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The National Health Service

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:03 pm on 23rd October 2019.

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Photo of Lucy Allan Lucy Allan Conservative, Telford 5:03 pm, 23rd October 2019

It is a privilege to speak in this debate. I particularly want to pay tribute to Dr Cameron, because if we could all speak about this issue in the way that she did, we would have a much more constructive and productive debate.

We have spent so long in this place listening to the same people talking about Brexit, dominating the agenda and crowding out those of us who want to speak for our constituents on other issues, so I am delighted that today we are discussing the Queen’s Speech and the NHS.

Unlike Stephen Hammond, who forgot that he had put in to speak in today’s debate, I have long been anticipating this opportunity and writing long speeches that will not get heard today, but I know I will have an opportunity on other occasions. I want to speak about the fears and concerns of the people of Telford. For the last six years there has been an ongoing debate about the future of our A&E and our women and children’s unit. I accept that this issue is not of the Secretary of State’s making and that a revolving door of senior executives has set the agenda. I am glad to see that the Secretary of State is trying to help out on this issue and that discussions are ongoing about keeping our A&E in Telford. I am grateful for his efforts.

In the blizzard that is Brexit, it has inevitably been impossible for senior Cabinet Ministers to properly focus on the day job. Mistakes will happen, and I think that this is one such case. This summer, we watched with mounting excitement as the new Prime Minister set out an energising domestic agenda with the NHS at its heart. We heard about his genuine desire to tackle the concerns of leave-voting, left-behind communities and their sense of being ignored. In August, as plans were unveiled for 20 hospital upgrades and 40 hospital new builds, we saw genuinely touching videos of the Prime Minister visiting hospitals across the country, from Boston to Harlow. There was something moving about the way he acknowledged the sense of identity that people have when talking about the NHS—the sacred promise between the people and the state—and talked about levelling up.

As summer rolled into autumn, on 2 October, just 70 days into the new Prime Minister’s premiership, he stood on the stage at our conference in Manchester and made a brilliant and inspiring speech. I heard him speak of his clear understanding that opportunity is not being evenly distributed and that it is the job of Government to unlock potential, level up, narrow inequality and deliver on the priorities of the people. He spoke about his mother, who taught him about the equal dignity and equal worth of every human being, and said that the NHS sums up that idea, because it does not matter who we are or where we come from; the NHS is there for us. My spirits were lifted by that vision, which my constituents would inherit under the new Conservative Government.

The Health Secretary was sitting in the front row watching that speech, and he too was surely moved by what he heard. But within hours, he was back in his office in London and, with a stroke of his pen, he was signing his approval for a scheme that we in Telford have been fighting for the last six years. As is the way with these things, it was the outpouring of rage on social media that reached me first. It seemed that the Secretary of State had approved a decision that would see Telford lose its A&E and women and children’s centre.

I know that the Secretary of State wanted to get this right for Telford; he told me so. He knew how important that centre was for our community, because he had visited, yet when that decision was made, there was no press release, no announcement and no briefing for MPs. There was no attempt to justify to my community why this was good for them. What member of Government makes a difficult decision that undermines the credibility of the central plank of the Government’s domestic agenda on the very same day that the Prime Minister sets it out?

I understand that, in this crazy environment, mistakes are made, and it takes a little humility and bravery to admit when they have been made. It is not enough to wear the badge, echo the platitudes, stand on a stage and say, “I love the NHS”. The Secretary of State needs to show that he cares about the people who use the NHS, no matter where they come from. In this case, it seems that the people of Telford were forgotten. This is a great Queen’s Speech, but it must not just be words. We have to mean it if we are to be the party of the NHS, and there is work to do in Telford to demonstrate that that is the case.