THIS summer will be remembered for the World Cup in which England did us proud, the long dry heatwave, Donald Trump clumsily snubbing the Queen, and endless young things “cracking on” in Love Island.
But the summer of 2018 also marks another milestone – the 70th birthday of the National Health Service.
The NHS remains one of Britain’s most cherished institutions and Labour’s greatest-ever achievement. It has stood the test of time as the most powerful engine for social justice we have ever seen. It is there for us from cradle to grave, without discrimination, without having to consider cost at the point of use.
I was, apparently, the 22,548,135th baby born on the NHS. My youngest son Seth was the 50,615,238th. Fifty million babies for whom the first person they set eyes on was an NHS midwife, doctor or nurse. What an incredible institution.
I want to pay tribute to the diligent NHS staff working at Tameside General Hospital, in our GPs surgeries, our clinics, and in our communities. Their compassion has touched all of our lives.
I will never forget Lorraine, the midwife whose gentle humour made the birth of my middle son Arthur a real joy; the nurses who treated my nana with the utmost respect through her Alzheimers; and the Irish accented doctor at Tameside who simply said “this is just shit, I’m ever so sorry” before explaining the next steps when my wife was miscarrying. Neither of us clocked your name in that rotten moment, but should you be reading this, please know that your raw empathy made a heart-breaking day a just a bit less difficult.
And to all of the NHS professionals doing so every single day with a smile, an encouraging turn of phrase, an extra 10 minutes beyond your shift because you wouldn’t leave a patient in need – thank you. The NHS isn’t perfect, but its staff are superheroes.
In July, Stalybridge and Hyde Labour Party held a wonderful birthday party for the NHS in Stalybridge Labour Club.
We heard rousing speeches from Christine Harrison, a local nurse for 47 years; Dr Kailash Chand OBE, long serving local GP and Vice President of the BMA; and Sue Priest, a midwife for 40 years at Tameside who helped establish the Harebell Suite for parents enduring the loss of a baby.
Of course, the creation of the NHS in 1948 was neither inevitable nor uncontroversial. As a Labour MP, it would be remiss of me not to point out that the Tories voted against it 22 times, with the Conservative health spokesperson saying “we are taking a step from which there will be no going back. I believe it would be a fatal step”. Health Secretary Nye Bevan and Prime Minister Clement Attlee persevered.
It reminds me that all worthwhile change involves bold decisions, inevitable opposition, and being visionary in the way you apply your values to problems of the day.
I also cannot write about the NHS without noting that we simply must invest in it.
If we do not see a step change in NHS funding, the cancelled winter operations, the chaotic A&E waiting rooms and delays to diagnosing conditions like autism will only continue.
What’s more, the failure to properly resource public health projects, wellbeing initiatives and social care budgets means we constantly seem to forget prevention is better than cure. The NHS is one service that no matter how tight household budgets are, people are genuinely willing to pay more for.
As I write, my friend Richard and his wife Ashli are overdue with their third child. Rich and Ashli live in America and when they were expecting their first I will always remember him telling me the dreaded complications, not least because USA hospital maternity bills could run to $20,000.
Happy birthday NHS – I vouch to stand up for you and to protect you for generations to come, so we might see many, many happy returns.