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Changing times: for Labour and for me

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23 September 2015
Future of Lewisham Hospital This time two weeks ago, like hundreds of thousands of people across the country, I was awaiting the outcome of the Labour Party's leadership election. What I didn't know then, but do know now, is that Jeremy Corbyn would win overwhelmingly and a day later he would ask me to serve in his Shadow Cabinet as Shadow Secretary of State for Health. 

Since then my life has certainly changed. I hadn't expected to get a call and certainly hadn't expected to be asked to do one of the most important jobs in politics. But as anyone who has met me will know, I am someone who rises to a challenge and I felt strongly that the Labour Party had to put the differences of the leadership contest behind us and that we needed to get on with the job of holding this deeply divisive Tory Government to account and building a strong and credible set of policies to put before voters. 

The health service and care system in this country are facing unprecedented challenges. Hospital waiting lists are at a seven-year high, GPs surgeries are bursting at the seams, young people with mental health problems have to travel miles to get a bed and standards of elderly care are a real cause for concern. 

In Lewisham, we are more familiar than most with the Conservatives' track record on the NHS. Their illegal attempt to close the full A&E and maternity department at our hospital in order to save money elsewhere tells you all you need to know about their agenda. I'm not saying that our health services can never change but change must be driven by clinical evidence and what is in the best interests of patients. 

My first priority as Shadow Health Secretary will be to hold Jeremy Hunt's feet to the fire on funding - making sure that the NHS and councils have the money they need to provide high quality care to people at the points in their life when they need it most. David Cameron's promises on the NHS at the last election may have appealed to some but if his record on the NHS in the last Parliament is anything to go by, why should anyone believe him? No more top down reorganisations he said, no more forced closures of A&E and maternity departments, a cap on elderly care costs - none of these promises were worth the paper they were written on. 

I will be doing all I can to make sure that our health service and care system delivers for everyone. I will fight to ensure that taxpayers' money goes into caring for patients and not lining the pockets of private shareholders. And I will take the spirit I learnt from campaigners in Lewisham to the despatch box in the House of Commons. Jeremy Hunt watch out! 

This article was originally written for the South London Press.

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