On the day – Summary
This year’s forum, chaired by Gill Walt, Emeritus Professor at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and a long term Patron of Medact, was in partnership with Health Poverty Action, a London based international NGO. HPA, whose social justice approach to health mirrors that of Medact, works with the most marginalised communities in low income countries to strengthen their struggle for health.
The aim for the Forum was to begin facilitating the creation of a UK progressive health movement that focuses on the social, political and ethical dimensions of health.
Pulling these strands together in the first session was Medact’s director David McCoy. He began his presentation with a brief overview of Medact, a membership based global public health charity of health professionals. This was followed with a summary of Medact’s activities since the last conference in 2013, many in collaboration with other like-minded organisations. These included challenges to tax evasion, Private Finance Initiations in the NHS and the Trans Atlantic Trade and Investment negotiations, among others.
Ron Labonte, a visiting professor from Ottawa University, came next, launching Global Health Watch 4, the latest alternative world health report. This, like its predecessors, has been a collaborative effort by activities and academics from across the world. Ron used the opportunity to provide an assessment of the effects of globalisation, noting the devastating impacts of current neoliberal policies on people’s health. Relating these to the chapters of GHW4, Ron concluded by highlighting the challenges posed in the final section of the Report, with its focus on ‘resistance, actions and change’.
Session Two opened with a presentation by Mary O’Hara about her new book ‘Austerity Bites’. Based on extensive interviews with a broad spectrum of people across the UK, the book charts the profoundly damaging effects of the austerity economics on people at the sharp end in Britain. Thomas Gebauer, director of Medico International, a German based NGO, then spoke about how his organisation, also comprising health professionals, promotes human rights and influences politics through health and medicine. Drawing this session to a close, Anuj Kapilashrami of Queen Margaret’s University, Edinburgh spoke about the potential for a positive interaction between academia and activism, using examples from India and the recent People’s Health Movement’s People’s Health Assembly hosted by St Margaret’s University.
After lunch, over 200 health professionals including students, academics, doctors, nurses, campaigners and activists took part in discussions and workshops run by organisations such as Common Cause, ShareAction, the British Medical Journal and the Green Alliance.
This comprised a mix of practical, campaign and informative workshops. The practical workshops focused on skills building: for example there was a session on the services that junior doctors can give when treating patients that are asylum seekers or refugees.
The informative workshops included a session on the social and economic determinants that caused the Ebola outbreak in West Africa and another on Private Finance Initiatives that are crippling the NHS and are now being used as a model of finance in Southern Africa.
The campaign workshops sought to give health professionals the skills they need to campaign effectively for social justice in health. There was a session on campaigning for universal healthcare and the NHS by reintroducing compassion, social justice and universalism into discussions about the NHS to combat the increasing focus on self interest, wealth and power. There was also a session on theories of change where the different approaches and issues were laid out, discussed and turned into potential strategies for Medact’s future campaigns on tax avoidance, fossil fuel divestment and fracking.
The final session focused on an ignored and pressing issue: The Global War on Drugs. Niamh Eastwood outlined the current international system of drug policy, and spoke about the negative impacts of these policies on issues such as health, governance, human rights, and access to medicine, as well as looking at potential alternatives. Dr. Judith Yates explored the impact of current drug policies on people and communities in the UK, and gave a firsthand account of her experiences as a doctor working with people affected by drug use. Julia Buxton (via video) made the case for drug policy being a crucial issue for the development sector, and spoke about the underlying reasons for past failures of alternative development programmes in drug-producing areas. Martin Drewry, director of Health Poverty Action addressed the question of why NGOs should get involved in the drug policy debate, and spoke about how drug policy links into issues of inequality, trade justice, tax justice, and human rights.
In the days and weeks that have followed the Medact Forum 2014, we’ve been contacted by many of those present asking us how they can get involved in our work. This is exactly what Medact wants and needs: our vision is for Medact to be a community that health professionals and students can use to speak out on issues of social and economic justice.
It’s early days still but we are already putting in place plans to help our supporters do this. For example, one member has begun creating a Medact notice board in the waiting room of her GP surgery to help spread our progressive philosophy to the wider public. In London, a small group of health professionals are coming together to create Medact London – a new local area group.
As well as efforts from the office, there has also been a lot of self organisation between members that met at the Forum through Twitter and subsequent meetings to collaborate on research and campaign work. Medact remains a small fraction of what it could be – with more resources we do more to support doctors, nurses and other across the UK to speak out on what they are passionate about. We need all the support we can get – if you’re not a member, please join. If you are, ask a friend to join!
Please consider donating so that we can expand and improve Medact’s work.
Along with all the informal meetings and discussions that took place during the day between members, many of you were also joining in from around the world via twitter and social media. Take a look at the Storify of the day and see what messages struck a cord with the audience.
If you have any feedback or comments about the Forum please click here and fill in the feedback form.
Medact Forum 2014: Sessions
Sessions are your opportunity to get stuck in and learn skills from organisers and activists who have been behind some of the most imaginative (and successful) UK and international campaigns.
We’ll be offering you the chance to decide how you want to learn by splitting the afternoon into 3 areas: health related issues, campaigning & organising and debates & discussions.
We have sessions on everything from; Making Change Happen; tax dodging in the NHS and tackling inequality through film.
Workshop registration will take place on the morning of the conference