We are now bang in the middle of the Conference season and this week it is the turn of the Labour Party. As I begin to write this column I am on my way to Brighton with every intention of playing a full part in what promises to be a very exciting Conference. The Labour Party is the biggest political party in Europe and this year will be our biggest Conference ever. Thousands of members will attend along with representatives of every profession, business and cause known to man. Politics is all about people, priorities and policies in that order and nowhere more so than at Conference. I have been attending these events on and off for many years but of course as MP it is all very different and as a Shadow Minister different again. Conference is so much more than the debates in the main Conference hall that we all see on our television screens. Each day thousands of members and visitors meet to discuss dozens of issues and to determine policy for a future Labour Government. Fringe events run from breakfast till bed time and in between it’s time to visit the exhibition hall where key organisations ply their wares and look to gain support.
The day kicked off with a round table discussion with the Royal College of Physicians about the future of the NHS. I was pleased to be invited to take part in the discussion with senior doctors and a range of healthcare professionals. The focus of today’s discussion was gaps in the NHS workforce. This is has been an ongoing issue: the fact is the service is desperately short of staff in every department. It is widely acknowledged that morale in the NHS is at an all time low and recruitment and retention levels are a serious problem that to date the government is failing to address. As a result patients often have to wait for days to get an appointment to see their GP. The Government has promised to recruit 5000 extra GPs but the plans are not progressing well and the number continues to fall and in parts of the country surgeries have been forced to close leaving patients with no GP. I was therefore really pleased to accept an invitation to join a panel discussion with the Royal College of GPs to discuss ways of supporting GPs to deliver the best care for their patients in an environment of ever increasing demand. It was then time to turn my attention to community Pharmacy. Government funding cuts to community pharmacy budgets are expected according to the Conservative minister to lead to the closure of 3000 community pharmacies. I am working closely with National Pharmacy Association and the Pharmaceutical Society to extend the range of services provided in community pharmacy. Instead of forcing community pharmacies to close it would make far more sense to work with the sector to enable them to alleviate pressure on other areas of the NHS. With this in mind I was pleased to have the opportunity to speak at an event organised by the NPA.
Today Health is on the agenda in the main conference hall and Jonathan Ashworth who is the Shadow Secretary for Health and my boss will be outlining Labour’s plans for the NHS. I will be cheering him on from the front row. Of course everyone knows Labour is the Party of the NHS, we created it and we will protect it. The most pressing issue is to ensure that a winter crisis is averted. We will be asking the Government to provide additional upfront funding of £500 million for this purpose. Following this our thoughts will turn to the Leader’s speech scheduled for tomorrow. Jeremy Corbyn has inspired millions of people around the country and his conference speech will be eagerly anticipated as people look to him to offer hope and a plan for the many not the few. People in Burnley often ask me if I ever get to speak with Jeremy. Well the answer is yes in fact I have already spoken with him twice in as many days and I’m looking forward to hearing him tomorrow as he outlines our Labour plan for a better Britain. Wherever I am: Burnley, Brighton, Westminster it makes no difference I always keep the best interests of the people of Burnley and Padiham at the heart of everything that I do.