Residents of Brighton and Hove aged from 11 to 82 have been inspired to take up their needles to join the Threads of Survival project, and they have made two quilts – one celebrating the NHS and the other highlighting the dangers that it faces as it turned 75 years old on Wednesday 5 July.
The Brighton and Hove Threads of Survival quilts are the most recent of 30 made by communities across the country, part of a national campaign which started during lockdown. All represent the coming together of people from a range of communities to support the health service and NHS workers.
The local quilts are being displayed in the ONCA Gallery window, at 14 St George’s Place, Brighton, from Wednesday 5 July to Monday 10 July. The Brighton and Hove Scroll of Support for the NHS, which is over 120 metres long, includes messages from more than 3,000 people and is displayed alongside the quilts.
Stitches of support
Many of the beautifully-stitched squares movingly express individuals’ appreciation of the NHS and NHS workers: “The NHS saved my life … Born in hospital, bones mended, life saved … Migrants make the NHS.”
Others highlight the current threats to the NHS, including cuts in funding, extensive privatisation, the systemic undervaluing of NHS workers, chronic understaffing and crises in availability of services.
Sean de Podesta, from Sussex Defend the NHS, who inspired the NHS scroll, commented: “I know how precious it is to so many people. The Threads of Survival exhibitions are an opportunity for people to see something beautiful, to reflect on what the NHS means to them and what we need to do to ensure its survival.”
Madeleine Dickens, from the Threads of Survival project, said: “We urge everyone to come along to see the inspirational quilts and scroll and to join in the events. As they graphically show, so many people are deeply concerned about the dismantling of the NHS and what is being inflicted on the NHS and NHS workers.”
Inspiring launch speeches
Speaking at an initial launch of the quilts on 3 July, Louise Bray-Allen, a community mental health nurse declared: “This brutal government has taken full advantage of the Covid-19 crisis to slyly give contracts to their friends in the private sector, hoping that people won’t notice, well we have, haven’t we?
“We must resist all attempts at privatisation by stealth. Together we must fight for a decent, well-funded and resourced NHS free at the point or delivery for all.”
Opening the ONCA exhibition on 5 July, Rob Galloway, an A&E consultant, gave a powerful speech: “Your quilt represents what is so important about the NHS, but I see it every day in the work my colleagues and I do – treating people based on need and not profit.”
Professor Galloway reminded the audience of the first day of the NHS: “On 5 July 1948, the keys to Park Hospital in Trafford, Manchester were symbolically handed over to Nye Bevan.
“The first patient through the doors was a 13-year-old girl named Sylvia Beckingham, who was admitted for a serious liver condition. She came from a working-class background and her family could not afford the care she needed. Without the NHS, she would have died.
“With it, she survived and went on to live a fulfilling life as a teacher, Mum and by all accounts an amazing piano player. She epitomises the NHS’s long and great history.”
A call to action
Galloway stressed that the NHS needs to be resilient: “The NHS is not its buildings, its drugs or its machines. It’s its staff. They work for an institution whose ethos puts patients above all else. An institution which leads the world in research, cutting edge care but, most importantly, humanity.
“But it’s not a given that the NHS is here to stay. It does not have the universal support it had 13 years ago and it’s not cheap…It’s the most efficient health system in the world – even though it doesn’t feel like that at times. But that efficiency is being damaged by current political direction… It’s at risk like never before.”
Galloway warned against threats of privatisation and an exodus of staff: “The NHS staff are demoralised and struggling. Claps on a Thursday and lights shining on buildings today, can’t stop the brain drain of expertise we are seeing… The NHS is nothing without its staff. I know so many doctors, nurses and others who are burnt out and do not think working in the NHS is worth it anymore.
“The long-term damage to patient care from this is enormous…We need new ideas, policies, workforce plans and funding to save the NHS before it’s too late. Our NHS which…may not be there for our children.”
Galloway ended with an inspiring call to action, which was appreciatively applauded:
“As Nye Bevan said, the NHS will survive as long as there are the folk with the faith to fight for it. We have to be the folk, we have to have the faith and we must fight it.”
Part of this article was first published in Brighton and Hove News. Roz Scott has written about the exhibition launches on 3 July and 5 July – visit her website to read the full articles and to subscribe to her blog: www.rozscott.com or follow her on Twitter: @RozScottBN3.
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