Comedy Review: Mark Thomas, Check Up Our NHS at 70, Arts Depot

Mark Thomas picture by Steve Ullathorn

Mark Thomas picture by Steve Ullathorn - Credit: Archant

The leftie comic’s empassioned look at the National Health service may not be laugh a minute but is compelling and thought-provoking

The firebrand leftie’s latest passionate polemic came to the North Finchley venue last weekend. And having hooked up with ex Tricycle theatre director Nicolas Kent, it feels less like stand-up and more a compellingly told monologue enacting various journalistic interviews with Health workers and grandees.

To coincide with the NHS’ 70th birthday, Thomas embedded himself at Imperial College Healthcare Trust, including St Mary’s in Paddington, visiting everything from a dementia ward to a trauma room and an operating theatre.

Backed by projected images, he affectionately takes off the flamboyant surgeon or the frustrated GP - but the message is clear; these people will tend your aging relative, spot your tumour, or save your life if you crash through a plate glass window, so let’s appreciate their faith, skill and commitment.

Thomas and Kent also visit think tanks, ministers and professors, to er, take the pulse of this beloved and envied service.

Turns out it’s not doing as well as we think; UK cancer outcomes are only mid-table, and poor for a major Western country.

But as a Tower Hamlets GP and a health inequalities expert explain, it’s no use fixing the service if you don’t address the underlying issues of poverty, education, and cuts to social care that put so much pressure on it.

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The other main take-away is how many billions are spent on ideological impositions such as restructuring, PFI and competitive tendering, instead of frontline care. Scotland don’t pit parts of the NHS against each other to bid for work: If you were designing a service from scratch, it wouldn’t look like this.

But ex Health Secreteary Frank Dobson’s admission that privately financing new hospitals on his watch was his biggest regret, was a moment where the comedy and journalism clashed. It was rather cheap to cut an interview to one line for comic effect. Indeed Thomas’ impassioned delivery of thought-provoking material may not have racked up many laughs, but I’d have happily sat through more of it.