill, who described to me the gradual “grinding down of GPs by regulations and budgetary restrictions”, when I spoke to him that day, or Dr Lucy Reynolds who said the public “will only notice after it’s all been done and it’s too late”.

But there is hope, and the energy of the Darlo Mums marches on. A lot of the chatter in Nottingham, London and along the length of the march was about Labour MP Clive Efford’s Private Members' Bill, which would go some way to rolling back the marketisation of the past four years, and “re-establish the Secretary of State’s legal duty to provide national health services in England”. Due to be debated in the Commons on 21 November, a fervent campaign to get it adopted is under way.

Speaking to me after the Trafalgar Square rally, Efford said: “People need to wake up to what’s happening to the NHS, and that it’s under serious threat. The marchers used this bill as a rallying cry as they marched down from Jarrow; I see it as a continuation of what they started”.

And there is plenty more to be done. Just last week, the campaign to get the NHS Reinstatement Bill enacted was officially launched, and in the next fortnight a major new independent documentary, Sell Off, written and produced by campaigning filmmaker Peter Bach, will be released.

As the nights draw longer and colder, the health service will be tested, perhaps as never before. The Darlo Mums’ crusade might be over, but our NHS has never been more vulnerable, or more in need of people to keep marching for it.

Benedict Cooper is a freelance journalist who covers medical politics and the NHS. He tweets @Ben_JS_Cooper.

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Why is it called Storm Doris? The psychological impact of naming a storm

“Homes being destroyed and lives being lost shouldn’t be named after any person.”

“Oh, piss off Doris,” cried the nation in unison this morning. No, it wasn't that everyone's local cantankerous old lady had thwacked our ankles with her stick. This is a different, more aggressive Doris. Less Werther’s, more extreme weathers. Less bridge club, more bridge collapse.

This is Storm Doris.

A storm that has brought snow, rain, and furious winds up to 94mph to parts of the UK. There are severe weather warnings of wind, snow and ice across the entire country.

But the real question here is: why is it called that? And what impact does the new Met Office policy of naming storms have on us?

Why do we name storms?

Storm Doris is the latest protagonist in the Met Office’s decision to name storms, a pilot scheme introduced in winter 2015/16 now in its second year.

The scheme was introduced to draw attention to severe weather conditions in Britain, and raise awareness of how to prepare for them.

How do we name storms?

The Name our Storms initiative invites the public to suggest names for storms. You can do this by tweeting the @metoffice using the #nameourstorms hashtag and your suggestion, through its Facebook page, or by emailing them.

These names are collated along with suggestions from Met Éireann and compiled into a list. These are whittled down into 21 names, according to which were most suggested – in alphabetical order and alternating between male and female names. This is done according to the US National Hurricane Naming convention, which excludes the letters Q, U, X, Y and Z because there are thought to be too few common names beginning with these letters.

They have to be human names, which is why suggestions in this list revealed by Wired – including Apocalypse, Gnasher, Megatron, In A Teacup (or Ena Tee Cup) – were rejected. The Met Office received 10,000 submissions for the 2016/17 season. According to a spokesperson, a lot of people submit their own names.

Only storms that could have a “medium” or “high” wind impact in the UK and Ireland are named. If there are more than 21 storms in a year, then the naming system starts from Alpha and goes through the Greek alphabet.

The names for this year are: Angus (19-20 Nov ’16), Barbara (23-24 Dec 2016), Conor (25-26 Dec 2016), Doris (now), Ewan, Fleur, Gabriel, Holly, Ivor, Jacqui, Kamil, Louise, Malcolm, Natalie, Oisín, Penelope, Robert, Susan, Thomas, Valerie and Wilbert.

Why does this violent storm have the name of an elderly lady?

Doris is an incongruous name for this storm, so why was it chosen? A Met Office spokesperson says they were just at that stage in their list of names, and there’s no link between the nature of the storm and its name.

But do people send cosy names for violent weather conditions on purpose? “There’s all sorts in there,” a spokesperson tells me. “People don’t try and use cosy names as such.”

What psychological impact does naming storms have on us?

We know that giving names to objects and animals immediately gives us a human connection with them. That’s why we name things we feel close to: a pet owner names their cat, a sailor names their boat, a bore names their car. We even name our virtual assistants –from Microsoft’s Clippy to Amazon’s Alexa.

This gives us a connection beyond practicality with the thing we’ve named.

Remember the response of Walter Palmer, the guy who killed Cecil the Lion? “If I had known this lion had a name and was important to the country or a study, obviously I wouldn’t have taken it,” he said. “Nobody in our hunting party knew before or after the name of this lion.”

So how does giving a storm a name change our attitude towards it?

Evidence suggests that we take it more seriously – or at least pay closer attention. A YouGov survey following the first seven named storms in the Met Office’s scheme shows that 55 per cent of the people polled took measures to prepare for wild weather after hearing that the oncoming storm had been named.

“There was an immediate acceptance of the storm names through all media,” said Gerald Fleming, Head of Forecasting at Met Éireann, the Irish metereological service. “The severe weather messages were more clearly communicated.”

But personalising a storm can backfire. A controversial US study in 2014 by PNAC (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences) claimed that hurricanes with female names lead to higher death tolls – the more “feminine” the name, like Belle or Cindy, the higher the death toll. This is not because female names are attached to more severe storms; it is reportedly because people take fewer steps to prepare for storms with names they perceive to be unintimidating or weak.

“In judging the intensity of a storm, people appear to be applying their beliefs about how men and women behave,” Sharon Shavitt, a co-author of the study, told the FT at the time. “This makes a female-named hurricane . . . seem gentler and less violent.”

Names have social connotations, and affect our subconscious. Naming a storm can raise awareness of it, but it can also affect our behaviour towards it.

What’s it like sharing a name with a deadly storm?

We should also spare a thought for the impact sharing a name with a notorious weather event can have on a person. Katrina Nicholson, a nurse who lives in Glasgow, says it was “horrible” when the 2005 hurricane – one of the fifth deadliest ever in the US – was given her name.

“It was horrible having something so destructive associated with my name. Homes being destroyed and lives being lost shouldn’t be named after any person,” she tells me over email. “I actually remember at the time meeting an American tourist on a boat trip in Skye and when he heard my name he immediately linked it to the storm – although he quickly felt guilty and then said it was a lovely name! I think to this day there will be many Americans who hate my name because of it.”

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.