My inbox has been full of claims that last week was the “last chance to save the NHS” before it was “sold off” or “privatised” in a trade deal. In reality, Parliament passed a bill to rollover the existing trade deals which we already have with non-EU countries and which operated for many years. No new trade deals were discussed, let alone agreed to. The bill has no impact, good or bad, on the NHS.
There is an entirely separate discussion about a trade deal with the US which had nothing to do with last week’s bill. The UK Government has made very clear - and I happily do so again - that the NHS is NOT for sale to anyone and will NEVER be privatised.
The claim of a secret plan to sell-off or privatise the NHS was first made in 1987 and continues to be made on a regular basis. It is completely untrue and wrong for people to be subject to repeated scaremongering that there is a secret plan to get rid of the NHS and bring in some kind of secret charging arrangement for patients. As both an MP and Minister, I can categorically state this is untrue. I have never once heard such a ridiculous idea being suggested in any context. It is a pity some people are willing to cause concern and fear by bandying around a story which they must know to be untrue.
Another false claim was nurses had been left out of the major rises in public sector pay which have just been announced. Nursing unions voted in 2018 for a three year pay package which included a yearly rise. This means nurses who are still moving up their pay structures will receive an average increase of 4.4 per cent. It is a very well-deserved increase for those who did so much during the coronavirus crisis.
The most absurd suggestion is Conservative MPs have some kind of gripe with the NHS or its valiant staff. One of my colleagues in the Wales Office, Wrexham MP Sarah Atherton, is a former nurse who went back to work in a hospital during the crisis. The MP for Vale of Clwyd is a practising GP. Sitting next to me in the Conservative whips’ office is another nurse turned MP who would join meetings over Zoom after gruelling shifts in a hospital. There are several others. Conservative MPs don’t just meet and support NHS workers, a fair proportion actually are NHS workers willing to step back into the role when needed.
To sum up: The NHS is not for sale, it is not going to be privatised, it is not going to bring in charges, and the institution of the NHS and its staff have the complete support and respect of this government.
*Published in the Monmouthshire Beacon on 29 July 2020 and the Abergavenny Chronicle on 30 July 2020*