Column – January 2018

So here we are in another New Year – 2018 already. I hope you had a good break over Christmas and the New Year. On Monday I’ll be returning to Westminster, but this week is a good chance for me to catch up on local issues and get a feel for what’s important to my constituents here locally as well as nationally, and to have a look forward to the coming year.

Labour has a positive message for the coming year. Jeremy’s new year message set out again our vision of a Britain offering opportunities for all, one where a Labour Government would implement the policies which so many people here in the north east welcomed in our election manifesto and which work for the many, not the few. Key to that message will be our concern for the NHS. Coming in the week that NHS chiefs announced that most pre-planned operations will be put on hold until the end of January, I think all of us would welcome the increased investment which Labour has promised for the NHS and Labour’s commitment to keeping the NHS public.

We have some excellent NHS services here in the north east and I know that, as we look forward to celebrating the 70th birthday of the NHS this year, my constituents are determined that our hospitals and other NHS services are delivered for the public good and not for private profit. We’ll be making sure that the Tories aren’t allowed to slip through massive changes to the NHS while Brexit dominates the agenda.

Tuesday of this week saw Shadow Rail Minister Rachel Maskell in Newcastle highlighting the Government’s shockingly poor rail policies for the north, services which sell our region short but which would unbelievably let Virgin East Coast off the hook of paying the payments they promised for running the franchise under the cloak of a reorganisation of rail services. All this at the same time we see passengers paying the price through a 3.4% hike in rail fares. We have experience up here of how a rail service can run successfully and make a profit under public ownership – which is exactly what East Coast mainline did! No wonder there’s a lot of support from my constituents for our policy of having directly run, modern and efficient train services.

So back in Westminster we’ll be challenging this shambolic Tory Government on their plans for the NHS, transport, funding for local government, and fire and rescue services; we know these and other issues are what make a difference to folk here in the North East.

Last month I had the chance to meet representatives of organ donor groups and NHS Blood and Transport to hear about how many more lives could be saved if more of us became organ donors. I was shocked to hear how many people are waiting for organ donation, many of them dying needlessly for lack of donors. Just before the Christmas break and following all-party support, the Government launched a consultation exercise on increasing the number of donors and asking whether we should look at an “opt out” donation system as they have in Wales.

Whatever your views on donation, please take part in the consultation and most of all, have the discussion about your own wishes with your family and friends. My friend Jon was fortunate to find a donor and have a successful heart transplant at our own Freeman Heart and Lung transplant unit and it has made an incredible difference to his life.

You can find the consultation online at https://engage.dh.gov.uk/organdonation.