Health is a human right
29 June 2015

This month I had the great pleasure of being asked to make a speech at the annual prize-giving at my old school, in Airdrie, near Glasgow.  It’s just a normal school, but in a spectacular new building, and led by a sensational Head-teacher. I watched as one after another the prize winners strode to the front to receive their prize, a certificate or a medal. Each one seemed to try hard not to smile too much; maybe it’s not cool to look too pleased with yourself. But each one broke into a beaming smile with wide-eyes when my wife, Felicity, presented them with their award. Prizes for coming top, prizes for best overall, and prizes for those who had just excelled through trying hard. It was great to watch.

The Head and I shared the same concern. How do you give a young person from a humble background the belief that their contribution to society counts? How do you instil in them the desire, the ambition, to be the best they can, to believe they can change their lives, their community and even their country? In my work, from my Practice in Carlton, and my role nationally, lobbying government for healthcare changes, I’ve been lucky to meet some amazing people. And whatever their role, be they a local postman, a working housewife, or a Prime Minister or rich businessman, I’ve found that beneath the surface they are largely all the same: normal people, going back home to family and friends, trying hard to achieve what’s important to them, to do their best, and make a difference.

A few years ago I was asked to present a speech on health at the Crans Montana Forum in Switzerland, a meeting for leaders of less wealthy nations. Afterwards, at the evening reception I looked around the room and counted 18 heads of state, prime ministers and presidents.  I suddenly felt out of my depth, in the wrong place but then realised, why shouldn’t a man from Airdrie, and now Nottingham be involved in these debates? We have just as much right to contribute to and influence our society as more, shall we say, privileged people. A recent report revealed that amongst the top 10 firms that recruit new graduates, 70% of the jobs were filled by graduates from fee-paying or selective schools, who comprised only 11% of the applicants. The employers themselves admitted that background was more important than ability. And if we don’t work to change that it will remain a real challenge for young people from Airdrie, and Nottingham to really make their mark.

Most people are aware that the NHS needs to recruit several thousand new GP’s to create the workforce to meet ever increasing demand; in order to do that we need to persuade young people from every part of our community, that they, if they are bright and are prepared to study hard, can choose to make a significant contribution to society by becoming doctors and GP’s. Just as health is a human right, so too should be a great education and access to equal opportunity in the workplace.