In 2019, I was lucky enough to be selected as the Conservative candidate for the East London seat of Leyton and Wanstead. One thing that occurred to me while talking to local residents on the doorsteps and on the campaign trail was the love and admiration for our great NHS. The people of the UK’s strong emotional attachment to the NHS has long predated its admirable work during the Covid-19 outbreak – it would not be a major stretch to say that the NHS has always been popular in the UK.
However, since the coronavirus outbreak all our lives have changed dramatically, and we have all had to make sacrifices, both as key workers still going to work and those requested to stay at home. We are all watching the news closely, wondering when things may return to some semblance of normality. We have all seen the media attention regarding personal protective equipment and coronavirus testing, especially for frontline NHS staff.
I find that one of the key challenges, as an NHS professional and as a lifelong Conservative, is bridging the gap between what the public perceives when celebrating the great group of people who make up the NHS, and how the NHS is managed under Conservative governments. Our party cares deeply for people across our nation, and in many ways, we are the party of the NHS. We may not have been in government in 1948 when the NHS was established; however, it was a Conservative-led coalition government that first supported the idea of universal health cover. In fact, in February 1941, the Deputy Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Health privately recorded areas of agreement on post-war health policy, which included “a complete health service to be available to every member of the community.” On 9 October 1941, the Minister of Health, Ernest Brown, announced that the government proposals that would ensure that there was a comprehensive hospital service available to everyone in need of it and that local authorities would be responsible for providing it.
Ever since I was a child, I was taught by my grandmother (who came from abroad to work in the NHS as a nurse) and by my parents, that public service and civic duty is needed to make Britain better, and thus I became a doctor myself. Our values as Conservatives include liberty for our people, tolerance and respect, a care for every citizen, individual responsibility and social solidarity. These values align with the great work done in the NHS, that I am privileged to witness to every single working day. This outbreak, more than anything, has changed the framing of the NHS in public policy, and our party has responded with hope and practicality. I believe that our party is the only party that could have responded to this crisis in such a way; to unite our country and ultimately lead us to a better society.
In the NHS there exists a wealth of talent, from clinicians on the front line to administrators and managers, constantly working towards providing a duty of care to all. There are always new generations of young people working in healthcare who are passionate about what the NHS stands for. Our party needs to inspire the people of this country further, and bridge the gap between the healthcare policies of Whitehall and the rest of Britain – and reach every single one of us.
My local Conservative Association is an example of what can be achieved to aid our party’s response to the outbreak and the problems faced by the NHS at present (whilst incorporating our members, and people from every walk of life). Recently, we held a Skype Conservative Policy Forum, discussing the Government’s responses to the outbreak, and providing solutions to every area of policy, from business to healthcare. Many of my NHS colleagues have been discussing with me what frontline workers think is necessary in developing policy. The common theme is that more direct representation is needed from the NHS frontline to drive a credible response from government in a crisis such as this one.
My parents were born in Pakistan, and as Christians, they faced a lack of opportunity. As a child of immigrants, the Conservative values of opportunity and fairness are hugely important to me, and have inspired me to want to change and improve the lives of people. I have been afforded amazing opportunities by being a member of this party, and privileged to be a mouthpiece for Pakistani minorities. I know our party can truly be a force for improvement for all.
This coronavirus outbreak has tried and tested us all, with our civil service under pressure, and our Government working around the clock to manage an unprecedented crisis. We will emerge stronger, and when that happens, we must continue this solidarity with the NHS, as well as with under-represented and underappreciated people such as delivery drivers and care home workers. I know that we in Britain can fulfil our ambitions and have a promising future, but we have to roll out effective NHS policies, and include our frontline workers in the making of them.