Peter Bach is a film director whose latest project shines a light on the dark business of privatisation in the NHS.
Sell-Off: The Abolition of your NHS is a hard-hitting documentary featuring prominent NHS insiders who are desperate to raise awareness about their concerns for the NHS. PRN spoke to Peter to find out more.
PRN: Can you tell me a little about some of the previous projects you’ve been involved in, and how you came to write, direct and produce Sell-Off?
PB: My first film work at what I suppose you could call the sharp end was during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. I was 24. This involved filming alone in the mountains with 28 mujahideen at a time when the snows were clearing and the Soviets were beefing up their garrisons. I then wrote and put on a play in New York where I also made a one-hour documentary for PBS about a controversial artist living there, later shown on BBC Two. I then filmed in the foothills of Gulf War One as well as in Africa and the Balkans before recently returning with a camera to Afghanistan and Pakistan again. Shortly after making yet another film about an artist, this one shown on BBC Four, I received an invitation from a senior NHS consultant to discuss the possibilities of a film about a group of consultants and doctors and whistleblowers trying to save the NHS.
PRN: Was it important to the doctors in the film that you were essentially an ‘outsider’ who was previously quite unaware of what was happening within the NHS in order to tell the story?
PB: I think it was very important to be an outsider. One of the points I made during that first meeting was that, yes, I would need to make my own mind up, which might be a risk for them, in the event I didn’t agree with the argument, but that in-so-doing I would at least be the equivalent of a member of the public discovering this for the very first time. I have a sister who was doctor and two brothers-in-law in medicine, one a retired GP, the other a professor, so wasn’t entirely alien to the field, but factually I was as ignorant as they come and knew nothing about what is effectively the abolition of the NHS. My focus has been almost entirely on foreign affairs, hostile environments, or, improbably enough, the arts.
PRN: What has been the reaction so far to the film?
PB: Those who have seen it have reacted very positively indeed. If you can say that about a film whose message is essentially dark. Over 20,000 individuals have now watched it on sites such as YouTube and Vimeo. People feel frustrated these days because they feel they have no voice and I think this film is a kind of welcome companion piece to those frustrations. I can think of only two negative reactions to the film out of literally thousands of positive ones. Its support on Twitter has been enormous and I am very grateful for that. Likewise on the crowdfunding site StartJOIN.
PRN: Some of the doctors in the film talk about intimidation they’ve experienced since voicing their opinions on the NHS reforms. Did this put you off making the film at all for fear you may also be subject to intimidation?
PB: It never crossed my mind to fear intimidation.
PRN: Have you found a distributor for the film?
PB: All my efforts to date have been put into making the film. The film is still technically unfinished and has been put out in its present form only because the issue itself is more important that the satisfaction of a perfect grade or sound mix. More funds may be forthcoming - StartJOIN have extended their campaign to raise funds for the film - and a concerted effort can still be put into finding a distributor, though there is a short shelf-life on a subject matter such as this one, which is more urgent, more present tense, than it is reflective. It is however kind of in keeping with the spirit of the project, I believe, that it is circumventing mainstream media and allowing people to create their own form of distribution - if you like - with it.
PRN: Have you had any coverage in the mainstream press of the film? I have searched for reviews/references but can’t seem to find any.
PB: It has been mentioned in The Independent and New Statesman and Evening Standard. But the major networks haven’t touched it, though I have done a handful of interviews about it on Russia Today, both with Max Keiser and George Galloway. The truth is, I have had more success in the past with films about artists. An incisive look at what is being done with £110 billion of public money without the knowledge of its public is not deemed newsworthy by a mainstream media besotted with Punch and Judy politics.
PRN: Why do you think the mainstream media seem to have turned a blind eye to what is happening to the NHS?
PB: There are all manner of theories about this. Most you must take with a pinch of salt. Some say the BBC is too much like the NHS and that it is being run down in order to justify a change of brief and weakening therefore of its power. Others go on to say that added government pressure on the BBC means it would be impossible for them to show a film like ‘Sell-Off’. I am not sure about that. People also say the commercial networks are so deeply in bed with the advertisers that the potential advertising yield from the many huge companies involved in the privatisation of the NHS is far too large for them to ignore. Again, I am not so sure about that, but it is important to keep a clear perspective. I think one issue is certainly that we like single-issue documentaries and this film deliberately covers ten aspects of the story and without linking all these up we do not get the whole story. I could have made ten films out of the one I made in the end.
PRN: Do you think there is any hope in the future that some of the NHS reforms can be reversed?
PB: As you well know, there are ongoing attempts to save it, but the slash and burn exercise of the Conservatives in the present coalition would appear to be moving at too fast a pace for this to be reversed and I am simply not convinced that the Labour Party has a solution either. It is such a vast subject and politics is so over-simplified these days. I think if someone did have the confidence to reverse the privatisation - with all its increased costs in addition to its essentially compassionate policy - they would win the next election.