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Testing of NHS and Social Care Staff

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:08 pm on 24th June 2020.

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Photo of Ruth Jones Ruth Jones Labour, Newport West 6:08 pm, 24th June 2020

As someone who has worked in the NHS as a physiotherapist for 32 years, I am proud to speak in this important debate on the heroic efforts of NHS staff throughout the covid-19 crisis. While I miss my former colleagues, I now have the opportunity to sing their praises from these Benches and defend the NHS whenever possible.

We come together at a difficult time for our nation, as we continue to grapple with the effects of covid-19 and the havoc and devastation it has brought to our country and to so many people in it, in Newport West and right across the United Kingdom. We mourn with all those who have lost a loved one. We remember all those who have lost their life, and we can and should in this debate today commit ourselves to doing whatever we can to prevent further loss of life now and in the future.

In making that commitment, I would like to pay tribute to all those working in our NHS in Newport West, in Wales and up and down the UK. As we approach the 72nd birthday of the NHS, to those workers I say: thank you for your compassion and sacrifice. Thank you for always going the extra mile, and thank you for standing firm in the wake of years of Tory austerity. Perhaps one of the best ways to say thank you is to ensure that NHS workers across the board get a decent pay rise. Like many other Members across the House, I have received numerous emails from constituents asking me to obtain a pay rise for all NHS workers. I point out to the Secretary of State that the weekly clapping on a Thursday night was great, but a much more useful thank you would be the delivery of a decent pay rise to ensure that those on the lowest pay in the NHS can be lifted out of poverty. Please remember that when negotiations begin for our next round of the NHS pay talks.

Newport is one of the most diverse parts of Wales and I am proud of our city and its diversity. It is a matter of deep regret, however, that our cherished diversity has seen us on the frontline in the fight against the devastating impact of the coronavirus on black and minority ethnic communities. A report commissioned by the Welsh Labour Government under the First Minister was published on Monday, and it calls rightly for action to tackle the structural and systemic racism that may have contributed to the higher-than-average BME death rate. I welcome the First Minister’s commitment that this is a priority for him and his Government, and I assure my constituents that it is a priority for me and my colleague Jayne Bryant, who represents our community in the national Parliament of Wales, too.

A few weeks ago, a new comprehensive risk assessment was launched by the Welsh Labour Government to support people from BME backgrounds in the NHS and social care in Wales. I hope that the Minister, in winding up, will outline what plans there are to do the same thing in England. This is important, particularly when we reflect on the fact that the first 10 doctors to die in the UK from covid-19 were from BME backgrounds.

I note that the Wales TUC has made it clear that the pandemic is hitting people who are poorer harder and that language barriers in our community have impacted on the speed at which information is being fed to certain communities, so there is work for us all to do here. Members across the House and, importantly, our constituents will know that the coronavirus pandemic is putting the NHS under an unprecedented strain at a time when demand for health and care services was already at an all-time high.

Despite these extraordinary pressures, the NHS in all parts of the UK has achieved an extraordinary amount over the last few months. In 1948, Nye Bevan noted that the NHS must meet everyone’s needs, be free at the point of delivery and be based on clinical need, not the ability to pay. That is our collective mission and that will be my focus now and into the future.