Speech to Labour Annual Conference

Labour Health Policy

I am very proud to be addressing conference as Shadow Secretary of State for Health under the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn.

First I want to talk about the current junior doctors’ dispute. Tory Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, has persistently vilified and misrepresented the British Medical Association and the junior doctors themselves. They have been treated like lithe enemy within but the public is in no doubt that responsibility for this dispute lies at the door of Jeremy Hunt.

Health service workers already work at weekends. The seven day NHS he talked about could only have been achieved by the same group of people stretching themselves ever more thinly. The junior doctors’ dispute is about the collapse in morale among NHS workers generally but it also speaks to age old Tory hostility to people organising themselves at their place of work. The junior doctors’ industrial action is suspended and I hope that, even at this late stage, Jeremy Hunt will get back around the table with the doctors. But let there be no doubt: Labour stands with the junior doctors.

Another important issue is the Government withdrawing bursaries from student nurses. Many students will not be able to afford to study without the bursary and others will be frightened of debt. My predecessor, Heidi Alexander, waged a great campaign in Parliament against ending the bursary and I want to make it clear that Labour will restore the bursary.

But it takes a team to deliver great healthcare. This week is health visitor week. They do a vital job of work with mothers and families but they are threatened by Tory cuts to public health.

The Tories have ill repaid the dedication of NHS workers and I know about that dedication. My mother came to this country from Jamaica as a pupil nurse. She worked in the NHS until she retired. My mother had left school at fourteen because that was what working class girls did in rural Jamaica in the 1940s. Nursing was more than a job to my mother. She could not have been prouder of being a nurse and she always gave above and beyond. The NHS gave her dignity and a vocation, and she gave the NHS her absolute commitment all her working life.

So the next time you hear commentators saying that immigrants are a drain on our public services, think of women like my mother.

I want to talk briefly about the NHS and Brexit. We all remember the Leave campaign battle bus which had on its side the claim that leaving the EU would mean £350 million pounds a week more for the NHS. It was a lie and, within hours of the vote to leave, Nigel Farage and the rest were distancing themselves from the claim. In the coming months Labour will be holding the Government to account and battling to protect the interests of working people in the Brexit negotiations. But we need to remember the 55,000 EU workers in the NHS and the 80,000 EU workers in social care. Our health and social care system depends on these workers. We need to be clear that an end to freedom of movement could be disaster for the NHS and social care, and we need to demand assurances from government about the EU workers already here.

The NHS is facing its worst funding crisis since the last time the Tories were in power. This debate has reflected ample evidence of this. The result has been deep cuts to services, growing waiting lists and missing key targets on cancer treatment, and A&E waiting times. There is also a move towards restricting access to non-urgent operations. This rationing by stealth will affect the poor, the elderly and the vulnerable most severely.

Jeremy Hunt’s answer to the £22 billion funding gap appears to be the Sustainability and Transformation Plans being devised in secret. Some local plans may be a good idea in principle but, increasingly, STPs seem like a vehicle to drive through cuts and closures. I have already led a debate on these STPs in Parliament and, where they are purely about cuts, Labour will fight them.

Under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership the Labour Party will be committed to halting and reversing the tide of privatisation and marketisation of our NHS. The Health and Social Care Act has fragmented the system, making it easier for the private sector to move in. So now we are seeing a rise in the proportion of the NHS budget going to private sector companies.

We would repeal the Health and Social Care Act as the first step towards undoing the damaging and wasteful marketisation that has been inflicted over many years. This means returning the NHS to what it was originally conceived as: a publicly owned, publicly funded, publicly accountable universal service, as outlined in the NHS Reinstatement Bill now being expertly piloted through Parliament by my colleague, Margaret Greenwood MP for Wirral West.

And there is a huge burden of the Private Finance Initiative. PFI is costing the NHS a total of £1.8 billion a year. So Labour will not sign another PFI contract. We want a PFI Monitoring unit to support NHS providers in holding contractors to account. Our NHS is there to prevent ill-health and treat the sick. It is not there to make money for the investment bankers and private equity specialists who rake off the profit from PFI.

We face the gathering storm of the crisis in social care. This Tory Governments cuts in funding for local government have meant big cuts in-social care. This is adding to the pressures on the NHS. Overstretched Accident and Emergency departments have too many elderly people coming in because they cannot access social care. And patients who are ready to go home cannot be discharged because there is no social care package. But, only yesterday, I met a surgeon who explained he is having to cancel operations because there are no beds. The whole NHS is in danger of seizing up because of the near collapse of social care.

Elderly people are bearing the brunt of cuts to social care. We are the fifth wealthiest country in the world. It is shameful that so many elderly people and their families have to worry about how they will be able to afford the care they need as they age.

My mother was a mental health nurse. I saw through the prism of her working life that mental health has long been the Cinderella of the NHS. But everybody in this hall knows somebody with a mental health challenge. It could be a friend, a workmate or someone in your extended family. And it is made much worse by the stigma that still surrounds mental health. My predecessor in this role, Andy Burnham, did important campaigning work on the importance of parity of esteem between mental and physical health and in this parliament my colleague, Luciana Berger, did amazing work on mental health issues. Labour in government will put the money behind this. The delays in accessing timely mental health treatment around the country are unacceptable. We want an end to shame and an end to the tacit acceptance that the mentally ill are somehow second-class citizens in our healthcare system.

On Sunday I visited the Royal Liverpool University Hospital. It is the largest and busiest hospital on Merseyside. And I went in order to see for myself the world class care that they deliver. I also met a team of doctors and consultants working on a Sunday. As I was leaving one of the consultants said to me Please save the NHS. It really is the best thing about being British.

At the most crucial times of our lives, we depend on the NHS. And now, in its time of need, the NHS looks to communities and the Labour movement to come together and defend it, campaign for it and save our NHS