The NHS is rightly the most valued institution in this country. It has an impeccable track record of continuing improvement and innovation going back more than 60 years. The staff on the front line and those in the support services who are disparaged by Conservative Members as somehow irrelevant to the success of the service have never been frightened to face up to the challenges of change. They are, however, sick and tired of the constant demands of know-it-all politicians on all sides for endless reorganisations, restructuring and re-profiling. That is why they were so disappointed after the Prime Minister had told them that there would be no more top-down impositions from on high; they and the British public were, quite simply, misled.
The fears around privatisation are a reflection of yet another change to the structure of the NHS, and it is a very unwelcome one. The Secretary of State tried to rubbish the trade unions tonight. He did not mention all the other professional bodies in the NHS that are opposed to the changes. The only people who seem to be in favour of them are those in the Tory party, and their friends in the Liberal Democrats. None of the people who are delivering the services want the changes to happen. That includes the GPs that Henry Smith was talking about. They might well be doing good work in Crawley, but the key is that they do not want to have to do it in that way. The general public are also worried about the changes.
The Secretary of State said that we should not look back, but if we do not learn the mistakes of history, we will repeat them. We need to look at the situation that prevailed a long time ago. The working people in this country in the first half of the last century were desperate for a health care system. People came back from the devastation of world war one to a worldwide influenza epidemic. They were living in desperate conditions and working in massively unsafe workplaces. They were bringing up families whose lives were blighted and shortened by the diseases of poverty: tuberculosis, rickets, malnutrition and pneumonia. Their conditions of life at home and at work had changed little since the days of Dickens, yet we saw yet another world war where money that could not be found to build a decent society in peacetime was miraculously produced to kill millions in wartime.
At the end of that war, the men and women of this country were determined not to continue with that and were not going to put their faith in a Government and a private sector-driven economy that had failed them so badly. They turned instead to a Government who, despite the biggest debt crisis ever, determined that the health and well-being of this country’s people was paramount. That is why Labour built millions of homes for people, why swathes of industries that had been disgracefully run down by the private sector owners were nationalised, and why we, the Labour party, built the NHS to ensure that never again would the quality of a person’s health care depend on the depth of their wallets.
People quite rightly felt bitter about the way they had been treated for decades. That was perhaps best summed up by Nye Bevan, who set up the NHS, when on
“no amount of cajolery and no attempts at ethical or social seduction can eradicate from my heart a deep burning hatred for the Tory party that inflicted those bitter experiences on me.”
As expected, the Opposition did not like that, and Mr Churchill labelled Mr Bevan “the Minister for Disease”. Equally as expected, Nye Bevan was having none of it. Speaking from the platform of the Durham miners’ gala, he reminded people of the reality of life under Tory rule when he said—