“The next Labour government will rebuild our NHS” – Ashworth’s conference speech

Jon Ashworth

Below is the full text of Jonathan Ashworth’s conference speech. He promised that NHS investment would not be done by PFI schemes, and pledge to create “the greenest health service in the world”.

A few days ago a tiny seven day old baby girl, seriously ill waited hours upon hours in a busy hospital ward. Her father was anxious, tired, distraught but totally determined to do everything he could for his precious daughter.

When Boris Johnson swept through that hospital, photographers in tow for a PR stunt, this father confronted him. Any other parent would have done exactly the same. In that raw moment, Omar Salem spoke for a nation. Because when a child is left waiting longer for the care she needs it matters not just to her and her family, it matters to each and every one of us too.

It matters that: 4.4 million are waiting for treatment. 620,000 patients wait over 18 weeks for treatment. 79,000 operations were cancelled last year. The year before 18,000 children’s operations cancelled.

It matters to each and every one of us, we are bottom of the league for cancer survival and 34,000 of our friends and family wait over two months just to begin cancer treatment.

I’m pleased to report Omar’s daughter is doing well and stable, the family send their thanks to for support they’ve been shown. Omar’s example so powerfully reminds us how it matters we get a Labour government to save our NHS.

A Labour government will prevent the medicine shortages of a no deal Brexit and fight a trade deal with Trump that sells off our NHS.

A Labour government will end austerity to bring waiting lists down, stabilise our A&Es and deliver the quality cancer care patients deserve.

A Labour government will commit to really improving mental health services and make a solemn pledge that no child should ever be denied the mental health care they need.

We’ll rebuild child and adolescent mental health services, we’ll provide mental health support for schools, reform the Mental Health Act, invest in eating disorder and suicide prevention services. True parity of esteem for mental health, a slogan for so long, will be a reality with Labour.

Every year over 3,000 people lose their lives because of drink or drugs. I’ve shared my own story growing up with a father who had a drink problem and how it coloured my life. You’ve given me support. I’ve even ran marathons for an alcoholism charity. Whether it’s alcohol, drugs, opioids or gambling we are facing an addiction crisis in society. I will not walk by on the other side, we’ll properly fund addiction recovery services and it’s time we took a public health approach to drugs too.

We have lost over 14,000 beds under the Tories. Operating theatres close as ceilings fall in or sewage pipes burst. Mental health patients languish in old style dormitory wards. Diagnostic equipment is outdated. We have some of the lowest numbers of MRI scanners in Europe. Family doctors are expected to practice in decrepit building with slow IT.

This is what happens when a Tory government cuts NHS budgets by billions. Patients deserve better.

In the election we will outline a plan to rebuild our hospitals and health centres. We’ll invest in the best modern equipment and technology. It will all be done through actual real public spending not cash cons like Boris Johnson’s, and it certainly won’t be done by PFI either. Local hospitals and health centres are part of the fabric of society. They are valued local employers. Often where our children are born, or where we finally say good bye to our loved ones.

Shut services down and something invaluable vanishes from a community. Of course, nothing stays the same, medicine advances, treatments evolve, new facilities are built. I think we all understand that. But we need more capacity not less. Cuts and closures because of Boris Johnson’s austerity will be halted, suspended and decisions reviewed based on clinical evidence and social impact instead.

Earlier this year I was inspired by Greta Thunberg. Climate change is one of the biggest health crises we face. Air pollution kills up to 40,000 people every year. Meanwhile today’s NHS emits 27 million tonnes of CO2 per year. As Health Secretary I’ll declare a climate emergency across our NHS.

A Labour government will deliver the greenest health service in the world. As we rebuild our hospitals we’ll invest in solar panels and energy efficiency schemes. We’ll move to a fleet of low emission ambulances. And we’ll guarantee patients and staff a right to green space with an ‘NHS Forest’ – one million trees planted across our NHS estate – a tree for every member of staff.

A Green New Deal for our NHS: the greenest health service in the world with Labour.

Our NHS staff really are its greatest asset. It makes me so angry to see them taken for granted and forced to do more and more with less and less. We’ll guarantee fair pay, increase training and professional development budgets, legislate for safe staffing and bring back a bursary to train 24,000 more nurses and midwives for the future.

To those who work in our NHS from across the world whether the EU or beyond, you have our thanks, you have our support, you have solidarity, your rights will be protected, and in a Labour NHS you will always be welcome.

This past year I have also stood shoulder to shoulder with union members on picket lines whether that’s Unison members in Bradford against their transfer to ‘wholly owned subsidiaries’ or Unite’s striking health visitors in Lincoln. So we’ll deliver Agenda for Change pay for public health staff and block those backdoor privatisations as well.

We all know how difficult it is to get a GP appointment. It’s because the Tories have actually cut 1,600 GPs. A Labour government will expand GP training places to 5,000 a year helping deliver 27 million extra GP appointments there for you and your family when you need it. More doctors, more nurses, more midwives that’s a Labour promise.

Patients want coordinated care but instead we have a fragmented mess, every year forcing billions of pounds into private hands. Transport services go to firms who sub-contract leaving patients stranded and staff, like those GMB members here in Brighton, without pay. It sees cancer scanning services traded like some commodity. It allows an outfit like Virgin Care to sue our NHS.

I’m calling time on this racket: Healthcare should be delivered on the basis of human need not driven by markets, profits and competition. Privatisation will end. Care will be planned and decisions democratically accountable.

A National Care Service will be built. The Health Secretary’s responsibilities for healthcare returned. And we will repeal the Health and Social Care Act legislating to reinstate, renationalise, restore a publicly administered, publicly accountable, comprehensive, universal National Health Service.

All my life when growing up or today in my Leicester constituency I’ve seen poverty scar the lives of far too many people. After years of austerity, advances in life expectancy have ground to halt, even gone backwards for some of the poorest. Infant mortality rates – that’s babies dying before their first birthday – have risen four years in a row for the first time since the Second World War.

Hospital admissions for malnutrition have trebled. Inequality, poverty, deprivation condemns people to becoming ill quicker and dying sooner. As socialists we can’t settle for this. Defeating these health inequalities will be my mission. We’ll fully fund public health services. We’ll prioritise children’s health, tackle childhood obesity.

With our health in all polices rule we’ll enshrine in law a commitment to defeat health inequalities through a new Future Generations Wellbeing Act. Healthier, happier, longer lives that is our goal.

But we cannot fully tackle inequalities if those with chronic conditions are forced to choose between paying for a prescription or putting food on their table. Holly Worboys was 19 with a life of promise and opportunity ahead of her. Holly died when struck by an asthma attack. She didn’t have a full inhaler because she couldn’t afford one. I cannot imagine the heartbreak her family must have gone through.

People shouldn’t have to pay to breathe. Prescription charges are a tax on illness. I can confirm the next Labour government will abolish all prescription charges.

This coming election is a fight for the future of our NHS. It’s a fight for each and every one of us in every community.

A fight for… A fully funded NHS. A National Care Service. An end to privatisation. More doctors, more nurses. The health of every child first. Free prescriptions. The best quality care for all. A public and universal NHS. This is what we strive for.

The next Labour government will rebuild our NHS.

Everything Labour.
Every weekday morning.

By clicking ‘subscribe’ you confirm you have read and agree to our privacy policy

More from LabourList

Donate to fund our journalism


Subscribe to our Daily Email