Read Sharon's latest Sunderland Echo column below or by going to the Sunderland Echo.
Last week the NHS celebrated its 70th birthday. Our NHS remains one of Britain’s greatest institutions, and it is a Labour Government that proudly introduced it in 1948.
The NHS was founded on three core principles: that it meet the needs of everyone; that it be free at the point of delivery; and that it be based on clinical need, not ability to pay.
As a local Labour MP, and Shadow Minister for Public Health, I am committed to defending these founding principles, so that our NHS is available for many, many more decades to come.
Sadly, the future of our NHS is under threat by this Tory Government.
Not only have they starved it of the funding it so desperately needs, but they have also failed to commit sufficient funding to public health and social care.
This comes at a time when demand on NHS services is growing.
A&Es are over-stretched and overcrowded; increasing numbers of people are waiting too long for operations; and key performance targets are being missed month after month.
This demand is coupled with a NHS workforce crisis. We should all show our appreciation for the thousands of people who work tirelessly to provide people with health care every single day.
Whether that’s the nurses and doctors in A&E, the porters and cleaners who keep our hospitals clean, or the cancer surgeons who perform ground-breaking operations, I know that we have all had reason to be thankful in one way or another.
But the truth is that the workforce is in crisis. Across the NHS there are more than 100,000 staff vacancies, including 40,000 nurses and 11,000 doctors.
Eight years of austerity have left their mark on the ability of the NHS to carry out its intended aims.
As of May this year, around 4.2 million people were waiting for non-urgent hospital treatment in England, and over the winter the rate of people being seen in A&E within four hours fell below 80% in some months. The target (set at 95%) has not been met since July 2015, a shocking indictment of this Government’s record.
We must not underestimate the extent of the long-lasting damage that the intentional under-funding of the NHS has already had.
NHS staff and patients deserve so much more from a Government that puts the health and wellbeing of everyone first.
It is no longer good enough for the Government to provide piecemeal increases, whilst people wait for the care they need.
A Labour Government founded the NHS 70 years ago, and it will only be a Labour Government that will continue to fight for it and give our NHS the funding it rightly deserves.