Speech to Unison’s conference

Labour Health Policy

It is my pleasure to be here. As a Labour MP, a trade union member. As a member of your shadow Cabinet and – I hope – as the next Labour Secretary of State for Health. And it is a pleasure to be here with UNISON a great trade union led by one of the great General Secretaries Dave Prentis. I congratulate all of you for your campaign on public services and the work of public servants.

Dave spoke with great eloquence earlier this week. And when Dave said that funding’s becoming scarcer – he was right. When Dave said you’re all asked to do more with less – he was right. And when Dave said you cannot trust the Tories with the National Health Service – he was right. And that’s what I want to talk to you about this morning.

But my first duty this morning on behalf of the Labour Party and Jeremy Corbyn is to say thank you to this union and your members and indeed all who work in the NHS. So to the nurses, the midwives and the health care assistants – we say thank you. And because we don’t always remember them but I’ve seen for myself the difference you make when a few years ago I had the honour of shadowing your stewards on facility time at Lewisham hospital. To all your stewards representing you in hospitals we say thank you. To the porters, the cleaners and the IT administrators – we say thank you. To the medical secretaries, therapists, paramedics and managers – we say thank you too. For your care, your dedication, your self-sacrifice, every day, your extraordinary efforts, literally often the difference between life and death.

Friends, we are here today. In our various vocations and in this union because we believe in something bigger than ourselves, because we are driven by solidarity not selfishness and we understand, and indeed value the ethos of public service. An ethos that not only runs deep in our history as a trade union movement but defines the character of our country as well. Because when you look at every stage of life, whether we call it cradle to the grave – or as Shakespeare wrote of the 7 ages of man. At every stage public servants have been there for us, have cared for us, have nurtured us and made us all what we are today. Each and every one of them transforming hopelessness into hope. From the midwives and clinicians who bring us into the world, the teachers who inspire us, the community workers improving our quality of life, to our care workers who look after our frail, weak and vulnerable. All represented across this union, all everyday showing the value of public services at the heart of a civilized society. And nowhere is that clearer, than in the NHS, A National Health Service is truly visionary – a central part of the values we share as a society.

So today in the run up to this General Election I want to talk to you about the attack on our NHS and on our values by this Conservative Government. And in this campaign let’s be resolute to not let any Tory run away from their record on the NHS. Theresa May can insist problems with the NHS are nothing more than a ‘small number of incidents’ but she can’t deny what we see with our eyes to be happening. The winter crisis we’ve just been through, with ambulances backed up outside of hospitals, patients on trolleys in corridors, operations cancelled, elderly people trapped in beds with nowhere to go. Ever lengthening queues of the sick and elderly across the land.

  • Nearly 4 million people waiting for an operation;
  • Over 200,000 people waiting for four hours of more in A&E in February alone;
  • The number of people waiting for 12 hours or more on trolleys doubled in a year. Sometimes patients wait over 30 hours on a trolley.

Call it a ‘humanitarian crisis’ as the Red Cross did. Call it the NHS on a ‘burning platform’ as the CQC Chief Executive did. Call it an ‘existential crisis’ as Sir Robert Francis did. I simply call it what it is – this is a Tory NHS crisis and that’s why the future of the NHS is at stake in this general election.

We have a Prime Minister who even yesterday still refuses to see the truth that the NHS is overstretched, understaffed and under threat. We have a Prime Minister imposing on the NHS the largest financial squeeze in history. Who allows hospital trusts to fall into deficit like never before. We have a Prime Minister who next year will be cutting NHS spending per head. Yesterday we heard that the NHS has a backlog of £5 billion in repairs for crumbling hospitals and out of date equipment. They expect the NHS to find £22 billion of so called efficiency savings which no one believes can be found without cutting frontline care. A health system buckling under the strain of huge financial and operational pressures.

And what does it tell you about the state of 21st century Britain under these Conservatives that the number of hospital beds take by patients being treated for malnutrition – yes malnutrition – has trebled in recent years. Malnutrition on the rise in Tory Britain; isn’t that a national disgrace; isn’t that a badge of shame. And because of the pressures on beds in the last few years a million patients have been discharged in the middle of the night. And the numbers of elderly and vulnerable people trapped in hospital with nowhere to go at record levels.

And why? Because we have a care system that has been savaged by 7 years of spending cuts. We have a care system on the brink of tipping point. We have over a million of the most elderly and vulnerable people denied the care they deserve. Some maybe our own grandparents or parents, our own relatives.

And yet we have a Prime Minister who walks by on the other side, refuses to face up to the problems and says to councils in the most deprived parts of the country: you can raise your council tax even though it will go nowhere near meeting your social care needs. Unless of course it happens to be Surrey County Council where you can get a special secret sweetheart deal with Downing Street. Well I tell you something, under Labour these dodgy deals that demean Downing Street will be gone. We’ll bring back honour and integrity to policy and decision making in No 10. No more special access and mates’ rates but fairness instead for all.

And while this Prime Minister ignores the social care needs of the many she can find millions to build new grammar schools, She can find billions to cuts taxes for the biggest corporations, but she won’t recognise thedemands of the elderly or treatment requirements of the sick. So let us be absolutely clear – what prevents this Prime Minister from acting is not the financial constraints of the economy but the dogmatic constraints of her ideology. Things are so bad that even Andrew Lansley – remember him – even Andrew Lansley has complained it isn’t getting the money it needs. Talking of Lord Lansley, never forget that the priority of these Conservatives – including Theresa May – was always a top down reorganization in the Health and Social Care Act whose very aim was to drive our NHS into the realms of privatisation;  And I can tell you today we will not yield, we will not buckle.

Labour will defend the National Health Service and axe that Health and Social Care legislation that allows the NHS to be fragmented and sold off. Privatisation of the NHS will come to an end.

And I tell you what else we will do: We will reinstate the Secretary of State’s responsibilities. We will reinstate the NHS – publicly funded, publicly administered and yes publicly provided. And I want our NHS staff and patients to be given an actual real genuine voice in the running of our NHS too. So I can announce we will also put healthcare professionals, staff and patients on the Board of any organisation providing NHS care.   And yes this will apply to all private companies currently providing services or we will insist they hand back their contracts.   But we will go further than that too and insist that Board level representation of professionals, staff and patients is on every organisation providing NHS care – including Clinical Commissioning Groups and all NHS Trusts.   So Labour will deliver staff reps on boards with voting rights at the heart of our NHS.

Better services

Over this campaign Labour will be setting out our plans to deliver the improvements that patients need. We want to see hospitals properly staffed, waiting times coming down and emergency care available to those who need it, operating to the standards that patients expect. Under the Conservatives the 18 week target has been dumped for what they call non-urgent operations. 

To paraphrase a famous pre-election speech from time gone by: I warn you that if the Tories win again not to get old, not to get sick. I warn you that the real cost of the Tories winning again will be felt in longer waiting times, and people spending longer in pain and discomfort for knee replacements and hip replacements.

Let’s be clear what’s happening, step by step, bit by bit. The NHS under Tories is being pushed back to the bad old days and it will fall to Labour to save the NHS like we have done throughout our history. So we confirm our commitment to hitting the targets for A&E, We’ll do so by investing in our NHS, in our community services, and renewing the focus on keeping people well and out of hospital, delivering care closer to home at the time when people need it. Because those who have given so much all their life deserve security and dignity in retirement we’ll integrate health and social care. And when it comes to the planning and delivery of local services we will always ask what is in the interest of local needs not what is in the interests of filling financial holes.

And we will deliver long overdue improvements to mental health care as well. We know that mental ill health is the leading cause of sickness absence at work, costing the economy £105bn every year. And that one in four of us in this room will experience a mental health problem this year. And yet all we get from Theresa May is warm words and empty promises, but no real meaningful action. Unlike the Tories, Labour will tackle the underfunded and understaffed mental health system. We want to see mental health services properly resourced and focused on prevention, rather than just asking the NHS to intervene once a person is already in crisis. We will give our mental health services the money they desperately need to look after us all, because there can be no health without mental health. The next Labour government will deliver true parity of esteem between mental and physical health. We won’t just talk about equality – we will deliver it. 

And if we are to deliver these improvements for Britain’s patients, then our starting point will be delivering improvements for our health and care workforce.

Standing up for staff

So today I want to set out Labour’s plans for the staff of our NHS and social care system. You are the lifeblood of the NHS. You have committed your working lives to caring for others in our times of need. You deserve to be cared for yourselves, but for too long this Government has taken you for granted. A pay freeze has seen NHS wages fall 14% below inflation. Cut backs to training places have meant units are even more short-staffed. And now Brexit threatens the ability of our NHS to recruit from abroad, and threatens thousands of good, kind European staff who are working in our country already. So let me make it clear, Labour would make the NHS a priority in the Brexit negotiations, and as Keir Starmer said yesterday we would give an immediate NHS guarantee to all European NHS staff. Let us send a clear message to the thousands of NHS and social care staff from the EU. You are welcome, needed and your rights will be guaranteed in the UK under a Labour government. 

You know because you see it every day that staff are being forced by this Government to do more and more with less and less Giving ever more of your free time to keep the service running – working through your breaks and often long past the end of your shift. It’s why I say that our NHS staff are the pride of Britain. Yet you are ignored, insulted, undervalued, overworked and underpaid by this Tory government. Well not any more. Enough is enough. NHS staff have been taken for granted for too long by the Conservative Government.

Cuts to pay and training mean hard working staff are being forced from NHS professions and young people are being put off before they have even started. What is bad for NHS staff is bad for patients too. Short staffing means reduced services and a threat to patient safety. So I can announce a Labour Government will step in with a long term plan for our NHS which gives NHS staff the support they need to do the best possible job for patients. NHS staff deserve to be rewarded for the complex, difficult and highly specialized professional work that they do. So I can confirm today that a Labour government will scrap the pay cap, put pay decisions back into the hands of the independent pay review body and give our NHS workers the pay they deserve. It’s fair to staff and it’s in the interest of patients too. And it’s also in the interests of patients that we invest in the potential of our staff. My long term ambition is for our NHS staff to have the best trained staff in the world ready to deal with whatever they face in the years to come.

As a first step that means giving those who want to enter nursing, midwifery and allied health profession a step up, not kick the ladder away. So let me commit here today that we will re-introduce bursaries. We will reinstate funding for health related degrees so that people who want to get into health professions – whether they are young people starting out or older students who want a new career after starting a family – don’t feel put off by financial considerations.

Safe Staffing

I know that whenever we need the NHS it’s there for all of us and our families. But all of us are naturally anxious when our loved ones or ourselves need to spend time in hospital. Quite simply Labour will never compromise on patient safety.

After seven years of Tory mismanagement our health services dangerously understaffed. We are thousands short on the numbers of nurses, midwives, and paramedics that we need. And yet the attitude of this Prime Minister remains blinkered in the extreme. Her head buried in the sand. A casual dismissal of the concerns of patients and their families.

So just as I’m passionate about investing in our NHS staff, I will be the real patients’ champion too. Time and again expert reports – including the groundbreaking survey UNISON published this week – have told us that staffing levels are linked to patient safety but this Conservative Government has failed to deliver staffing levels which keep up with demand. So the next Labour government will legislate to ensure safe staffing levels in England’s NHS. We will immediately ask NICE to undertake work to set out how safety can be determined in different settings, including looking at legally enforced staffing ratios. So conference with a Labour government a new law to guarantee safe staffing, so that finances never again take precedent over patient safety.

And unlike the current Secretary of State I don’t make promises on behalf of the NHS while refusing to give the NHS the resources and tools to deliver those promises. The NHS under Labour will get the funding needed. Over the coming days we will outline a long term plans for the NHS; for how we integrate health and social care. 

For too long, NHS staff have been taken for granted by the Conservative Government. Wages falling, workloads rising. Staffing shortages getting worse. So I’m pleased to be able to launch here today Labour’s three point pledge for NHS staff: better pay, safer staffing and fully funded education. So yes this election is about the future of the NHS.

And yes, it falls to this movement as it has throughout our history to make the case with passion and yes pride for a National Health Service – free at the point of need for every man, woman and child. It falls to us again as it has throughout our history to make the argument for collective provision not just for a basic health service but for the very best health service. Throughout our history, we never lost our ideals and we never faltered in our ambitions for the best health care for everyone. Because we know that a National Health Service funded through taxation; with treatment free at the point of delivery; where everyone is treated equally based on clinical need not ability to pay is not only the right thing to do but it’s also the most efficient, effective and safest system of health are across the world.

Friends one of favourites poets WB Yeats wrote ‘in dreams begins responsibility” –

Inspired by the solidarity of the communities of Tredegar and motivated by the dream of a fairer society not just for some but for all Nye Bevan took responsibility to bring it about the Health Service. In doing so we escaped from a world of patch work provision and charges for healthcare. So let’s never forget that in that speech introducing the National Health Service Bill he said the NHS, would “lift the shadow from millions of homes”, “It will keep very many people alive who might otherwise be dead” And: “No society can legitimately call itself civilised” he said, “if a sick person is denied medical aid because of lack of means”

They were words that still inspire And of a cause that still endures; And now the responsibility falls to us.

So the choice in this election on June 8th is clear:

A rebuilt National Health Service and social care service for the millions who depend on it with Labour or cut backs, sell offs and nothing but a rump service under the Tories. A world class NHS providing the best quality of care – 

Or waiting times get longer, staff demoralised, standards of care plummeting

The choice is clear.

Labour’s commitment; that is our purpose. Our Values, Labour Values, Our Policies will protect the future for the NHS and standards of NHS care. Let’s go out and win. Thank you