Rhun ap Iorwerth MS, Plaid Cymru Shadow Health Minister
Seventy-two years ago to this day, on the 5th of July 1948, the National Health Service was founded. It was the first health service anywhere in the world that was offered free at the point of delivery, based solely on citizenship rather than on payment of fees or insurance.
These past few months have demonstrated more than ever the importance of the NHS, and the indescribable value it adds to our society and to all our lives. Even after years of funding cuts and significant lack of investment in preparation for a scenario such as the one that’s unfolded recently, it has once again proven itself as a cornerstone of life in Wales and the rest of the UK.
Many will have watched or listened to Harry Leslie Smith’s speech from 2014 on life before the NHS, of the “hunger, filth, fear and death” that were the common elements of his Yorkshire hometown before the establishment of the NHS, and will have been moved by his words.
As fewer and fewer remember the days before the NHS, this sentiment of gratitude for our health service must be held on to, and it must be translated from sentiment into action. The NHS must be properly funded and safeguarded for future generations.
The contributions and sacrifices of the 1.2 million NHS staff across Wales and the UK really cannot be overstated. Through testing times their care for their patients has never faltered. Although placed at the front line of the epidemic, sometimes without adequate PPE, knowing that the service lacked the resilience to respond in the way it could have with proper funding, they faced the crisis with unswerving commitment.
Healthcare workers, who are people like you or I, with families and friends and dependents like yours or mine, deserve better. They deserve to work for a service which is sustainably funded and safeguarded, one which can not only excel during normal times, but is able to respond properly and safely to health crises.
The NHS and its workers shouldn’t have to make huge sacrifices during difficult times, and it shouldn’t have to be under the strain we witness each winter. Most don’t want to be treated as heroes – despite what I see as their heroic actions – but merely want to be respected enough to work in a service which protects them in the same way it protects other citizens.
At Friday’s press conference, the First Minister cited that 8000 people had been dispatched from hospitals after being treated for covid-19, with 546 Covid patients still under the care of NHS staff at Welsh hospitals. Such huge numbers on top of the demands healthcare staff ordinarily face really underlines the incredible and often lifesaving work they do every single day.
But this pandemic has also reminded us that the social care sector is just as important. That’s why I want our Welsh National Health Service to become a true National Health AND Care Service. Health and care workers, who worked so tirelessly to treat and care for thousands of individuals who were seriously ill during the last few months all deserve to be recognised as the skilled workers they are.
It means parity of pay for care and health workers. The contribution made by care workers to society have been highlighted on a particularly poignant level during this crisis, and we mustn’t disregard this for any longer.
As we celebrate the NHS’s seventy-second birthday, we have the opportunity to reflect on this invaluable pillar of life in Wales and the rest of the UK. Here in Wales, the birthplace of the NHS, there is a particular pride over the service which at the time was a unique and progressive social reform.
Aneurin Bevan is a well-known figure to most people in Wales, and is held in high esteem for his role in developing and pushing for the establishment of this service that we treasure today more than ever.
Let us continue with this spirit and ensure that the NHS, as a health and care service – is protected for the next 72 years and beyond.