Labour chief Jennie Formby has said a “heartfelt thank-you” to the NHS for saving her life as she made her first public appearance since falling ill with breast cancer.
The party’s general secretary announced in March that she had been diagnosed with the life-threatening illness and has been undergoing treatment, including chemotherapy.
Speaking at the party’s conference in Brighton on Saturday, Formby told delegates in America her treatment would have cost more than $100,000 (£80,000) as she claimed the NHS was “under existential threat” from a post-Brexit US-UK trade deal.
Adding she was “not quite there yet” in terms of her recovery, she said: “And I also want to say a heart-felt thank you to all the incredible nurses, doctors, health care assistants, support workers, theatre staff, lab techs, porters, cleaners, and every other NHS worker who has given me such outstanding care, as they do for so many every day.
“They’ve saved my life.”
She went on: “But we all know our NHS is under existential threat. The predators are circling and the privatisation we’ve already seen is nothing in comparison to the threat posed by a Johnson-Trump trade deal.
“In America, my cancer treatment would cost upwards of $100,000 dollars – and that’s without reconstruction. For far too many unable to afford health insurance, a cancer or other health diagnosis can be a death sentence.”
The senior party official also tried to address the tide of criticism levelled at the party its failure to address anti-Semitism among its ranks.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission is investigating the issue after repeated complaints of anti-Semitism were raised and is due to make an interim report before the end of the year.
Formby said her team was “working on developing further educational materials” to help members “understand and challenge racism in all its forms wherever it raises its ugly head”.
She then tried to turn the heat on Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who has faced repeated criticisms for comparing Muslim women to “letterboxes” and “bankrobbers” in a column for the Daily Telegraph.
She said: “We have the shame of an openly and unrepentant racist Prime Minister, presiding over a Conservative Party with many proven Islamophobes in their numbers, steadfastly refusing to care enough to take any action.
“But that doesn’t let us off the hook. We’re Labour and we’re better than that. We always have been and we won’t tolerate discrimination of any kind in our party.”
It comes as the Labour Party’s pre-snap election conference was overshadowed by rows over Brexit and whether to scrap Tom Watson’s role as deputy leader.
The party’s ruling National Executive Committee withdrew a motion tabled by Momentum founder Jon Lansmanto abolish the deputy role and a review has been pledged by Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.
But the row has reignited the party’s factional warfare as Corbyn faced a tide of questions over whether he knew about the move to delete Watson’s role.
Corbyn sidestepped the question when approached by reporters outside Brighton convention centre, but said: “The NEC agreed this morning that we are going to consult on the future of diversifying the deputy leadership position to reflect the diversity of our society.
“And the conference will move on to defeating austerity, to the green industrial revolution, green new deal that we are putting forward and giving the people a final say on Brexit.
“Our NEC left this morning in a happy and united mood.”