The final day of UNISON’s 2023 national delegate conference opened with a speech from shadow minister for mental health, Rosena Allin-Khan MP (pictured).
Both a politician and a doctor, she opened her speech saying: “I am an NHS worker like so many of you in here today.”
“I want to thank you for all that you do. All the hours that you put in, even though you’ve been going through your own, personal, daily struggles. You are an incredible, powerful force for good.
“As a proud NHS doctor, when I’m able to, I put on my scrubs, I turn up and do my shifts at A&E.”
Drawing on her experiences in the COVID-19 pandemic, Ms Allin-Khan said: “While we gave our all to patients and their families waiting in line for PPE, Tory donors were lining their pockets.
“I remember the NHS staff I saw lying on ventilators when I worked in the ICU in hospitals.
“People like you and I who had gone in to save lives, but it cost them their lives. It was us who provided solace to terrified people. It was you and the people you support. And now we know as the country suffered, the Tories partied.”
Labour’s vision for mental health
Ms Allin-Khan went on to describe mental health as ‘core business’ for trade unions, explaining the systemic drivers of poor mental health, and what a Labour government will do about it: “It is so important that we tackle the root causes of ill health: poverty, ill housing, polluted air, unhealthy food, overwork and stress.
“We need a system which prevents ill health, which allows us to live longer lives and be healthier for longer, no matter our social class or what we do for a living.”
Ms Allin-Khan explained that a Labour government would “stop mental health policy from being placed in a silo” and “bring in long-term, whole government planning for improving mental health outcomes and mental health in all policies.
“Labour ministers will allow mental health its fair share of funding. The first job of a Labour government is to remove preventable pain and avoidable disease from the lives of our citizens.”
She also explained the importance of international solidarity, citing her experience working as a doctor in Palestinian refugee camps and training doctors and taking medical aid to Ukraine, and declaring the need for Britain to remain an “interconnected global village not an isolated island with a drawbridge up.”
She said: “We must be an open country, welcoming refugees and celebrating the immigrants who live, work and study here.”
Finally, she praised UNISON’s steadfastness in “opposing Tory dogma and lies”, celebrating members as “ceaseless champions for fairness and justice.”
Ms Allin-Khan was met with a standing ovation from UNISON delegates.