Anas Sarwar: The NHS is Labour’s greatest achievement - we have to protect it

Writing exclusively in the Red Robin, Scottish Labour’s Shadow Health Secretary Anas Sarwar commemorates the NHS on its 70th birthday, and sets out how Labour would protect the party's greatest achievement.

At the stroke of midnight seventy-years ago today a revolution swept Britain.

It was a revolution that consigned charity hospitals for the poor to history and instead delivered a new National Health Service built to provide universal healthcare free at the point of need.

It is surely Labour’s finest achievement in power.

This great political victory by legendary Labour health minister Aneurin Bevan is sometimes taken for granted.

Indeed many people now try to argue that the NHS should be ‘free from politics’ but we must never forget it was Labour’s unwavering political will which created it, and did so in the face of a Conservative Party who voted against it no fewer than 20 times.

One Tory in the House of Lords remarked: “To my mind, this bill saps the very foundations on which our national character has been built.  It is another link in the chain which is binding us all to the machine of state.”

This parliamentary clash led to the iconic Labour Party poster for the 1950 General Election which simply read: “Labour’s health service covers everyone. Tories voted against it.”

Far from sapping our national character, the creation of our NHS is now a defining symbol of Britain at its best.

While Bevan won his battle, the war on inequality remains to be won.

With Labour in power, spending on the NHS in Scotland doubled not merely in cash terms but in real terms. Now the NHS is suffering under its worst decade in spending growth since its foundation under the SNP and Tory governments.

At Holyrood, Labour have fought tirelessly to hold the SNP government to account for the staffing crisis in hospital wards and GP surgeries across the country.   We have also regularly challenged unacceptable increases in waiting times and the major issue of delayed discharges, both of which have a terrible impact on people across the country.

In contrast, the Tories failed to support our calls for a failing Health Secretary to leave her post, no doubt because they believe every health care crisis created by the SNP gives them another chance to offer private sector input as a solution, because they know their own history of cuts has so badly hurt our most cherished public service.

Our NHS is cherished by the public but criminally underfunded by both of Scotland’s governments.

What is clear is that our National Health Service is not safe in the hands of the SNP or the Tories.

We as a Labour Party must resolve to win this generation’s fight for an NHS that serves the many, not the few.

That is why we are developing a radical plan to make our NHS fit for the next 70 years, failing to do so would be a betrayal of both our legacy as a party and, most importantly, the Scottish people.

The next Labour government at Holyrood will use the vast tax powers the devolved parliament now enjoys to fund our public services including the NHS properly, and we will also ensure all aspects of government policy are put through health inequality assessments to ensure no harm is done to our citizens’ health.

We will also make a generational change in how mental health is treated with a dedicated mental health counsellor in every school.

 

Our NHS’ continual existence can only also happen with a motivated and rewarded workforce. To this end will deliver a credible workforce plan and give all those working in our NHS a long-term pay settlement, protected terms and conditions and collective bargaining.

As we mark the NHS’s 70th Birthday, the best gift would be an end to a decade of mismanagement and a return to the levels of funding and staffing it so richly deserves.

 

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