Sharon Hodgson MP

Working hard for Washington and Sunderland West.

News Highlights

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.

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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...

On the 18th October, Sharon joined with emergency workers - from the police, the fire service, ambulance and medical professions – to support the calls for those who protect us to be protected.

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According to data from the Home Office, there were 23,000 assaults on police officers in 2016 alone – roughly 450 a week or an officer being assaulted every 22 minutes. A Police Federation welfare survey published earlier this year estimated there were nearly 6,000 assaults every day – an assault every 13 seconds, with the average police officer being assaulted 19 times a year.

NHS figures show 70,000 recorded assaults on NHS staff in England in 2016 – an increase from nearly 68,000 in 2015 and 60,000 in 2004. Figures obtained from a Freedom of Information request found that fire crews across the UK faced assaults more than ten times every week on average.  

Sharon's support for our emergency workers comes ahead of Chris Bryant MP’s Private Members Bill (to be debated in Parliament on the 20th October) to create a new aggravated offence of assaulting an emergency worker. This builds on Labour’s manifesto promise in 2017 to “make it an aggravated criminal offence to attack NHS staff.”

The Bill would make offences, such as malicious wounding, grievous or actual bodily harm and common assault aggravated when perpetrated against a constable, firefighter, paramedic, nurse or people assisting these professions in the execution of their duties. The Bill would also require assailants who have spat at emergency workers to undergo blood/saliva tests.

Ahead of the debate, Sharon said:

“Our emergency workers do an amazing job to protect us by running towards danger and doing all that they can to keep us safe. It is only right that we protect those who are protecting us every day and night.

“It is shocking that men and women doing their jobs and ultimately keeping us safe are facing assault whilst on the job, with growing reports of assault and attacks in recent years. It is time that we did more to protect the protectors and I am proud to support Chris Bryant MP’s Private Members Bill on this issue.”

SHARON SUPPORTS PROTECT THE PROTECTORS CAMPAIGN

On the 18th October, Sharon joined with emergency workers - from the police, the fire service, ambulance and medical professions – to support the calls for those who protect us...

As Shadow Minister for Public Health, Sharon responded on behalf of the Opposition to a debate on the impact of vaginal mesh secured by Emma Hardy MP. In the debate, Sharon called for a pause on the use of the product whilst NICE update their guidance and for a public inquiry into the issue to fully understand the scale of what has happened and the women affected. 

You can read the full debate here in Hansard: Vaginal Mesh Westminster Hall Debate 18.10.17

You can read Sharon's contribution to the debate below.

10.40 am

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

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Owen. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle (Emma Hardy) for securing this very important debate and for her excellent contribution. The Opposition fully support her four asks of the Government.

I commend all other speakers for their thoughtful and passionate contributions, and I thank their constituents who allowed their experiences to be shared with us. I especially want to thank Kath Sansom, who leads the Sling the Mesh campaign, for all her hard work in uniting the women affected by vaginal mesh implants and for raising awareness of the tragic impact that mesh implants have had on so many lives. I also thank other hon. Members who have spoken out about this issue for such a long time—in particular, my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypridd (Owen Smith), who spoke with such knowledge and passion. It was vital that he took part in this debate, and I thank him for everything he has done on the issue.

The experiences we have heard about today are incredibly distressing. I have the utmost sympathy for those suffering because of mesh implants. We are here to stand up for those women, and we seek answers and Government action on their behalf.

Let us start at the beginning, when women are told that the best course of action is to have a mesh implant. They are told that the procedure is quick and cheap, but, as we have heard, the low financial cost of the implants is far outweighed by the huge human cost to those women for the rest of their lives.

The NHS and the MHRA say that the risk of complications is low, at 1% to 3%, but a report by nine leading medics put the risk much higher, at 15%. If leading bodies and medical professionals cannot agree, how can patients be expected to make informed decisions? Health professionals are supposed to outline clearly and explicitly the risks of any operation that a patient is asked to undergo to ensure they can weigh up the risks and benefits for themselves.

As we have heard, the mesh implants are made of the same material as some drinks bottles. They can shrink, twist and curl at the edges. The material can degrade, cut through internal tissues, poke through the vaginal wall and stick to organs, causing pain, incontinence, urinary infections and a loss of sex life. Marriages have been destroyed and people have been left unable to walk, work or even to pick up their young children. Knowing those risks, how many in this Chamber would consent to a mesh implant? It is time to take women’s health and wellbeing seriously. They need to be listened to. Their voices need to be heard and their concerns believed so we can put right this injustice and prevent it from going on any longer.

Since this debate was announced, I have been inundated with emails and tweets telling harrowing stories of how women have been affected by vaginal mesh implants. I am sure everyone in the Chamber has received the same sort of emails. Just last night—very late in the day—I received an email from Sling the Mesh with an attachment containing 210 emails out of the 400 it received following the Minister’s answer to my question during Health questions last week, when she said there is not enough evidence to ban the mesh. Those emails are packed with evidence, and I am very happy to pass them on to the Minister. They all detail how the implants have been life-changing, but unfortunately not for the better.

Julie has had to give up her job as a paramedic, and is now trapped in a world of pain and medication. Kath has lost her passion for mountain biking because it is now impossible to get on the bike. Suzi says that her pain consumes her every day.

Another woman, Tina, also shared her experiences. For four years, she went to her GP and accident and emergency several times with excruciating pain, and was sent from pillar to post. She was told that the pain was due to irritable bowel syndrome, painful bladder syndrome and a slipped disc, and that the mesh implant was absolutely not the problem. After four years of searching for answers, she went private and spoke to a surgeon who finally believed her pleas about her pain and partially removed the mesh. She says that her recovery has been successful and she is no longer in pain, which is excellent, but four years is such a long time to lose. We know that many, many women are unable to go private to end their trauma, but they should not have to do so.

After this debate, there is a lobby of mesh-injured women, which I encourage the Minister to attend. We will be joined by Dr Robert Bendavid, who has flown in overnight from Canada. That shows that this really is a worldwide scandal. Many countries, including our own, are just waking up to the horrors of vaginal mesh. In Australia the Senate is holding an inquiry, and in the US vaginal mesh has been considered a high-risk device for nearly a decade. As we heard, vaginal mesh has been suspended in Scotland since 2014, yet across the border the Government have rejected a ban in England and have failed to empathise with the approximately 8,000 women who have been admitted to hospital with a mesh complication. That is not surprising, considering that just 1,000 mesh admissions have been reported to the MHRA as a mesh-related issue. Surgeons are clearly reluctant to report that mesh is the issue, which lets their patients down and distresses them further.

Our next concern is what the Government are going to do to support women who have had to leave because of the effect of vaginal mesh. Most GPs do not attribute the pain to the mesh, so it is very difficult for those women to claim personal independence payments, disability living allowance or any other benefits. They have to rely on their families’ finances, which is incredibly frustrating and distressing to the victims, especially those whose families are unable to support them. We must also consider the women who are suffering in silence and have not come forward yet because of the intimate nature of the issue. After hearing of the experiences of others, some women may be embarrassed or just too scared to come forward for fear of being dismissed as a hysterical woman.

At Health questions last week, the Minister said that a NICE update on vaginal mesh implants is expected at the beginning of next year—my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypridd also mentioned that—but that is too little, too late for the approximately 200 women who will get a vaginal mesh implant on the NHS between now and then and the thousands of women who have already been affected. One of my constituents reached out to me to say that she is worried because she is due to have that surgery soon, and she asked for my advice. Obviously, we cannot give medical advice, so I told her to watch this debate and speak to a surgeon. If there is a chance that a car or an aircraft could cause harm, it would be immediately recalled while the problem was investigated. Why does the precautionary principle not also apply when the health and wellbeing of thousands of women is in jeopardy?

Last week, the Minister said there was not enough evidence to warrant asking the MHRA to reclassify these procedures, but there was so little evidence to justify beginning them in the first place. What exactly is she waiting for? Given what we have heard today, I hope she will recognise the urgent need for action on this issue and justice for those women. I hope she will take these calls back to the Department of Health and ensure that no more women are subject to the risks of vaginal mesh implants. That is why the Opposition are calling for an urgent public inquiry into the number of women adversely affected by vaginal mesh implants and into why the safety of so many women was disregarded. We urge NHS England and NICE to act immediately to update the guidance and suspend the use of vaginal mesh today. It is our duty to ensure that the failings are understood and corrected so that they never happen again. That should be a matter of urgency for the Minister and the Government, and I trust she will respond positively to these calls.

Vaginal Mesh Westminster Hall Debate 18.10.17

As Shadow Minister for Public Health, Sharon responded on behalf of the Opposition to a debate on the impact of vaginal mesh secured by Emma Hardy MP. In the debate,...

Sharon has dressed in pink to lend her support to Breast Cancer Now’s flagship fundraiser, wear it pink, which will see thousands of people across the UK adding a splash of pink to their outfits on Friday 20th October and raise vital funds for breast cancer research.

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Sharon is encouraging her constituents to join her, and sign up to take part in the UK’s biggest pink fundraiser. The event, which takes place during October’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month, is in its 16th year and has raised over £30 million to date for Breast Cancer Now’s life-saving research.

Sharon was joined by fellow parliamentarians in Westminster earlier this month and showed her support for the thousands of women and men affected by breast cancer each year, encouraging people across the UK to take part on wear it pink day.

Sharon said:

“Breast cancer is the most common cancer in the UK. One in eight women will face it in their life time, and every year around 11,500 women and 80 men lose their lives to the disease.

“Breast cancer affects so many people in Washington and Sunderland West, and I know from my own experience how heart breaking that can be.

“That is why, as the Co-Chair of the APPG on Breast Cancer and as a local MP, I support Breast Cancer Now’s Wear it Pink day and all the important work Breast Cancer Now does throughout the year to help stop breast cancer taking the lives of those we love.

“Wear it Pink day is a fun and easy way to raise awareness and money for vital breast cancer research.”

To find out more about Wear It Pink, you can go to Breast Cancer Now's website here.

Sharon wears it pink for breast cancer fundraiser

Sharon has dressed in pink to lend her support to Breast Cancer Now’s flagship fundraiser, wear it pink, which will see thousands of people across the UK adding a splash...

On the 17th October, the Boundary Commission published their revised proposals for the boundary changes and have announced that they will be proposing that the constituency of Washington and Sunderland West remains intact, with the addition of the Sandhill ward.

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Since the initial proposals, Sharon has campaigned for the five wards in Washington to remain within one constituency and for the town to have recognition in the name of a Parliamentary constituency.

This included presenting to the Boundary Commission in Newcastle on the 14th November 2016, where Sharon was the only MP from Tyne and Wear making a representation and the only elected official calling for the town to be kept within one constituency. She called on the Commission to rethink their proposal, citing emails from constituents who felt passionately about maintaining the Parliamentary representation they have had since 2010 when the town was united into one constituency.

Reacting to the Commission’s revised proposals, Sharon Hodgson MP, said:

“The new boundary proposals set out in the Boundary Commission’s revised proposals are fantastic and I am delighted that the campaigning by myself and many Washington residents has proven worthwhile and seen the town’s importance recognised by the Boundary Review, after their shocking decision to split the town across three constituencies.

“At the time, it was deeply disappointing to see this important town’s Parliamentary representation watered down, including no name recognition in any of the three proposed constituencies. The people of Washington are very proud of their area and it is important that their concerns were raised; that is why I went to the Commission’s public meeting last November and called for the town to remain united within one constituency.

“The new changes now keep the Washington and Sunderland West constituency completely intact, with the inclusion of the Sandhill area of Sunderland, and maintains the long and proud heritage of the two areas. These are still only proposals, that is why it is important that residents of Washington and Sunderland West make their support for this plan known to the Commission so that they do not change their minds during the final stages of the review.”

 

Sharon welcomes revised Parliamentary Boundary Changes for Washington and Sunderland West

On the 17th October, the Boundary Commission published their revised proposals for the boundary changes and have announced that they will be proposing that the constituency of Washington and Sunderland...

This week saw the commemoration of Baby Loss Awareness Week (9th October – 15th October) with many events in Parliament.

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As part of the week, Sharon attended the Baby Loss APPG reception where MPs heard many accounts from families affected by baby loss, including Emma who gave a heartfelt account of losing her baby, Oscar, which nobody will forget. This was as well as attending the General Debate on Baby Loss and the remembrance service in the Chapel of St Mary of Undercroft.

Many families will be affected by the loss of a baby and it is important that bereavement support is on offer to families to cope with such a loss at whatever stage it occurs from very early pregnancy through perinatal to neonatal and beyond; this was the theme of this year’s awareness week.

The week provides people with the chance to raise awareness of issues around pregnancy and baby loss in the UK and is a collaboration between more than 40 charities.

Following the week’s events, Sharon said:

“As someone who has experienced the loss of a baby, this is an issue very close to my heart and it is important for MPs to work together to raise awareness of such issues, especially ones which can prove difficult to talk about to show that people are not alone in coping with the sad loss of a baby.  I was proud to once again show my support and I thank everyone who made it such a special and memorable week.”

To find out more about Baby Loss Awareness Week, you can visit the Baby Loss Awareness Week website here: https://babyloss-awareness.org/

There will also be a global wave of light at 7pm on the 15th October (which coincides with International Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day), where people will share a photo of a lit candle on social media and take a moment to remember. You can read more about this by following this link: https://babyloss-awareness.org/get-involved/#wave-light 

SHARON SUPPORTS BABY LOSS AWARENESS WEEK

This week saw the commemoration of Baby Loss Awareness Week (9th October – 15th October) with many events in Parliament. As part of the week, Sharon attended the Baby Loss...

Sharon Hodgson MP's report - Sep-Oct 2017 number 97

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Click on the picture above to read Sharon Hodgson MP's report - News from Westminster - Sep-Oct 2017 number 97

Sharon Hodgson MPs report Sep-Oct 2017 number 97

Sharon Hodgson MP's report - Sep-Oct 2017 number 97 Click on the picture above to read Sharon Hodgson MP's report - News from Westminster - Sep-Oct 2017 number 97 Read more

After forwarding residents' concerns on to the City Council, here is the response, posted here by way of an update.  This is the latest reply as at 02/10/2017.

Click on the image below to download it.

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Update - Response from Sunderland Council on proposed Rolton Kilbride gasification plant in Washington

After forwarding residents' concerns on to the City Council, here is the response, posted here by way of an update.  This is the latest reply as at 02/10/2017. Click on... Read more

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At the 2017 Labour Party Conference in Brighton, Sharon was invited to speak at a fringe event hosted by the Socialist Health Association to discuss Labour Party policy on public health and also the importance of addressing the social determinants of health. 

You can read Sharon's speech below. 

CHECK AGAINST DELIVERY

Thank you.

It is wonderful to be with you today to discuss an important issue: public health.

Labour has always believed in the importance of championing our public health needs, staff and services.

It is without a shadow of a doubt that health is a crucial area of policy for any government, and especially when the future of our public services are an important issue for many people.

Health, therefore, should be given the prominence it deserves, as it affects all of our lives.

It must be a top priority of any government to not only improve the health of our nation, so that we can be more productive in our working and social lives, but also ensure that our NHS is fighting fit for the future.

Labour – as a government-in-waiting – are prepared for this task.

Yet, it is safe to say, that the NHS as it stands now is not as fighting fit as it should be due to continued Tory negligence. Jeremy Hunt likes to snipe back that this is Labour talking down the NHS, but the reality of the situation is we are fighting to defend it from his attacks.

The saying remains true: you can never trust the Tories with our NHS.

That is why over the last year, Labour’s Shadow Health team – led by Jonathan Ashworth – have held the Tories feet to the fire and held them accountable for their actions, or inaction, when it comes to the NHS – we are not letting them get away with anything!

Labour founded the NHS, and it is Labour who will save the NHS. We will never allow it to be treat as second best. It is far too precious to allow that to happen.

These pressures we talk about were laid bare in NHS England’s Five Year Forward View Refresh, published in March, which showed the true scale of the challenges facing the health service.

Whilst on the face of it there were welcome measures, it was clear if you read between the lines, that the Government have failed to give the NHS the funding it needs but also deserves.

This is especially true when it comes to public health, which we saw fall from being the third top priority in the vision to being slotted into the NHS 10-point Efficiency Plan.

Whilst public health can save the NHS and other health services a lot of money and time, it should not solely be about cost-savings but should be the driver that supports us all to live healthier lives.

This means championing better public health in our country which focuses on tackling the entrenched health inequalities we see in society, with the permeation of ill-health seen in our communities and ensuring our NHS is fighting fit going into the future.

This last point is something I touched upon when I spoke to the North East’s branch of the Socialist Health Association in January of this year; where I criticised the flopped “radical upgrade in prevention and public health” promised in NHS England’s Five Year Forward View.

It was clear in January, just as it is clear now, that whilst we are seeing initiatives to improve public health, they are not going far enough – which is deeply concerning.

This is what I call the “public health crisis”. What we have is the crisis in our NHS, manufactured by the Tories, which is having a knock-on effect on public health, as it leaves little space to invest money or time.

This negligence of public health is all down to a lack of political will to step up to the plate and act on determinants of poor health, but the short-sighted cuts we are seeing too.

The scale and impact of these cuts were identified earlier this year, when the King’s Fund analysed DCLG data on local authority public health spending, following the settled landscape of all the reforms and shifting of responsibilities since 2013.

And the prognosis was not good.

The King’s Fund identified the biggest losers in percentage terms were sexual health promotion and prevention, and wider tobacco control; both of which face eye-watering cuts of more than 30 percent.

The conclusion of the analysis was damning to say the very least: “… there is little doubt that we are now entering the realm of real reductions in public health services. This is a direct result of the reduced priority that central government gives to public health.”

This is creating a perfect storm that future generations will have to weather. Irresponsibility of the highest form of this Government.

It is our moral duty not to put off dealing with public health issues until a later date. One, because it causes problems for future generations and two, it can have serious ramifications for our NHS.

It is a belief of mine – and one I know others in the room will share – that we must deal with issues at the source rather than further down-stream.

That is why it is important that Labour, working in tandem with the Socialist Health Association and others, promotes a better vision for public health.

At the snap General Election, Labour offered a visionary and forward-thinking approach to public health, which renewed our commitment as a Party to keep people fit and well.

Much of what we focused on was to do with children and our promise to make Britain’s children the healthiest in the world – an ambition I have championed ever since becoming an MP.

Though we focused on children – this does not mean what we were proposing would not have health benefits for adults, as our policies would have created healthier environments for everyone.

Our main pledge focused around clamping down on management consultancy costs in the NHS, which would recoup £250 million into the Treasury coffers and would be earmarked to fund our Child Health Fund, whilst we passed a Child Health Bill in Parliament.

Both of these initiatives would provide us with the legislative capacity to ensure all departments inputted into a cross-departmental childhood obesity strategy to ensure every action taken by Government took into consideration the health of future generations, the Child Health Fund would help: it would implement the strategy, grow our public health workforce; support local authorities with health promotion; and, administer our Index of Child Health – to measure progress on four key indicators of children’s health: obesity, dental health, mental health and early years.

Yet, we didn’t stop there, we made clear that we would go further than the Tories’ dismal Childhood Obesity Plan and implement a ban on adverts promoting unhealthy food during primetime television – such as X Factor or Britain’s Got Talent – which is estimated to reduce children’s viewing of junk food advertising by 82%.

We also set out that we would ring-fence public health budgets to protect services into the future, instead of seeing them wither on the vine as we have seen under the Tories.  

Though at present we are not in government to implement these ideas, this does not mean that we are taking child health of our radar. Far from it.

As Jonathan announced at the beginning of the summer, Labour will be establishing a Child Health Forum, so we can work with experts to design a programme we can implement in Government so we can be proud of our record on improving children’s health.

And I hope as many of you will help feed into this on-going work and contact Jon.

But it is not just children’s health we must improve, it is everyone’s health.

Improving the health of our country is a matter of social justice – one of the core principles of the Labour Party.

Health inequality is an issue which we must continually work on to get right. Complacency should never be accepted as the norm when it comes to the health of our society.

That is why we must do all that we can to address health inequality.

We all know the conclusion of the facts around health inequality: people in more deprived areas of the country do not live as long or with as good health, compared to those in more affluent areas.

This is health inequality in its most brutal form.

This was why Sir Michael Marmot was right to say in his 2010 report that there is a social gradient in health: the lower a person’s social position, the worse his or her health will be.

Sadly, this is something we have yet to see materialise in public health policy, with report after report arguing that we have not made serious inroads into health inequalities.

That is why we must have a renewed campaign to address the social injustices of ill-health. We must do more.

This is a stark realisation when only a couple of weeks ago, Sir Michael Marmot made an important, and eloquent, intervention into the discourse around health inequalities.

He said: “the UK is becoming the sick men and women of Europe.”

In his letter to the Times, Marmot identified that from 2011 to 2015, the increase in life expectancy was the slowest in Europe amongst women and the second slowest amongst men. This is worrying when from 1920 to 2010, life expectancy rose from 55 to 78 for men and 59 to 82 for women; roughly a one-year rise every four years.

Yet, in such a short period of time, we have seen the work of previous governments stalled by the current government, who as we know have not taken the health of our country seriously.

We know exactly why this is: this is down to the government’s choices around austerity.

As I previously mentioned, we have seen public health services slashed, an NHS facing unprecedented pressures, social care and education crippled and people’s living standards weakened.

Each of these have serious ramifications on our health.

Marmot may have been more reserved in his suggestions about the impact of austerity, but we all know it has been a significant factor to the increase in poor health in our society.

How can it be right in the 21st century for a child to be born into a family living on a poor council estate and grow up with completely different life chances and health outcomes than a child born to a more affluent family.

If this does not raise concern, then what will?

Social justice and equal opportunity are central to Labour values, and it is important that we reflect these in how we approach our health policies too.

This is something that I have supported in the past, and still do to this day, including championing the 1001 Critical Days initiative which works to ensure that a child’s formative months and years help set them up for the future.

Along with doggedly championing universal free school meals for the last 10 years, but also pushing on smoking and sexual health issues during my time as Shadow Minister for Public Health.

But it also means taking action for people now – who have been failed in their early lives.

A Labour Government would make social justice a driver of all government policy, but it would also ensure that the health of the nation is considered in every step we take.

Labour in opposition in Parliament and where we are in power across the country are doing just that, now.

Take for example, the excellent work of my colleague, Sue Hayman – Labour’s Shadow Environment Secretary – who has been leading the way on air quality and holding the Government to account on improving the environment we live in.

Or ensuring families have decent, affordable housing to live in, rather than squalid private accommodation, as being done by our Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan.

Or working to improve transport infrastructure that supports healthy lifestyles, such as that pledged by Andy Burnham in Manchester.

Or in Wales, where we have seen the Welsh Labour Government give powers to Public Health Wales to scrutinise new legislation’s impact on health.

Labour has, and always will be, a proud champion of improved public health and ensuring it is considered as part of everything that we do.

But it is important that we create systems where this is easier to do, and not just rely upon the values that drive us in the Labour Party, but instead embed them into the system.

This is why I am interested to work more to improve the roles of Public Health England and local Directors of Public Health to ensure the health of our nation is kept high on the agenda.

It is initiatives like those I have mentioned which will help ensure that the social determinants of health are addressed, but it also about injecting innovative thinking into our approach to public health.

By injecting innovation and utilising our political will, we can ensure the gap in health inequalities will shrink further and health outcomes improve.

We must fully realise the vision set out in the Five Year Forward View as a promise to not only ourselves, but to the generations that come after us.

It is important that we work together to create and implement health policy that brings about real change for those who live in poor health; we cannot continue to allow people’s health to be determined by factors completely out of their control.

Every one of us in this room shares that passion and drive to improve our nation’s health.

We know we will never take our nation’s health for granted.

There is still a long way to go to improve our nation’s health, but with our collective passion, we can achieve a more equal, socially just, and most importantly, healthier society.

Socialist Health Association #Lab17 Fringe Event in Brighton

At the 2017 Labour Party Conference in Brighton, Sharon was invited to speak at a fringe event hosted by the Socialist Health Association to discuss Labour Party policy on public...

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