86-year-old NHS campaigner Shirley Murgraff: ‘Being so angry keeps me going’

Shirley Murgraff

Shirley Murgraff - Credit: Archant

The Gazette catches up with health campaigner, life-long socialist and one-time news reader Shirley Murgraff, 86

Shirley Murgraff (centre left) at a public meeting to discuss the NHS' proposed Sustainability and T

Shirley Murgraff (centre left) at a public meeting to discuss the NHS' proposed Sustainability and Transformation Plans for North East London - which she said she believed had been conceived to "destroy the NHS". Photo: Gokhan Bozkurt - Credit: Archant

Shirley Murgraff believes the NHS is “the jewel in the crown”.

She should know. The remarkable 86-year-old has dedicated her life to “saving it”.

She still joins protest marches and was the most fired-up speaker this week at a meeting discussing the future of the NHS locally.

Born in 1939, Shirley was evacuated from her Lauriston Road home to Cornwall and Essex. A student at Laura Place Grammar School in Lower Clapton, she’d had hopes of going to drama school when she left aged 18, but did a secretarial course instead when she couldn’t secure a grant.

Shirley Murgraff

Shirley Murgraff - Credit: Archant

In 1953 she moved to Czechoslovakia to work at the HQ of the newly established International Union of Students where she took over as English-speaking news reader at Prague Radio.

“I took to it like a duck to water,” she remembers. “But I thought I was having too easy a life and I should come back to Britain and fight the good fight.

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“I was a socialist from a very young age, and things have never been very socialist here.

“There were always battles for those who didn’t have very much or who couldn’t speak for themselves.”

She went on to be a primary and secondary teacher, and produced the first ever Holocaust education materials for mainstream schools.

“It seemed to me the Holocaust was a 20th century distillation of the human condition.

“It showed the worst humans could do to each other, but also in small instances the best – in terms of people who helped people by risking their own lives, and maintaining their dignity in the most appalling circumstances.

“It was important for young people to learn human beings were capable of doing those terrible things.

“Now we do know – but we haven’t learned the lessons.”

Nowadays she campaigns against Private Finance Initiative (PFI) schemes, calling the interest NHS hospitals have to pay “obscene”.

How does she find motivation to keep campaigning? “I do get very despairing at times,” she admits, but adds: “Being so angry keeps me going.

“Anger is by no means always a negative thing.

“If it’s properly channelled it can be a positive.”