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‘We must never let the NHS free from our grasp’: Harry Leslie Smith’s powerful 2014 speech


I came into this world in the
rough and ready year of 1923.
I am from Barnsley and I can
tell you that my childhood –
like so many others
from that era –
was not an episode
from Downton Abbey.
[Laughter/applause]
Instead, it was a
barbarous time.
It was a bleak time and it was
an uncivilised time
because public healthcare
didn’t exist.
No one in our community
was safe from poor health,
sickness and disease.
In our home, TB came for
my eldest sister, Marion.
Tuberculosis tortured my sister
and left her an invalid
that had to be restrained
with ropes tied around her bed.
My parents did everything
in their power to keep
Marion alive and comfortable.
But they just didn’t
have the dosh
to get her to the best clinics,
find her the best doctors
or the right medicines.
Instead, she wasted away
before our eyes
until my mother could
no longer handle her care
and she was dispatched
to the workhouse infirmary
where she died at the age of 10,
87 years ago.
Mum and dad couldn’t afford
to bury their darling daughter,
so like the rest of
our country’s indigent,
she was dumped, nameless,
into a pauper’s pit.
My family’s story isn’t unique.
Sadly, rampant poverty
and no healthcare
were the norm for
the Britain of my youth.
That injustice galvanised
my generation to become,
after the Second World War,
the tide that raised all boats.
Election Day 1945 was one of
the proudest days in my life.
I felt that I was finally getting
a chance to grab destiny
by the shirt collar
and that is why I voted Labour
and for the creation of the NHS.
[Applause]
We must never ever let the NHS
free from our grasp
because if we do your future
will be my past.
I am not a politician,
a member of the elite,
or a financial guru,
but my life is your history.
And we should
keep it that way.

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