The Independent London Newspaper
22nd September 2018

Michael Marqusee: A warning from 'one grateful NHS patient'

    Writer and political campaigner Michael Marqusee

    Published: 9 July, 2014

    IN a remarkable book, political activist and writer Mike Marqusee, who is suffering from cancer, makes an unusual appeal from “one grateful patient” to the hard-working NHS staff who are providing his excellent care.

    “The government takes advantage of your sense of commitment to your patients,” he writes in The Price of Experience. “But by letting them do so you are doing no favours for those patients.”

    He argues that reluctance to take any action that might disrupt patient care is under­standable, but may ultimately harm patients’ long-term prospects.

    “You [NHS workers] may feel you have little power, but collectively you have much greater power than individual patients.”

    This is a very powerful book. Rather than simply relating his misery about the disease, Mr Marqusee celebrates the wonderful and free treatment he is receiving at Barts Hospital for multiple myeloma, a type of blood cancer.

    But he warns that creeping privatisation and reorganisation and the huge profits being demanded by the pharmaceutical industry is threatening the system that is the envy of the world.

    The book, launched at Housmans in King’s Cross yesterday (Wednesday), is the extraordinary chronicle of events since he was first diagnosed with the disease back in 2007.

    Fearful and uncertain in the early stages, he is at first reluctant to write about his often painful experiences. But Mr Marqusee is touched by the “exemplary” care he receives at Barts and the Royal London, where, despite the cuts, there is excellent coordination between doctors, nurses, technicians and support staff.

    He’s not, he says, “treated like a lab rat or an ambulatory statistic”, but as an intelligent and autonomous human being.

    He describes staff drawn from all over the world as quiet, caring, and un-panicked. Only 36 per cent of Barts staff are British and white; 13 per cent come from the Indian sub continent; 10 per cent from Africa; 7 per cent from the Philippines; and 4 per cent from the Caribbean.

    He adds: “At each stage, I’ve found an openness to questions and a willingness to address anxieties. Given the pressure on resources, there are sometimes delays but every effort is made to keep me informed.”

    Doctors share with him all the information about his case on their computer screens, from lab reports to X-rays and MRIs. They copy him in on  corres­pondence. “The various nurses and specialists treating me are kept up to date with all the details of my condition and, importantly, my dedica­tion regime,” he says.

    American-born Mr Marqusee reminds his reader that his entire treatment is free which he receives by right. “It’s not a charity, and it’s not conditional on anything but my need for it. I’ve never been issued with a bill nor have I had to fill in a claim. We take this for granted in Britain, but friends in India and the US learn of it with envy.”

    He points out the companies who monopolise life-saving treatment for his condition, like the drug Revlimid, are coining it at the expense of the NHS.

    “The cost of actually producing the drug is next to nothing, but this year my Revlimid treatment alone will cost the NHS more than £40,000. The US firm who make the treatment claims its high prices are necessary to pay for research and developments, but frankly that’s crap. It spends more on marketing and lobbying than on R&D.”

    To date Mr Marqusee has undergone two stem-cell transplants, repeated blasts of radiotherapy and he’s lost count of the number of courses of chemotherapy. 

    He is acutely conscious of how dependent he is on those who built and sustained the NHS, including pre-eminently generations of Labour movement activists and socialists.

    “As I sit with my IV drip I’m mindful of those in government and business who would smash the delicate mechanism of the hospital and shatter the network of dependence which sustains me.”

    The Price of Experience: Writings on Living with Cancer by Mike Marqusee is published by OR Books £8.


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