I remember one day talking with a close friend, Diana, who lives in California. She said she was dying to visit England, where I am currently living. I said I was dying to visit the U.S. to take photographs. She said her desire to visit England was rooted in something a bit more substantial. She then told me a personal horror story. An uncle of hers had been seriously injured. He called 911 and an ambulance picked him up. In the ambulance, he was asked if he had health insurance. When he said no, they kicked him out of the ambulance and left him on a random curb somewhere between his house and the hospital.
Fortunately, Diana’s uncle survived, but her story left me seriously disturbed. So many of my friends and family members have suffered from cancer and other life-threatening conditions. My grandmother is the only person I’ve known firsthand to be able to purchase private health insurance. Everyone else I know would have suffered immensely or died from curable conditions if not for England’s National Health Service.
In the last six months, the NHS has played a large role in my photography. The most challenging subject I’ve grappled with has been my mother’s illness. Not long ago, she was taken to the hospital with pneumonia and pleurisy. She could hardly walk, but mistakenly thought she was only suffering from the flu. By the time she left our home in the ambulance, she was critically ill. I remembered Diana’s story. What if this was happening in the U.S.? Would my mother be dumped in critical condition on the curb?
It was at this time that I fully realized the importance of universal health care. Within a week, my mother was well enough to return home, but she still had pneumonia and needed another two weeks of antibiotics to recover. The NHS saved her life and made the financial element of her illness a non-issue. Without this stressor, she was probably better able to recover than people in the U.S. who have to deal with financial stress on top of their illnesses. The portraits I’ve taken of her from that difficult time have been published in the Indonesian Magazine Homeless Longitude.
My second set of related portraits are of my family friend, Alan Arnfield. In the photo included, you can see the distress on his face. He is a very talented craftsman working in oils, acrylics and mixed media. He is one of those brilliant people who can apply himself to almost any art form. Included are a few images of his hand-made dollhouses which have been exhibited in his home town of New Mills. At the time the “Worry of the One in Three portrait” was captured, he was suffering from lung cancer. Luckily, the cancer has since shrunk by a considerable amount, but still, he requires daily medications. Universal health care has kept this beautiful person alive. His portrait will be displayed in the Environmental Photographer of the Year exhibition at SW1 Gallery, 12 Cardinal Walk, Roof Garden Level, Cardinal Place(Off Victoria Street), London SW1E from 6th – 17th December 2011.
This photo series is a reminder of how fortunate we are in England to have universal health care. I hope it also serves as a reminder of how health care should be seen as a right and not a privilege. My friend, Diana, in California and her family deserve the same treatment that my family and I get here in England. I’m only 15-years-old, but I hope that through my work I can inspire the change that so desperately needs to occur on a global scale.
Eleanor Leonne Bennett is a 15-year-old photographer and artist who has won contests with National Geographic, The Woodland Trust, The World Photography Organisation, Winston’s Wish, Papworth Trust, Mencap, Big Issue, Wrexham science, Fennel and Fern and Nature’s Best Photography. Her photographs have been featured in exhibitions and magazines internationally and have been included in the Guardian (2010), RSPB Birds (2010), RSPB Bird Life (2010), Dot Dot Dash (2010 and 2011), Alabama Coast (2010), Alabama Seaport (2010) and NG Kids Magazine (2010). See more of her work at her website.