Opening UNISON’s annual health conference today (Monday) in Brighton, UNISON general secretary Dave Prentis said:
“The NHS was born seventy years ago, with that proud godfather – Aneurin Bevan. It’s a beacon to the world and the envy of the world.
“Our NHS, born amidst the rubble of war, opposed by churches, charities and doctors, was a ray of hope in that bleak time.
“And even then, amid that devastation it was possible to build something great, the greatest institution our country has ever known.
“So whenever right-wing politicians say that new public services are too expensive, too complicated, and that there are other priorities, point them to the NHS.
“And as we celebrate the NHS, I can think of no better guest for this conference than Aneira Thomas – the first baby born in the NHS at a minute past midnight on 5 July 1948.
“Her life and her families’ lives are bound up in our NHS. Lives saved and lives changed, like thousands more.
“And as part of the birthday celebrations, we must never forget the Windrush generation. Those who came from across the Commonwealth, to help rebuild our country, and build our NHS.
“To work hard, raise children, pay taxes and make Britain their home.
“The SS Windrush arrived in Tilbury Port just two weeks before the NHS was established, and these two anniversaries and histories are inseparable.
“This remarkable generation served us all and made our country a better place, but now we have to repay that service by supporting so many of them in their hour of need.
“No one can fail to be horrified on hearing Albert Thompson’s story. He’s been denied treatment for cancer, unless he can pay up front, despite having lived here for 44 years.
“He’s said he feels like he’s been left to die – abandoned by this cruel, vindictive government.
“That’s why I’ve written to the Home Secretary Amber Rudd to demand that Albert Thompson receives the immediate treatment he needs and deserves.
“To call on her to stop the deportations, respect those who have given decades to our communities, and confirm the legal status of the Windrush Generation and their children once and for all.
“A fairer and more equal society needs a decent health service, but our fight is not just to keep the NHS strong, it’s to build on what makes it great and make it greater still.
“But we see a lack of resources, growing waiting lists, reorganisation after reorganisation, staff continually being asked to do more with less, privatisation on the rise and more stress on the NHS’s most valuable resource – its employees.
“NHS buildings are being sold off, and wholly owned subsidiary companies, or “subcos”, risk becoming the new normal, with services hived off to new companies, undermining pay and conditions, a real case of bargain basement economics.
“Staff want to work in our health service – not for an offshoot, a tax loophole, or a subco.
“We owe it to everyone who works in and relies on the NHS to oppose subcos, as we have opposed every privatisation and every sell off in the past.
“There are those who say that subcos are necessary. That with the NHS pushed to the brink, trusts need to cut whatever corners they can to make ends meet.
“But if you want decent services, shorter waiting lists, better care –then don’t cut corners, don’t outsource to the privateers and don’t set up subcos.
“This year is a big one for our union too. Aside from 70 years of the NHS, it’s also 25 years of UNISON.
“As we celebrate our past and look ahead to our future, let us work together. Keep up the great work and keep up the fight for the values of our NHS.”