March with Medics Under Fire – ‘Newbie’ Saleyha Ahsan leads the way

Many Lib Dems will remember Junior Doctor Saleyha Ahsan’s rousing conference rally speech (37:45) in York, in which she joined the party ‘live on air’ and blasted Hunt for his attacks on our NHS. Of course, you may also recognise her from her work on the BBC’s ‘Trust Me I’m A Doctor’ or know her from the 2013 BBC documentary ‘Saving Syria’s Children’ in which, while working in Atareb Hospital in northern Syria she was required to help treat the dozens of casualties brought in from one of the Assad regime’s thermal bombings of a nearby school.
It was this event which lead to Saleyha establishing The Phoenix Foundation, a charity caring for children who have suffered burns as a consequence of war. This includes the provision of essential medical equipment, the training of medical staff and support for long-term rehabilitation required in the recovery of burns victims. 

It also lead to Saleyha helping organise, run and to be speaking at this Saturday’s ‘Medics Under Fire’ march in London, along with colleagues from MSF and the ICRC, the BMA Junior Doctors Committee, the International Forum for Democracy and Human Rights and Physicians for Human Rights.

There has been a disturbing increase in deliberate attacks upon medical workers in conflict zones in recent years and although “Syria is among the worst examples of targeting medical care as a weapon of war” with Syrian government forces having committed, for example “90 percent of the confirmed 150 attacks on 124 facilities between March 2011 and March 2014”, attacks on medical workers have taken place in Afghanistan, Bahrain and Egypt in recent years too as well as many other countries. (Physicians for Human Rights maintain an eye-opening map showing the locations and perpetrators of attacks on Syrian medical facilities here.) 

Though the march is calling for “an IMMEDIATE ceasefire of ALL attacks against healthcare worker’s, facilities and patients within [all of] today’s conflict zones”, this issue is of particular pertinence to those of us in the Liberal Democrats for Syrian Freedom, Peace and Reconstruction, given the current ferocious assault upon medical facilities in the country. As the Channel 4 coverage of the bombing of al-Quds Hospital, in which over 50 people were killed including Free Aleppo’s last paediatrician makes clear; this was not an isolated incident, nor an accident. 2 more hospitals have been bombed since.

We are supporting the MSF ‘Hospitals Are #NotATarget’ campaign and calling for urgent pressure to be applied to prevent the wholesale collapse of the ceasefire in Syria. We will be at the march on Saturday, supporting Saleyha and the call for greater protection, as per the Geneva Conventions, for medical workers carrying out their work.

I will leave you with an excerpt from Amnesty’s recent report into Syrian and Russian forces targeting hospitals as a strategy of war:

All medical workers and all health facilities should be respected and protected instead of being targeted. The injured and sick people … have become the new front line in the offensive on the northern part of the Aleppo Countryside governorate. There is no excuse for a government to prevent people from accessing medical care. There is no excuse for deliberately targeting hospital after hospital.

This is a call all Liberal Democrats can get behind, and I hope to see many of you there.

Anyone wanting further information on Syria and on the opinions of Syrians living here, elsewhere in the diaspora and inside Syria are invited to follow the Liberal Democrats for Syrian Freedom, Peace and Reconstruction or to email us on [email protected]. Please also sign the petition in support of the women of Daraya who are asking for aid drops.

* Jonathan Brown is the Prospective Parliamentary Candidate of the Chichester Party and founder of the Liberal Democrats for Free Syria.

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • Lorenzo Cherin 5th May '16 - 1:55pm

    Dr. Saleyha is a remarkable person and it is marvellous to have her in our party .What she is doing for patients as a professional and as a person is terrific.The charity she has helped to establish should gain our massive enthusiasm .It is fantastic.And real !

    I cannot share this over party politicisation and romantic approach to the NHS as is , in the clip shown in the link in the article ,nor this flag waving for our model of health care.It is right to criticise the so called systems of other countries, ironic she does so with Canada, held up by progressives on the left in the USA, as a model of a more “socialised “medical “system “!

    Many other countries , especially in the EU area , integrate the public with the private in a far more holistic and far less dogmatic way than the British or Americans , who , from left to right seem unable to even contemplate its possibilities .They also spend much more , both by governments , and , where they can afford it , by individuals paying into a social insurance or other top up .The differences are significant .Through years , much better outcomes , much less worry and stress.The model of delivery is not one size fits all, some countries get it more right than wrong , others , the other way around.

    As for mention of Bevan ,even he did not have an ideological attachment to any model. He , on that, was far more pragmatic than on much else .As was was, from the beginning , the desire for equality , that was their passion , and social justice. There is no semblance of either in parts of our health care .Patients unable to access drugs because a body called NICE, the most Orwellian name today , say they cannot have them , as often as they can , for other conditions .Waiting times for routine appointments , months , not days r weeks .

    Unless we have champions for the individual , not a “system” ,we have no Liberalism. There is much to build on in the NHS, not least , the ethical approach of doctors with such commitment .It would be a better future for ideas and practices , if we could recognise some of us have very poor experiences of the service , and even if we have not , are motivated by caring about the many people who have .

    Love what you do , love what you could do better, even more ,when what you could do could be done so much better ,with a different approach .I want a health care that puts patients first at every level .We do not have that , not under any party in power .

  • Jonathan Brown 5th May '16 - 5:58pm

    @Lorenzo – thanks for your comments.

    I agree to an extent. One of the problems of our confrontational, winner-takes-all electoral system is the politicisation of certain things that would be better served by a more cooperative approach and more transparency to provide better accountability. (Today’s Police and Crime Commissioner elections are another example of this.)

    It pushes people who may well be open minded with regards to reform of services such as the NHS to ignore possibilities due to fear of the opposition. I suppose I’m an example of that. Do I think the NHS is perfect? No. Do I trust the Tories to reform the NHS rather than ‘reform’ (privatise it for privatisation’s sake)? Absolutely not.

    When it comes to choosing between Saleyha, another fantastic Lib Dem doctor I know and admire, Mohsin Khan ( and Jeremy Hunt, I know who I’m more inclined to trust!

    It’s a really hopeful sign to have people like Saleyha join the party and give us the benefit of their experience, passion and drive. As someone who has campaigned hard on the Syrian crisis it’s fantastic to have her joining in and speaking out. I’m really looking forward to working with her.

  • Jonathan Brown 5th May '16 - 6:02pm

    I’ve just noticed – the graphic with the information about this march that was meant to accompany this article has gone missing. Find the details here:

  • Lorenzo Cherin 5th May '16 - 7:41pm


    If ever an evidence oriented party ,needs evidence our party is in rather good shape, in many ways, if based on the attitudes of its members , along comes the subject and author of this article to provide it ! Your measured and principled response to my comments do you credit ! Thank you .

    I am staunchly opposed to the doctors strike , I am in a democracy to all strikes in emergency services and professions .I would not outlaw them by statute , as a Liberal that would not be my approach , but I would prohibit them as part of an agreed contract of employment as with the military , and as the police should , always , too.

    However , my individual view of conscience on that , which is that a professional must have duty of care in such a situation, and my view that so much more could be achieved by campaigning but not striking , is frustrated precisely because I am anyway bothered and bewildered by the lack of true radicalism on health care in this country .I think your friend Dr Khan ,in the clips I have just viewed , clearly shows the better way is to work out a radical commitment to improving services by doing so WITH the doctors !

    We need a robust secretary of state who is not a spokesman for the professions in any field , but is one for those who need that service .But we need that same secretary of state to work with them throughout .Hunt cannot now .We need the resources and the back up your friend s both alluded to mention , but plese , Jonathan , say to them , really , there is a better way than a strike !

    The work for those in Syria shows just where the priorities of all Doctors is at heart , or should be !

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