Sharon Hodgson MP

Working hard for Washington and Sunderland West.

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On the 18th October, Sharon attended a meeting - organised by Gloria De Piero MP - for Labour MPs from coalfield areas, the National Union of Minerworkers and trustees of the Mineworkers’ Pension Scheme and has hailed it as a success.

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The aim of the meeting was to discuss with the trustees of the pension scheme about if they would support a renegotiation of the pension’s surplus sharing arrangement, which currently sees the Government pocketing 50% of any surplus that the pension investments make.

The Government has made £3.4 billion directly from the Mineworkers’ Pension Scheme, but has not paid in a penny, and is still making £51million a year from the arrangement.

None of the surplus has been distributed out to the mineworkers in the pension scheme.

During the meeting, it was agreed that all would work together to present a case to the Treasury for a review of the surplus sharing arrangement scheme and protection of existing bonus payments for scheme members. The next step will be to collate the financial information needed so the case can be presented to Treasury ministers and officials.

Following the meeting, Sharon, said:

“It is shameful that the Government are pocketing so much of the surplus made from the mineworkers’ pension scheme, yet have not contributed in any way to the pot of money along with scheme members not benefitting from the surplus growth.

“This is a complete disregard for mineworkers and their families who rely upon this pension to support themselves and it is welcome that there is an agreement between Labour MPs, the NUM and the trustees of the pension scheme to make a strong case to ministers to review the current arrangements and end this injustice.” 

SHARON HAILS MEETING WITH MINER’S PENSION SCHEME A SUCCESS

On the 18th October, Sharon attended a meeting - organised by Gloria De Piero MP - for Labour MPs from coalfield areas, the National Union of Minerworkers and trustees of...

As Shadow Minister for Public Health, Sharon responded to a debate regarding the Valproate scandal and the cover up of the effects of this drug on pregnant women and their unborn children. In her speech, Sharon called for more to be done for the families affected through compensation, raising awareness and also conducting a public inquiry to get to the bottom of why this happened.

You can read the full debate here: Valproate Backbench Business Debate 19.10.17

You can read Sharon's speech pasted below.

Mrs Sharon Hodgson (Washington and Sunderland West) (Lab)

It really is an honour to be responding for the second time in this Chamber today on behalf of the Opposition.

First, I thank the right hon. Member for North Norfolk (Norman Lamb) for securing this very important debate. It really was much needed so that we could finally discuss in detail, and in the main Chamber, the issues around valproate and what the Government must do to address this injustice. He spoke with passion and obvious outrage on behalf of the thousands of women and children affected by this disgraceful scandal.

I, too, want to thank other hon. Members who have taken part in this debate, including the hon. Members for Congleton (Fiona Bruce) and for Eastleigh (Mims Davies), and my hon. Friends the Members for Newport West (Paul Flynn) and for Heywood and Middleton (Liz McInnes). My hon. Friend the Member for Bury North (James Frith) gave an extremely moving account of how the drug helped him as a young boy, making the point that, when used correctly, it can be a very good drug. We also heard contributions from the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon), my hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster and Fleetwood (Cat Smith) and the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire (Dr Whitford) who speaks for the Scottish National party. It has been a very good debate.

As we have heard, the issues of valproate and its effects on foetuses are not new. In fact, they span a significant number of years, going as far back as the 1970s and 1980s when the first cases of the effects of valproate were documented. Even recent scientific research has shown that valproate can have an impact on a child’s life, including a study finding that 10% of children exposed to valproate will be born with a major congenital malformation, with 29% requiring additional educational support and 6% being diagnosed with significant social communication difficulties, such as autism.

Although there has been some movement on making women aware of the risks of valproate during pregnancy through the valproate toolkit, there is still far more that should and must be done to support these women and their children who have been so seriously affected by this injustice. The scope of this issue is serious. Data from 2010 show that more than 21,500 women were prescribed valproate. Although not all those women will have become pregnant, or planned to become pregnant, it is worrying that, following the toolkit’s publication, there is still not enough awareness of the risks, with 85% of patients not receiving the booklet and 90% not receiving the pharmacist’s card. It is important that the Minister looks into this matter urgently and ensures that awareness is increased to help to address the lack of knowledge. That could save so many innocent lives from being irreparably damaged.

As part of that, will the Minister be minded to agree that the NHS should make it mandatory for every clinician prescribing sodium valproate to a woman or girl of childbearing age to have a conversation with her about risks during pregnancy, upon first prescribing the drug and at least yearly, before her prescription is renewed?​

Over the decades there have been countless opportunities for this drug to be investigated, especially when evidence from the 1980s grew. Yet the various regulatory bodies for medicines have failed to keep their eyes on it as an issue worthy of investigation, with only fleeting references in position papers and reports, and nothing substantial. This is why it is welcome that the European Medicines Agency, in one of its first public inquiries, on 26 September 2017 called together patients, carers, doctors, pharmacists and academics to look into the matter further. It will be interesting to see the outcomes of its investigation when it concludes.

We have a duty to set the mistakes or oversights of previous Governments right, which is why we are here today—to seek justice for the victims of sodium valproate in pregnancy and their families. The Opposition welcome calls for the Government to look into how they can compensate the families who have been so significantly affected.

It must be noted that, as others have said, the drug is an effective treatment. For many it may be the only drug that works for them. Nevertheless, there is a systematic failure to inform women of the dangers of taking valproate. If expectant mothers had had the risks laid out clearly for them, many children would not have been harmed, and I hazard a guess that we would not be debating this issue today.

For those reasons Labour promised, in our election manifesto earlier this year, that we would look into this further by holding a public inquiry if we won the general election. We now make a plea to the Government. The evidence collected by In-FACT shows that despite the Government, pharmaceutical companies and regulatory bodies knowing about the risks for 40 years, that knowledge was withheld from women, which meant they were unable to make informed decisions about their drug treatment during pregnancy. I must ask the Minister: why have we not got to the bottom of this injustice, and is it not about time that we did?

A lot of the issues that we must understand and investigate are historic, yet for some they are still very prominent in their present. Many families are living with the repercussions of not being given the relevant information.

Hon. Members may have watched “Victoria Derbyshire” in recent months, on which valproate has been discussed, including last month when Deborah Mann, who took valproate during her pregnancy, discussed how the drug had affected her daughter, Branwen. Deborah had been given a dose of valproate of 5,000 mg, five times higher than the recommended daily dose of 1,000 mg. Any dose above 1,000 mg is considered to have the largest level of risk. Branwen has had to wear splints every day since she was a little girl. She is in chronic pain every day. She has migraines and problems with her brain and eyes. At just 22, Branwen has been told that she could go blind, have a stroke or even die at any moment.

I recently met the inspirational Janet Williams and Emma Murphy, who a number of hon. Members on both sides of the House have paid tribute to. I now realise that they are in the Public Gallery. They set up In-FACT in November 2012 after two of Janet’s children and five of Emma’s children were diagnosed with foetal anticonvulsant syndrome. We heard in detail from the hon. Member for Congleton the extent of the appalling damage to Emma and Janet’s precious children, and all ​of it was preventable. Both Janet and Emma campaign tirelessly after being told—in the case of Emma, time after time after time—that these drugs were safe to take in pregnancy. These women did ask the obvious questions when the truth was already well known, and they were still told that these drugs were safe to take while they were pregnant. Can hon. Members imagine how that feels? As a mum, I would be absolutely furious—we all would. I would want answers. I would want justice, and so do Janet and Emma.

It is approximated that, since 1973, 7,000 children have been harmed by exposure to valproate. No doubt there will be many other families who have failed to conceive or who have had stillbirths or miscarriages—all because of this drug. That is why we must get answers, but it is also why we must look at what compensation we can give these families because of the failure of the NHS to protect and support them. The idea of compensation has been established by our neighbours across the channel, where the French Parliament has recognised the true scale of this injustice and established a fund worth €10 million to support the victims of valproate and their families.

Opposition Members believe that mistakes should be recognised, addressed and accordingly compensated for. We also believe that burying our heads in the sand and ignoring the demands of the victims goes against the nature of justice and righting the many wrongs of the past. These families must be supported and allowed to have a full investigation into the failures and damage they have had inflicted on them.

The Minister cannot ignore the scale of this tragedy and the numbers of people who have had their lives so adversely affected not through any fault of their own, but due to medication they were prescribed by the NHS. We are here today to ensure that the Government wake up to the enormity of this scandal and take immediate action.

More must be done to make women aware of the risks of taking valproate during pregnancy, and to ensure that the injustice that has gone on for far too long is righted, with answers found and support provided to these families, who have seen their lives turned upside down because of what can only be described as a cover-up. The Minister should and must listen to what has been said today. I hope he will assure the House that he has constructively listened and that he will start the process of righting this pernicious wrong by holding a full public inquiry and properly supporting these families. They need, want and deserve justice. They should, at long last, receive nothing less.

Valproate Backbench Business Debate 19.10.17

As Shadow Minister for Public Health, Sharon responded to a debate regarding the Valproate scandal and the cover up of the effects of this drug on pregnant women and their...

As Shadow Minister for Public Health, Sharon responded on behalf of the Opposition to a debate called following the publication of the Tobacco Control Plan earlier in the year. Sharon outlined Labour's support for measures in the Plan but raised concerns about how the cuts to public health budgets may hinder the Plan's goals. 

You can read the full debate here: Tobacco Control Plan Backbench Business Debate 19.10.17

You can read Sharon's speech pasted below.

Mrs Sharon Hodgson (Washington and Sunderland West) (Lab)

I thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Rother Valley (Sir Kevin Barron) for securing the debate. He is a long-standing campaigner on the issue of tobacco and its effects on society, and it is good to see that he is continuing his campaign. He made an insightful and thought-provoking contribution.

I also thank other Members who have made excellent speeches on this important issue, including the hon. Member for Chippenham (Michelle Donelan), my hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich (Sandy Martin), the hon. Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman), my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton South (Dr Williams), the hon. Member for Colchester (Will Quince), my hon. Friend the Member for North Tyneside (Mary Glindon), and the hon. Members for Witney (Robert Courts), for Eastleigh (Mims Davies) and for Stirling (Stephen Kerr).

I welcome the fact that the debate is taking place during Stoptober. It is nearly a year since our last debate on the tobacco control plan, which—this may interest some Members—marked my first outing as shadow Minister for public health. While the Minister I shadow has now changed—it is now the hon. Member for Winchester (Steve Brine)—the most significant change since our last debate is that, thanks to him, we finally have a new, updated tobacco control plan, which we were all very pleased to see. It is welcome that, after a long-drawn-out 18-month delay, we now have a plan that will take us a step further towards creating a smoke-free society.

Labour Members have welcomed the plan and its ambitious and noble goals, but we remain concerned about how it will be effectively implemented and achieved, especially given the short-sighted cuts in public health budgets, which my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton South highlighted knowledgeably in his excellent speech. As we know, the previous plan was extremely successful and reduced smoking rates from 20.2% to 15.5% but, as we have heard from every speaker today, it remains the case that smoking is still a serious issue in our society in terms of both its financial and human cost. Smoking and its related health problems cost our already financially strapped NHS more than £2.5 billion each year. If we were to seriously address smoking in society, we could ​reduce that financial cost and direct the money towards improving our NHS and ensuring that we have a healthy society.

It is estimated that 200 people a day die from smoking-related illnesses. In 2015, 79,100 people aged just 35 or over died because of smoking. It is not just adults who are affected, but babies and children. In 2010, as a result of pregnant women smoking, 19,000 babies were born with a low birth weight and an increased chance of taking up smoking later in their lives. As we heard in the excellent speech made by the hon. Member for Colchester, last week was Baby Loss Awareness Week. The hon. Gentleman is co-chair of the all-party parliamentary group on baby loss, of which I am proud to be an officer. It is estimated that up to 5,000 miscarriages, 300 perinatal deaths and around 2,200 premature births each year are attributed to smoking during pregnancy. Those saddening and distressing figures show exactly why we are here today to debate this issue and to ensure that the tobacco control plan is as effective as possible so that we can achieve a smoke-free society, and, in particular, support women during pregnancy.

We also know that smoking rates remain persistently high, especially among people with mental health issues, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Rother Valley mentioned. The plan sets out various recommendations relating to mental health, including improving support for smokers with mental health conditions and training for mental health staff to help to reduce smoking among that group, but I should like to hear from the Minister exactly what measures have been taken on the basis of those recommendations.

It is equally worrying that, as a number of Members have pointed out, the level of smoking remains high among those who are unemployed or members of lower socioeconomic groups, especially given the estimate that tobacco was 27% less affordable in 2016 than it was in 2006. There are a host of reasons for that, including the tax on tobacco products. I agree with the hon. Member for Chippenham that we should never seek to reduce that tax, for all the reasons that she gave, but it is deeply worrying that those groups, for whom poverty is rife, are not being sufficiently helped to quit smoking. During last year’s debate, I quoted figures that showed that if smoking were reduced among those living in poverty and the costs of smoking to them were reinvested, we could make serious progress towards the eradication of poverty. Will the Minister give us an idea of what consideration he has given to the idea that reducing smoking could be a vehicle for ending poverty in society?

There is a clear drive in the plan for action on smoking cessation to be taken at a more local level. We do not disagree with that; in fact, we welcome it. We all agree that a “one size fits all” approach does not work, because of the geographical variations when it comes to smoking in our society. In my own region of the north-east of England, smoking rates are 25% higher than those in the south-west, and it is therefore unsurprising that the prevalence of lung cancer in the north-east is close to double that in the south-west. This is why it is important for us to do more at a local level to reduce smoking. However, I must urge the Minister—I know that he takes these matters very seriously—to bear in mind that “localising” action does not mean abdicating responsibility at a national level.​

The Prime Minister’s driving mission on the steps of Downing Street in the summer of 2016 was to call out the burning injustices of inequality in our society, but we have yet to see that come to fruition—as we know, the Prime Minister has been a bit busy with Brexit. I know that the Minister is also passionate about the burning injustice of health inequality, because we have worked together on many health issues over the years. I know that he understands the importance of improving public health as a mechanism of prevention, and reducing the burden on our NHS by addressing the issues at source. However, the Department in which he is now a Minister has overseen some of the deepest cuts in public health services in recent years. I am sure the Minister knows the figures for these significant cuts, but for the benefit of the House, I will quote statistics used by the Royal Society for Public Health, meaning that I know they are accurate. It says that the total cuts mean that there will be £800 million less in public health budgets between now and 2020-21, which must have a significant impact on smoking cessation rates.

A study conducted by Action on Smoking and Health and funded by Cancer Research UK found serious budget cuts to smoking cessation services, with a growing number of authorities admitting they no longer have a specialist stop smoking service that is accessible to all smokers. This must be paired with the damaging analysis of Department for Communities and Local Government figures on local government spending by the King’s Fund, which found that wider tobacco control faced cuts of more than 30%. If the tobacco control plan is to be truly successful, as I know the Minister wishes, it cannot be pushed for in isolation from the cuts to public health budgets. The two are inextricably linked and cannot be dealt with in silos.

The Minister must go away and look into this matter and the effect it will have on the outcome set out in the TCP. Now that we have a blueprint in front of us, which we are all grateful for, it is time to ensure it is achieved completely—not partially and not just in bits, but completely.

The Minister has been given much to think about during this excellent debate, and I hope that, in his relatively new role, he will be the champion needed to improve smoking cessation and reduce the prevalence of smoking in our society. Now is the time not for simple, warm words, but rather for concrete, defining action that drives forward this agenda.

There are many actions to take, but I know the Minister has a true passion for health improvement and prevention. He cannot allow the power he now has at his fingertips to be squandered when it comes to implementing this plan. I say again that the plan, as good as it is, cannot be seen in isolation from other Government actions and policies. Ensuring that the right funding is in place to fulfil the plan’s vision and ending the disastrous cuts to public health budgets is the only way we can truly see the plan’s vision realised.

Tobacco Control Plan Backbench Business Debate 19.10.17

As Shadow Minister for Public Health, Sharon responded on behalf of the Opposition to a debate called following the publication of the Tobacco Control Plan earlier in the year. Sharon...


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