The NHS – Labour’s Greatest Achievement


While I’ve been personally lucky in life with my own health, whenever my family or I have needed the NHS it’s been there for us. My children were born in Mansfield’s Kings Mill Hospital and Leicester’s General Hospital. The quality of care and dedication from staff, every one of them from doctors and midwifes to porters, receptionists and canteen staff was consistently exceptional, compassionate, reassuring and kind. They truly were among the very best of the NHS – and indeed of Britain.

Growing up in Manchester, Park Hospital – perhaps better known these days as Trafford General – was the local hospital for much of my family; indeed it was where my grandfather spent his final precious hours of life. As a child I often visited various relatives over the years in Park Hospital. I remember vividly the reception area where hung a large black and white 1940s photograph of a man in a double breasted suit with striking hair smiling enthusiastically at nurses and patients. Only later did I realise the man in that photo was Nye Bevan and Trafford General was the nation’s first NHS hospital.

The National Health Service is Labour’s greatest achievement and in accepting the invitation from Jeremy Corbyn to take on the role of Shadow Health Secretary I’m acutely aware of the awesome responsibility on my shoulders.

Almost 70 years old, the NHS remains the fairest, the most popular and the most efficient system of healthcare the world has ever seen. With treatment free at the point of delivery and everyone treated equally and solely on their clinical need not on their ability to pay. These are principles the Labour Party will never compromise on, in government or in opposition.

What’s more the Labour Party will never allow the privatisation of the NHS. And we will campaign to expose any attempt by the Tories to do so. At the last General Election Andy Burnham committed Labour to repealing the Health and Social Care Act that is intended to privatise the NHS. We will make the same commitment at the next general election

Of course the NHS couldn’t achieve the extraordinary things it does day after day if it wasn’t for the extraordinary efforts of the staff. Not just the 150,000 doctors, 300,000 nurses and health visitors, 25,000 midwives and 18,000 paramedics but also the vast army of porters, cleaners, administrative staff, receptionists, practice managers and of course senior managers. Labour values them all. That’s why a Labour government would not pick fights with staff but instead work with them to improve the NHS to achieve the finest and most equitable care possible to patients and their families. We would invest in the next generation of staff, not discourage people from entering the profession by scrapping student nurse bursaries.

But we have a job to do in opposition too.

My first priority as shadow health secretary will always be patient care. No one who cares about our NHS will be content with a million more patients on hospital waiting lists than when Labour left office – or the 900 a day patients who are stuck in hospital for longer than is medically necessary because of savage cuts to social care. I promise to give a voice to the millions of people who need a strong Labour Party campaigning for a strong NHS.

My second priority will be to look to the future and what the next Labour government can achieve for the NHS. At the heart of this approach must be an honest conversation about future funding.

The Chief Executive of the NHS has admitted again this week that the Government did not give it the money it asked for, and the body representing hospitals in England has warned the health service “is increasingly failing to do the job it wants to do and the public needs it to do” because of the growing cash crisis.

The only people who don’t believe the NHS needs more money are the people who are meant to be in charge of it: Jeremy Hunt and Theresa May.

We cannot continue to allow decisions about future funding of health and care to be put in the ‘too difficult to deal with’ pile. It is incumbent on our generation of Labour politicians to have an honest debate and come up with the solutions that will protect the NHS for our children and for our children’s children. And it’s a debate I want to lead.

Over the coming weeks and months it’s the intention of Labour’s shadow health team to listen. To listen to staff, to experts, trade unions, families, carers and of course patients and service users about what needs to be done to rebuild our NHS and make it fit for this century.

If we fail in that mission, then I truly fear that my party’s greatest achievement will only be remembered by the pictures on old hospital walls and the memories from the past.