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Rachael Maskell MP gives her maiden speech

Rachael Maskell Labour/Co-operative, York Central  3:49 pm, 2nd June 2015

Rachael Maskell 2 June 2015I thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for calling me in today’s debate. I congratulate all those who have made their maiden speeches on this crucial issue of health and care, which is so important to my constituents across York Central. I thank those constituents for putting their trust in me to speak on this and many other matters.

Health and care are about the essence of life; they are about our families and our communities. As we have seen over the past five years, passions have been stirred, as Members of this House, with no evidence, took to taking our NHS and putting it on the open market, inviting the profiteers of the sick to run our health service instead of the state. This is the NHS that we built, we paid for, we work in, and we depend on, and we, as Labour, are so proud that we created it.

In 2015, we know that the vision for the NHS of the late Member for Ebbw Vale is not being met, as growing social and financial inequalities manifest themselves in health inequality, and access to vital services is delayed and even denied as a direct result of the £3 billion structural reorganisation that the previous Government introduced. It is that crisis that I want to address in my maiden.

First, however, I must pay tribute to the NHS staff whom I have represented as Unite’s head of health. They are dedicated, professional, selfless, compassionate, innovative, caring and loving in all they do 24/7. I must also declare an interest: I have worked in the NHS for 20 years and am the first ever physiotherapist to become an MP. Although our reputation goes before us—I trust that that has been positive and not too painful—I can assure Members that I will not be using my position to massage facts or manipulate statistics. Instead, I will exercise my voice to benefit those whom I represent in my constituency of York Central.

My predecessor, Sir Hugh Bayley, entered this House with a keen interest in health and many will recall that he played an active role on the Health Select Committee, although he was latterly more involved in leading the parliamentary assembly at NATO. I am sure that the whole House will join me in paying tribute to him for the contributions that he made to this place, which were always executed with integrity, honesty and decency.

York is an amazing city and needs no introduction. Our National Rail Museum is emblematic of the once thriving rail industry, which had to shed so many good quality jobs as a direct result of rail privatisation. It left behind the legacy of asbestosis. Our Minster represents our vibrant faith communities. It also serves our city’s food banks, which are ever in demand as the cost of living crisis squeezes families beyond their limits.  Let us turn now to our Viking settlement and our 14th century Shambles. They not only make us look back to how we once lived, but urge us to plan ahead and to build much-needed affordable and social housing. Beyond the medieval city walls are the amazing people whom I have the privilege to serve. They want to see a safe NHS.

There are many points that I could raise about York’s NHS: the failing funding formula, which gives York £117 less per patient; the A&E crisis, which is not unique to York; the crisis in the recruitment of staff, which is due to the pay freezes—15% lost over the past five years—and the depleted public health services. Again, public health is key to our future health. But there is something more urgent, which is mental health. York is in the midst of a mental health breakdown.  Nationally, under the previous Government, we saw mental health services cut by 8.25%, which took its toll in York. I am talking about services to the most vulnerable children and adults in our society. It was therefore deeply regrettable that mental health was absent from the Queen’s Speech. Clearly, it will be the Labour opposition who will fight for those who experience mental health challenges.

In the heart of our city sits Bootham Park, which hosts our major mental health facility. Not far away is Lime Trees, our child and adolescent mental health services unit. Both units have recently failed a Care Quality Commission inspection. Bootham Park is the oldest mental health hospital in the country. Conceived in 1772 and built 240 years ago, and I quote: “for the reception and relief of the insane”, this period building, placed in acres of parkland, speaks more of a stately home than an acute mental health facility. But here need cannot be met, as the quadrangle-shaped wards provide no line of sight for nurses to see patients. Limits on the building mean that we have mixed-sex wards, and we need anti-barricade doors to be fitted and all the ligature points to be removed to prevent suicide risks. Tragically, we lost a member of our community in that way last year. I will not stay silent when the acute needs of my constituents are at such high risk. I have already written and spoken to the relevant Minister and asked for assurances in this debate that this will be given the most urgent attention. Bootham is not fit for purpose and the CQC concurs.  Services have also been criticised by the CQC. In the past 16 months, £2.1 million has been spent on sending mental health patients across the country due to local  overcapacity. On another occasion a constituent waited more than a year to start much-needed treatment for depression, anxiety and an eating disorder and the wait brought added complications. Our NHS is in a dangerous state. It is simple: this cannot go on. I am asking for a new state-of-the-art mental health facility for York. I want to tell Ministers that it is simple: lives are at risk until they deliver.

My constituents deserve better and I am totally committed to ensuring that people across York get the right health service in the right place at the right time, that we build on Labour’s desire to integrate health—physical and mental—with social care and that we stop at nothing to ensure that my community has the best services to protect their health. I bring a weighty plea in my maiden speech today, but I assure this House that my constituents deserve the very best and I will stop at nothing to ensure that they get it.