NHS 'represents everything we stand for'

Unite head of operations and former TUC president Gail Cartmail gives moving speech in honour of NHS workers

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Unite head of operations and former TUC president Gail Cartmail gave a moving speech at TUC conference on Wednesday (October 19) in which she paid tribute to the NHS.

Reflecting on a previous speech given by then-TUC president Mark Serwotka in 2019, Gail noted how Mark had said he’d passed an important milestone – 1000 days since his heart transplant, which he then said was ‘carried out by the greatest achievement of our Labour movement – the National Health Service.’

Gail recounted how Mark paid tribute to “an NHS representing everything we stand for – made up of a team of public sector workers, our doctors, nurses, surgeons, radiographers, cleaners, porters, catering staff, admin staff, paramedics, physiotherapist, community nurses and many more.

“All part of a team, all struggling with a lack of resources, underpaid, and many of them privatised.  And he said – and this is in 2019 – let’s give them a sign of our appreciation.  And we did.  We all applauded and rightly so,” Gail added.  

Gail told conference how the very following year we applauded NHS staff outside our homes “because the same workers, that looked after Mark, bravely went forward, and confronted Covid at great risk to themselves, and they gave us the very best care and comfort, doing all that they could to ensure that nobody died alone”. 

Gail then said that the very next year, she herself had two life-saving operations.

“I too witnessed the resilience of a workforce upon whom unreasonable demands are made,” she said, adding that during her hospital stays, “the only complaint from staff was that there were too few of them, and that they were worried that the best care they could give was not good enough — quite remarkable”.

 Gail thanked a number of people in her speech who supported her during her tenure as TUC president and vice president, including Ged Nichols, Sue Ferns and “all the TUC staff that enabled me to carry on and do the best when I could”.

“But I am here because like Mark, I was in the care of our wonderfully diverse NHS workforce — workers who as Mark pointed out, and reminded us yesterday, are from across the  world,” Gail noted.

Paying tribute to others such as Unite general secretary Sharon Graham, Unison general secretary Christina McAnea, and CSP leader Claire Sullivan, Gail said above all she wanted to dedicate her speech to every single NHS worker.

“Let’s remember the wise words, from Nye Bevan – ‘The NHS will last as long as there are folk left with the faith to fight for it’,” Gail went on to say. “If it’s not us to take home that fight, who? So I say, we will do that with our communities and that it is our challenge.”

 “And I do believe that together we have the faith, courage and determination to kick out this nasty government, rebuild our NHS and pay them their true worth,” Gail concluded, adding that she had an important update:

“Mark told me this morning that today marks 2019 days since his life-saving heart surgery,” she said. “Thank you very much.”

By Hajera Blagg

Pic by Mark Thomas

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