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My speech to Labour Party Conference

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30 September 2015
HA Labour Party Conference speech 2015 Thank you Luciana, and thank you Conference.

Conference, if you had told me four weeks ago that I would be standing on this stage today, responding to this debate as Shadow Health Secretary, I wouldn't have believed you.

I was honoured to be asked by Jeremy to serve in his Shadow Cabinet and it is a job I will do with pride and passion.

Some people say there aren't enough women in the important shadow cabinet jobs.

I say to those people, what is more important than defending our NHS from the Tories?

I feel that responsibility, and I won’t let you down - and nor will my excellent team - Luciana Berger, Barbara Keeley, Andrew Gwynne, Justin Madders, Karin Smyth and Phil Hunt in the Lords.

Conference, the NHS is our party’s proudest achievement.

Together we built it.

Together we saved it.

And now, together, we must defend it.

These are changing times in politics.

People are fed up with politicians who all sound the same and look the same.

People want straight talking, honest politics, and that is what you will get from me.

So I’m going to level with you.

The NHS today is in deep trouble.

Five years of the Tories has left the NHS on its knees.

Almost 90,000 patients have waited longer than two months to start cancer treatment.

Over 300,000 patients have had their operation cancelled at the last minute.

4.8 million patients have waited longer than four hours in A&E.

Conference, I could go on.

But let’s make one thing clear.

It is not the doctors, nurses and care workers who are to blame for this.

It's David Cameron and Jeremy Hunt.

NHS staff work tirelessly day in day out – and yes Mr Hunt, they even work weekends too.

Think of the junior doctor working three twelve-hour shifts in a row in a busy A&E department.

The specialist cancer nurse helping a young father come to terms with his diagnosis.

The care worker doing all they can to help an elderly grandmother manage her dementia.

These are the public servants who treat our loved ones as if they were their own - and we must never, ever stop thanking them for that.

Conference, we have a duty of care to those who do so much to care for us.

But conference, this Government is about to make life even harder for NHS staff, and even worse for patients.

At the same time as they are asking staff to do more, they are paying them less.

Many doctors and nurses are likely to face real-terms pay cuts over the next four years.

And now the Government wants to impose a new junior doctor contract that risks returning to the bad old days of overworked doctors, too exhausted to provide safe patient care.

This Government is punishing staff for their own financial mismanagement of the health service.
It is bad for staff and bad for patients. It must not go on.

As the MP for Lewisham East I am more familiar than most with the Tories track record of broken promises on the NHS.

Remember back in 2010 when they promised no forced closures of A&E and maternity wards?

I certainly do.

Because just a few years later the Tories came after Lewisham hospital as part of a wider cost-cutting exercise.

Thousands of people across South London put their lives on hold to campaign against the closure.
We petitioned, we marched, we took Jeremy Hunt to the High Court, and conference, we won.

But we didn’t just do it to save our A&E.

We did it for every community in this country worried about this Government’s cavalier approach to our NHS.

We stood up to a Government who thought they were above the law.

So let me say this to Jeremy Hunt – you might have thought you’d seen the last of me with Lewisham.

But you’re going to be seeing a darn sight more of me now.

One Tory broken promise would be bad enough.

But there’s a whole string of them.

"No more top down reorganisations" – remember that one conference?

"No going back to people waiting hours on end at A&E".

Each and every single one of the Tories’ NHS pledges are in tatters.

Promises made to the British public just a few months ago have already been broken.

Before the election they said the NHS would get the funding it needs.

But four months later and still no idea where the money will come from.

They talk about more money in 2020 - but the NHS needs extra support NOW.

A Labour Government would have delivered an emergency budget to save the NHS.

Instead we’ve got a Tory emergency which is set to get worse.

Conference, look at the small print of the Tory plan for the NHS. 22 billion pounds’ of so-called “efficiency savings”.

Efficiency savings.

That’s a phrase politicians use a lot.

But speak to people who work in the NHS and they will tell you that savings on this scale can not be delivered without putting patient care at risk.

Everyone knows it. But I’m prepared to say it.

These "efficiencies" will mean cuts to staff, cuts to pay, rationing of treatments.

And it will be patients who suffer.

Conference, Labour will not sign up to these plans to squeeze the NHS when those who work in the NHS say this would harm services.

So let me say this directly to David Cameron, if you press ahead with plans that put patient care at risk, get prepared for the fight of your life.

We know the Tory end game and we say this:

The NHS belongs to the people.

It is our NHS and it is not for sale. Not now, not ever.

But, conference, that’s not to say the NHS doesn’t need to change.

Anyone who values our NHS must accept that.

We need to create a health and care service centred on people and their families, with mental health at the centre, not the fringes.

We need big changes in the way the NHS handles complaints and responds to whistle-blowers.

Big changes if we are to break the vicious, vicious cycle linking poverty and poor health.

And big changes too in the way we care for older people and support the carers who care for them.

Successive Governments have failed to grasp the care crisis developing in this country, but, conference, I want to pay tribute to the one politician who has consistently kept it on the agenda – Andy Burnham.

It was personal for Andy and it is for me too.

Four years ago my nan passed away.

She had vascular dementia and had to sell her modest, semi-detached home to pay for her care.

How is it right that when dementia takes hold of someone’s mind, they have to pay for their care with everything they have worked for -  their home, their pension, their savings?

And how is it right that because of Tory cuts, more and more people are now being denied the care they need?

Conference, in this parliament we must find a long-term solution to how we pay for older people’s care.
We must build a health and care service that leaves nobody behind.

A health and care service that is there for your children and your children’s children.

Now more than ever we need to be a strong and united Opposition, ready to take on the Tories, ready to come up with a credible alternative.

If we fail to do that, we won’t just be letting ourselves down, we will be letting down the millions of people who depend on a Labour Government.

Conference, we must not tolerate another five years of patients being failed.

I will fight for the NHS with every bone in my body and I know you will join me.

So let us send a strong message today to David Cameron and Jeremy Hunt.

We are a resurgent Labour Party. We are a determined Labour Party. And nothing is more important to us than the NHS.

Thank you very much.

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