‘Labour is the party of the NHS’, goes the saying. It is safest with us and the Tories will sell off the family silver to the insurance companies. I am sorry, but saying this is no longer enough. People want to be told more than that Labour will protect the NHS, while the Tories will send it like a sheep into a fox den. We need something more tangible. We need a new policy on health.
I suggest we take that policy from Wales, where for 17 years a Labour Government has drastically improved public health while still rejecting marketisation and PFI.
It was in his Clear Red Water speech in Swansea 15 years ago that Rhodri Morgan said, ‘services which are reserved for the poor very quickly become poor services’. It was from that point it was clear that Welsh Labour’s approach to health care was to be universalist in approach. We would care for all, not just those who could afford it, not just those who needed help most, but everyone. We have been progressive, we have been radical and we have been revolutionary. We have been an example that English Labour quickly needs to follow if it is to re-connect with its communities.
Just over a year ago, the scheme of opt-out organ donations began in Wales. Since the introduction of this law, the amount of people getting transplants off the waiting list has gone from 73% to 111%. This is genuinely life-saving legislation that is both progressive and radical. If you don’t like the idea of having your organs donated, fine, then opt out. There is nothing in this legislation that impinges on your liberties, but what it does ensure is that people in Wales are living where once they would have died.
Welsh Labour have perfectly balanced socialism, pragmatism and progress with universally free prescriptions, a move which has greatly improved public health whilst ensuring that the people who need it most can afford to survive and even those who can afford it are healthier still. You may ask why people who earn enough to pay for prescriptions should get them for free, well, the answer is simple. The service reserved for the poor quickly become poor services. Universally free prescriptions have removed the stigma of not being able to afford the medicine you need to keep breathing, whilst ensuring that even the stingiest retiree (we all know one) doesn’t think twice about getting the drugs they need. It unites us all behind a common truth. The NHS is brilliant and needs protecting. To protect it properly, we need the policy to do so.
I compel you all to look to Wales. Without doubt it has had its problems, but it has continued to innovate and continues to to this day. It looks to tackle public health, ensuring that we make people well, not merely treat them when they’re ill. It has been universalist, it has been radical, it has been first and foremost evidence based. And Wales is healthier as a result.