This week's MP's column comes from Bradford West MP Naz Shah.

THIS week we mark the NHS’s 73rd birthday and I want to take a moment to reflect on the incredible work our NHS has done prior to, and throughout the pandemic. 

The NHS is an institution we have all had some form of interaction with. The NHS is there for us from cradle to grave. We all take pride in it, and it is very close to the hearts of the British public.

In 1948 a leaflet went out to households which read, “Your new National Health Service […] will provide you with all medical, dental and nursing care. Everyone – rich or poor, man, woman or child – can use it or any part of it. There are no charges, except for a few special items. There are no insurance qualifications. But it is not a 'charity'. You are all paying for it, mainly as taxpayers, and it will relieve your money worries in time of illness.” 

Barring the subsidised costs associated with prescriptions, dentists and opticians, today the NHS remains relatively unchanged from its founding principles, that the service should be comprehensive, universal and free at the point of delivery – a health service based on clinical need, not ability to pay.

Labour founded the NHS and as a Labour MP I have a duty to continue the work of former Parliamentarians and protect our NHS for future generations. Something I take seriously, especially given my career before entering Parliament in the NHS. However, from this Conservative Government, all we have seen is successive failures: botched reorganisations, austerity measures, PPE shortages and high staff vacancies.

To top it off, in March, the Prime Minister announced a meagre pay rise of just one per cent for our NHS Heroes, which given inflation, is a shameful real terms pay cut. 
Conservative Ministers lined up to say this was the best they could offer; that there was no room for more.

The Government must listen to the mood of the country. A recent poll suggested two thirds of the public want to see a better pay rise for NHS staff. Most importantly they must listen to NHS staff, many of whom now see their futures outside of the NHS. 

I have challenged this Government on their appalling attitude. I want to see NHS staff, who have had the most difficult of times, properly rewarded and recognised for their efforts. We all now await the recommendation from the independent NHS Pay Review Body which I hope will shame this Government by recommending a higher pay rise than the proposed one per cent.

To do so would put added pressure on the new Health Secretary, Sajid Javid, and the Prime Minister, to u-turn on this issue and change their attitude towards our NHS heroes.

The fantastic uptake of the vaccination program by the British public means we’re well on our way to the final lifting of restrictions, but we would be naïve to think that the NHS is out of the woods. We know that over 5.1 million patients are on the waiting list for treatments – that’s the highest figure since records began. Worryingly, over 385,000 people have been waiting over a year for non-urgent treatment, a huge increase from the 3,000 patients just prior to coronavirus

Under the NHS’s ‘referal-to-treatment’ scheme, 92 per cent of patients should be treated within 18 weeks. This target has not been met since 2016. Staff shortages and a decade of austerity had left many hospitals with a backlog long before the pandemic. It is simply not good enough. 

Labour’s shadow Health Secretary, Johnathan Ashworth, said recently: “The reality is years of Tory underfunding and cuts across healthcare left our NHS weakened and exposed entering the pandemic, with patients now left waiting even longer in pain and anxiety for treatment.”  

Our NHS heroes agree: some two thirds of staff in the NHS don’t think there are enough people in the organisation to enable them to do their jobs properly, and four in ten staff said they feel unwell as a result of their job.

Staff burnout is just another pending crisis in our NHS. Rather than another round of applause for the NHS on its 73rd Birthday, we must be there for our NHS like it is there for us.

We must thank our NHS heroes with the real pay rise they deserve. We must put the wellbeing of our NHS workers front and centre of the recovery plans.

This Government must properly fund the NHS to tackle the backlog caused by a decade of austerity and exacerbated by Covid. Lastly, we must invest in staff and education to retain and bring in new talent. I want to see the NHS have many more birthdays and I urge this Government to treat the NHS like Labour did when we founded it, with pride and with care.