Full text of Jonathan Ashworth’s speech at Labour Connected keyworkers rally for frontline heroes
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Jonathan Ashworth, Shadow Health and Social Care Secretary, speaking at Labour Connected keyworkers rally for frontline heroes, said:
Day after day, week after week our NHS staff showed the most extraordinary compassion, dedication, professionalism in the face of the most monumental pressures.
They gave their all.
Some ultimately gave their lives, many of them from Black, Asian and minority backgrounds.
Tonight we honour their memory and affirm that we will never forget.
And tonight I want to celebrate our NHS staff and care workers.
It makes me so proud that we as a nation came together in this crisis to express solidarity with our NHS and social care staff like never before.
The windows filled with rainbows, applause was heard on every street.
So tonight in that spirit, we say thank you again to every single one of our NHS and social care staff.
To the nurses, midwives, paramedics, the doctors, the caterers, the cleaners, the porters,
the managers, the physios,
the OTs, the pathologists,
the medical scientists, lab technicians,
our local public health teams as well we say thank you.
And we thank those who have come from across the globe to work in our NHS and social care sector.
We owe them gratitude and support not Home Office hostility.
But our NHS and social care staff deserve more than rainbows, clapping and praise.
They deserve our backing at every step.
They deserve decent pay, training bursaries and protection on the frontline.
Never again should NHS staff be forced to use plastic carrier bags for PPE.
So just as NHS care for others, we will care for them.
We meet online in the midst of the biggest public health crisis for 100 years.
Across the world over 960,000 deaths.
Here 400,000 confirmed infections.
41,788 of our fellow citizens have died.
The highest death rate in Europe.
A scale of human tragedy incomprehensible at the start of this year.
Many who have had the virus struggle daily for weeks even months with debilitating long term illness.
So we reject those who say let this virus rip through the population, dividing us between the shielded and the herd.
Instead every reasonable measure must be taken to supress this virus, drive infections down, save lives, minimise harm and keep children in school.
It’s why we supported taking this country into lockdown.
Today we continue to support local restrictions.
Of course, I didn’t come into politics to restrict our freedoms.
I long for the day when my children can hug their grandmother again, when we can visit our relatives in care homes.
For the days when weddings don’t need to be rearranged or families can’t say a final goodbye at funerals, or women don’t have face labour alone.
People have made huge sacrifices.
They stuck to their side of the bargain, but ministers failed to deliver on theirs.
They failed to sufficiently increase testing over the summer even though the medical experts warned them in July if didn’t fix testing,
infections would rise in September.
So they failed to plan and testing went into meltdown.
Ill people expected to travel hundreds of miles.
Hundreds of children out of school unable to get a test.
It’s become not so much Test and Trace, but more like trace a test.
When testing breaks down, tracing breaks down, you can’t track the virus and you lose control.
The result? The virus is currently doubling every 7 days.
Hospital admissions are increasing.
We are at a perilous moment and facing a second wave.
The last thing we need now is a second wave of ministerial mistakes as well.
By failing to deliver an effective test, trace and isolate regime it’s left us more vulnerable to a possible second national lockdown that will extract a heavy social and economic price especially on the poorest and most vulnerable.
They should have followed our plan.
Instead of restricting hospital testing they should invest in our 44 NHS labs to drive up testing capacity.
They should support more of our University labs to develop the new rapid testing techniques that will help widen access to testing now and in the future.
Instead of ‘moon shots’ that cost the earth, we need mass routine testing strategy for our nation’s key workers especially NHS and social care staff.
We need contact tracing transformed to break the chains of transmission.
Ministers gave responsibility for this precious lifesaving work to failing outsourcing firms like Serco.
And in areas of high infection like Oldham, Serco is only finding around 50 per cent of contacts.
That’s a disgrace.
Yet we are the country who led the world in public health.
For decades our local health protection teams have kept us all safe,
and isolating infectious diseases every day of the year.
The first duty of a government in a pandemic should be protecting people through public health not privatisation and profit.
So put our local public health teams in charge of case finding and contact tracing.
Hand Test and Trace to the NHS and public health.
And thirdly those required to isolate should never be faced with a choice between health or putting food on their table to feed their family.
Together with the trade unions we campaigned for extra help and have made progress today
but we have further to go to give people full support and security so they isolate when required.
This pandemic has exposed a fundamental truth about the condition of Britain.
Ten years of Tory rule left Britain weaker and exposed to a pandemic at the very time when thanks to climate change, pandemics are becoming more likely not less.
And ten years of cutting 15,000 beds from our NHS, of cutting social care, of cutting public health services made us more vulnerable and less resilient as a society.
As a result we’ve seen operations cancelled, vital cancer treatment delayed and mental health support squeezed.
Our NHS now faces a monumental backlog in non-Covid care, yet is short of resources.
I want to be your Labour Health and Social Care Secretary in a Keir Starmer Labour government not to just rebuild our NHS and provide the care people need but to create a fairer society as well.
The creation of the NHS wasn’t just about the relief of the woman in the throes of difficult labour who had to pay for a midwife to come to her bedside.
It wasn’t just about the parents in tears because they couldn’t afford a doctor to see their sick child.
And it wasn’t just the right to free health care for all to relieve suffering and pain.
It was about equality.
Yet here we are today.
With life expectancy advances stalling even going backwards for some of the poorest.
Where a girl born tonight in one of poorest parts of the country can expect to live 19 fewer healthy years than a girl born in the richest.
Poverty condemns our fellow citizens to ill health quicker and now Covid is hitting the disadvantaged hardest including many from our black, Asian and minority ethnic communities who are suffering disproportionally.
Inequality in health is the worst inequality of all.
There can be no greater social injustice than people dying sooner because of poverty.
This is why I am Labour.
And tackling these health inequalities is my mission.
That starts with an assault on poverty.
It means tackling climate change because there is no healthy future without a green future.
It means rebuilding a public universal NHS and a social care service we can all be proud of.
It means parity of esteem for mental health services and a guarantee that every child receives the mental health care they deserve.
It involves supporting our science base to develop the vaccine to tame this virus and ensure equitable distribution to deliver good health for all.
And it means recognising our key workers for their true worth.
This is the cause of Labour.
We will play our part in helping the nation through this crisis.
With Keir Starmer and Angela Rayner we’re offering new leadership to the country.
And we will build a society with fairness, health and wellbeing at the heart.