Sharon Hodgson MP

Working hard for Washington and Sunderland West


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As Shadow Minister for Public Health, Sharon responded to a debate on the progress on the implementation of the Cancer Strategy for England. In her speech, Sharon raised the need to improve preventative measures, especially around smoking and obesity, which are seen as two of the most preventable contributors to cancer, and also issues around workforce capacity and capability. 

You can read Sharon's speech here: Sharon Hodgson MP Cancer Strategy Backbench Business Debate 08.12.16

Speech pasted below:

4.33 pm

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

Like all other hon. Members who have spoken, I welcome this very important debate, which was secured by the hon. Member for Basildon and Billericay (Mr Baron) and others. Although he is, uncharacteristically, not in his place, for very important reasons—we all send him and his wife our very best wishes—I want to place on the record that this House and, indeed, the whole country owe him a huge debt of gratitude for all that he does on the issue and for his sterling leadership as chair of the all-party parliamentary group on cancer in aiding our work in fighting this terrible disease.

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Scunthorpe (Nic Dakin), who opened the debate. Like me and several others, he is a chair of an all-party group on cancer; his group is on pancreatic cancer. He works tirelessly on this issue, and he chaired the “Britain against cancer” conference with aplomb this week. He set the scene today so well, and his knowledge and passion shone through.

I thank all hon. Members who have spoken in the debate: the hon. Member for Crawley (Henry Smith), my hon. Friend the Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick), the hon. Members for Bosworth (David Tredinnick), for Strangford (Jim Shannon) and for Castle Point (Rebecca Harris)—the hon. Lady is also the chair of a cancer all-party group—the hon. Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman) and my very good friend the hon. Member for Bury St Edmunds (Jo Churchill), who is also vice-chair of the all-party group on breast cancer, of which I am a co-chair. They all made excellent contributions, and each and every one has made some important points about where we need to go next with the cancer strategy.

Much of the debate has focused on the report published by the all-party group on cancer, which looked at the progress made in implementing the cancer strategy one year on from its publication. The report makes many valid points and recommendations, and I look forward to hearing from the Minister on the specifics mentioned in it. The strategy can go a long way towards helping some of the estimated 2.5 million people living with cancer and the people who are diagnosed each year with cancer. The strategy, if implemented in full, could save 30,000 more lives per year by 2020.

That should be paired with the deeply worrying news that broke at the beginning of November that more than 130,000 patients a year have not been receiving cancer treatment on time, because cancer patients did not see a cancer specialist within the required 14 days. In some areas, the problem was so severe that more than ​6,000 patients were forced to wait 104 days or more. In addition, our findings show that the Government met their 62-day target only once in the last 20 months. That should drive the Government to do more, and it is clear that we are seeing issues around the transformations already. That should not be knocked, and I am certainly not knocking it, but we must all continue to hold the Government to account where we can.

That is why in my contribution I want to touch on two areas: improvement in preventive measures that can help to reduce the occurrence of cancer, and the significant concerns that have recently been raised regarding the cancer workforce. We can all agree that prevention is key to addressing many health conditions, illnesses and diseases, and cancer is no different. As we have heard from several hon. Members in this debate, four in 10 cancers are preventable, and we should be doing much more to prevent cancers from developing, especially those that could have been prevented by lifestyle changes. Prevention was a central pillar of the cancer strategy, along with the five-year forward view.

The Minister is surely prepared for what I am going to say next, because I have said it to him often enough in my short time as the shadow Minister with responsibility for public health. It remains true, sadly. The false economy of cutting public health funding with no assessment of the ramifications of doing so on various aspects of our lives, or on other parts of the NHS and the wider health service, is seriously worrying. According to data collected by the Association of Directors of Public Health, smoking cessation services are expected to be reduced by 61% in 2016-17, with 5% of services completely decommissioned. For weight management support there will be a 52% reduction, with 12% being decommissioned. That is damning information when smoking and obesity are, as we have heard, two of the biggest preventable causes of cancer. We know that 100,000 people are dying each year from smoking-related diseases, including cancer.

It is right that the cancer strategy strongly recommended the introduction of a new tobacco control plan post haste and an ambitious plan for a smoke-free society by 2035, as has been outlined. We still have not seen the plan, despite being promised repeatedly over the last year that we would. I am sure that the Minister will give us further information on that in his response, and we all look forward to it. I hope that we see that plan sooner rather than later, and that hope has been echoed by several hon. Members from both sides of the House.

A continued delay will never be beneficial for our shared vision of a smoke-free society or for preventing cancer from happening. Another plan we have finally seen, although it has been considerably watered down, is the one for childhood obesity. After smoking, it is understood that obesity is the next biggest preventable cause of cancer. If we allow current trends to continue, there could be more than 670,000 additional cases of cancer by 2035. This completely goes against the vision set out in the cancer strategy. We saw some of the detail of the sugary drinks levy earlier this week, and it will be interesting to see how this develops in the months ahead, but I hope the Minister can outline a little bit more about what else he and his colleagues plan to do on obesity and its links to cancer.

As part of the cancer strategy, a review of the current workforce was called for so that we could fully understand the shortfalls—the areas of investment needed and the ​gaps in the training of new and existing NHS staff—and meet the ambitious and noble goals set out in the strategy. In my capacity as chair of the all-party group on ovarian cancer and co-chair of the all-party group on breast cancer, I along with colleagues from both sides of the House—some of them are in the Chamber, notably the hon. Member for Bury St Edmunds, who is a vice-chair of the all-party group on breast cancer—raised this at the beginning of the year with Health Education England, which is conducting the review. In our letter, we raised the need for immediate solutions to fill the specialist gaps in our cancer workforce, but also the need for a strategic, longer-term solution to be put in place.

The issue of the cancer workforce is an incredibly important one, especially given that Cancer Research UK warned over two weeks ago that pathology services in the UK were at a tipping point, and that the Royal College of Radiologists warned earlier in the year that 25% of NHS breast screening programmes were understaffed, with 13% of consultant breast radiologist posts left vacant, a figure that has doubled since 2010. That should spur on the Department to push ahead on the workforce issues that have been raised so often with Ministers.

Only this July, organisations such as Macmillan and Cancer Research UK joined with other organisations to call for a set of principles to be taken up by the Government, including a review of the current and future workforce. The Minister should also heed the words of Dr Harpal Kumar, who during an oral evidence session for the inquiry by the all-party group on cancer into progress on the implementation of the review, said that workforce issues remained “significant and severe”.

The ageing population, which means that more and more people could be diagnosed with cancer, and the much welcomed push to improve earlier diagnosis of cancer mean that pressures on the workforce will rise if the right support is not found, especially given the projection that 500,000 Britons will be diagnosed with cancer by 2035. That should remain at the forefront of the Minister’s mind, and in the minds of his officials and those who deal with workforce capacity.

It is clear that investment is failing to keep up with demand. That was raised in the cancer strategy, which called on NHS England to invest to unlock the extra capacity we need to meet the higher levels of cancer testing. The Opposition support the calls made only a few short months ago by the national cancer advisory group for NHS England’s cancer transformation board to prioritise a focus on the cancer workforce in the coming months. I hope the Minister will ensure that that happens, and that when we come back from the Christmas recess, we will start to see the much needed progress that has been called for.

In conclusion, the work that has started on the transformative programme is to be welcomed. It is a large task to undertake, yet the Government will not be allowed to sit back; I know that they and the Minister will not do so. It is up to all of us in this House, along with many people outside this place, to continue to do all we can to hold the Minister and the Government to account on what are such important and personal matters for all of us who have been affected by cancer, be it ​personally or through family and friends. We must all be critical friends in this drive to fight off cancer once and for all. We all agree that cancer should be at the top of our list of health priorities. It is so destructive, and, very sadly, it will affect us all in some way. We must ensure that we get this right, because we cannot afford to get it wrong.

Cancer Strategy Backbench Business Debate 08.12.16

As Shadow Minister for Public Health, Sharon responded to a debate on the progress on the implementation of the Cancer Strategy for England. In her speech, Sharon raised the need...

As part of her long-standing campaigns against ticket touting and on improving access to free school meals, Sharon spoke during the Report Stage of the Digital Economy Bill on two amendments, which would ban the misuse of bots when buying tickets and also on sharing data between local authorities and schools to improve the take-up of free school meals, which have been proven to be beneficial to a child's life. 

You can read Sharon's speech here: Sharon Hodgson MP Report Stage of the Digital Economy Bill 28.11.16

Speech pasted below:

I want to speak for my two or three minutes in support of new clause 19 and new clause 31. I welcome these two new clauses after my many years of campaigning to put fans first and to improve access to free school meals.

Hungry children struggle to learn in school, and they fall behind their peers. That is why it is important that we improve the provision that is on offer and the access to it, and new clause 19 will do just that. This policy proposal was first introduced by my right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Frank Field) as a ten-minute rule Bill earlier this year. I have fully supported this policy change, and I congratulate my hon. Friends on the Front Bench on bringing it forward. It is estimated that having a child on free school meals can save a family up to £400 a year. A school will net £1,320 a year for each child who is currently on free school meals or who has been in receipt of free school meals in the previous five years. The proposed changes are simple and have been tried and tested by Calderdale Council and Greenwich Council, which have both used data sharing to improve the take-up of free school meals and, in turn, pupil premium in their boroughs.

I want to speak briefly to new clause 31. I thoroughly welcome this new clause, which has been introduced by the hon. Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Damian Collins) on behalf of the Culture, Media and Sport Committee after its excellent short inquiry into bots and ticket touting a few weeks ago—I had the pleasure, as I said earlier, of witnessing it at first hand—following the amendment originally tabled by the hon. Member for Selby and Ainsty (Nigel Adams) and supported by the Labour Front-Bench team and me. The new clause would take us one step closer to sorting the market out, but it is not a silver bullet; far from it. Alongside the new clause, we need the enforcement of existing legislation, such as the Consumer Rights Act 2015, and the implementation of the Waterson review recommendations on the secondary ticketing market.

Over the years, like the Minister and the hon. Member for Selby and Ainsty, I have heard about examples—I have experienced it myself—of people trying to buy tickets but finding that they were already sold out, and within minutes finding those tickets up on the secondary market. I never relented; I refused to buy any tickets from touts, but one can only deduce that there is a serious issue about how the tickets get on to the secondary market so quickly. One way in which they do so is definitely through the use of bots. Fans are not getting a fair crack at getting tickets, just as the Minister and other Members have not had a fair crack at getting them.

In the past 18 months, there has been a massive escalation in the number of tickets harvested by the aggressive software used by touts, with these attacks becoming more and more sophisticated. Attacks appear to emanate from all over the world, but the majority of ​attacks on ticketing systems are orchestrated by UK-based and UK-resident touts. Some 30% to 50% of tickets for high-demand events are harvested by aggressive software and immediately placed for resale on viagogo, GetMeIn!, StubHub and Seatwave, despite the best efforts of the industry, which has tried to police itself and to bring in technical solutions. The industry has tried to sell tickets through fan clubs, but even those are attacked. Where tickets are sold by ballot, there are ballot bots. Where fan club registration is required, there are email-generating bots that flood systems with thousands of false identities. There is not one single way to offer tickets for sale to the public for which there is not already a bot out there that will attack the system.

The situation is deteriorating. Primary ticket sites have to detect an attack, examine the data, identify the software used, reverse engineer it and develop measures to prevent a further attack. That process can take months. In the meantime, a tout can simply pay a coder overseas a few hundred pounds to develop a new bot to circumvent the new security features. Bots can be coded to attack a specific ticketing system in as little as a day.

Although legislation is in place in the form of the Computer Misuse Act 1990, which has broad applications that could be used to address bots, it is 25 years old and it is yet to be tested in this regard. This is an arms race that the primary ticket sellers simply cannot win. The secondary market has already shown its blatant disregard of civil remedy legislation, such as the amendment to the Consumer Rights Act 2015, which is flouted daily. The only effective deterrent is a very clear criminal offence, with appropriate punishment on conviction, and that would be provided by new clause 31.

Report Stage of the Digital Economy Bill 28.11.16

As part of her long-standing campaigns against ticket touting and on improving access to free school meals, Sharon spoke during the Report Stage of the Digital Economy Bill on two...

In her capacity as Co-Chair of the APPG on Ticket Abuse, Sharon organised a cross-party group of MPs and Peers led by along with Nigel Adams MP, Chair of the Music APPG, and were joined with famous faces, such as Imogen Heap, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child producer Sonia Friedman, and Josh Franceschi of You Me At Six!. The photo call called on the Government to accept the “Ban the Bots” amendment during Report Stage of the Digital Economy Bill on the 28.11.16.


The photo call took place outside of Parliament, where MPs and Peers backed an amendment drafted by Nigel Adams MP, Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Music, and tabled on a cross-party basis by the entire Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee, and supported by Sharon Hodgson MP, Co-Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Ticket Abuse, and Tom Watson, Labour’s Culture Secretary and Labour’s Shadow Culture, Media and Sport team, which would ban the use of bots to buy tickets. The Culture, Media and Sport Committee’s move follows years of campaigning by Sharon and the APPG for Ticket Abuse to consider how to tackle different aspects of a multi-faceted issue.

The photo call also linked in with the #ToutsOut campaign by Fan Fair Alliance, who have been galvanising the industry to tackle ticket touting and ensure fans are put first in the market. 

This came off the back of a Parliamentary Petition which saw more than 83,000 people call for further transparency measures in the market to help empower fans and protect them from the unscrupulous actions of touts.

Following the photo call, Sharon, said:

“It was excellent to see our cross-party campaign to take another step forward after many years of campaigning on the many issues in the ticketing industry which are locking fans out of seeing their favourite artist, sports team or theatre show. The chorus of concerns from industry, fans and Parliamentarians a like is becoming hard for the Government to ignore. It’s time the Government acted.”

Sharon organises Ban the Bots & Touts Out cross-party photocall ahead of Report Stage of the Digital Economy Bill

In her capacity as Co-Chair of the APPG on Ticket Abuse, Sharon organised a cross-party group of MPs and Peers led by along with Nigel Adams MP, Chair of the...

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