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What would you do to support the NHS? My mother gave up her festive tipple | Zoe Williams



It was the very tail end of the holiday season, and I was trying to make my mother drink whisky, partly – no, sorry, entirely – because I bought it for her and I wanted to drink it. While I am intensely relaxed about drinking alone, I still have a faint cultural taboo about drinking someone else’s present in front of them. I should have also bought her a jigsaw or something.

She wouldn’t, because she didn’t want to fall over and end up in A&E. God knows I don’t want her to end up there, either, but whisky the way she drinks it – in minuscule amounts, topped up with boiling water like a Lemsip – could no more topple a person over than a gusty wind. I came at this point forcefully, from many different directions, but she wouldn’t budge and we resolved it by finding other whisky for me to drink that was a present from someone else.

The list of things she won’t do because she doesn’t want to put additional pressure on the NHS also includes: having her cataracts done; getting a duck out of an oven; using sharp knives.

The entirely human-made crisis in the health service has reduced her quality of life by, conservatively, about 85%, and she is at its very periphery, a person who hasn’t even had to use it. Track inwards through the concentric circles – people with chronic conditions, people with accident-prone small children (which is all small children), people in high-density housing during a flu season, people who have to be in A&E because they work there – and the national stress level is too intense to wrap your head around.


This is all part of the Tory gameplan, people used to say: reduce the NHS to a state of unworkability, then shrug and say, “Well, plainly it doesn’t work.” It sounded devilish cunning at the beginning of their ill-begotten rule, but, as it reaches its finale, sensible people are coming to a different, more obvious, conclusion: it’s broken because they broke it. We don’t need to give up on socialised health care. We need to give up on Conservative governments.

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