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Latitude 2018

Check Up, Our NHS @ 70

Mark Thomas

Genre: Political, Solo Show, Theatre

Venue: Latitude Festival Theatre Tent


Low Down

Mark Thomas is 54, the NHS is 70, UK national average life expectancy is 84. If Mark makes it to 84 the NHS will be 100, what will they both look like? Based on a series of interviews with leading experts in and on the NHS and residencies in hospitals and surgeries and with director Nick Kent, Thomas uses his own demise to explore the state we’re in. What’s going wrong in our NHS, how it can go right and what the future might hold for all of us.


Mark Thomas’ new show is a paean to the NHS – a passionate ode to what it is, the people who make it work, and what we stand to lose if we let it go. Engaging from the get-go, Thomas’ energized pacing and hand-gesture punctuation makes you sit up and take notice.


70 years after its inception the NHS – one of the last bastions of social responsibility still left in the UK – is on its knees. Destroyed first by the sell-offs to private companies begun by Blair and Brown, the systematic unraveling of this precious institution is being coldly continued by the Tory bastards who govern us. To assess the true value of the NHS, Thomas embarked upon a journey of discovery – talking to policy makers, clinicians, GPs and hospital managers. This show is the results of those interviews and hands on experiences that Thomas had over the past year.


From being a bystander in an incredibly stressful A&E department, to chatting with the Chief Medical Officer of the UK, Thomas sees this sprawling institution from all angles. We hear about the policy decisions that shape the type of care we receive from our GPs, to meeting a delightful Irish woman with dementia and a filthy mouth.


Thomas takes on the personas of the people he spoke to, and brings them to life onstage, their photos projected onto a hospital screen behind him. They are a diverse bunch in both race and class; he speaks to nurses on a dementia ward and Lords who sit in parliament. Whilst they may be worlds apart, what comes across without a doubt is the dedication and care that the people who are on the ground and running the NHS bring to the table.


This is not a tale of woe – Thomas could easily have told stories of how underfunding of the NHS is forcing patients to lie in hospital corridors for hours, or how the stress of being so criminally understaffed is driving people away in droves. However, whilst these issues are discussed fully and eloquently, the overriding takeaway from the piece is just how lucky we are to have this institution that will treat you the same whether you are prince or pauper.


That’s not to say that there isn’t plenty of woe to be had – we hear the statistic that in the London borough where the Grenfell disaster took place, life expectancy differs by 22 years between the people who live next to Harrods and the people who live next to Grenfell. Health, Thomas points out, is about class, and there is no doubt that poorer health outcomes are equitable with poverty.


He also makes the incredibly important point, that even if the Tories pledge to keep the NHS going, if you at the same time cut the social care and other services that back up the work of the NHS, it will not be able to cope, and the system will fail.


Check Up is an important and timely show, and though he doesn’t state this explicitly, it should be a call to arms for us to stand up and fight for this precious institution before it is too late.