Sharon Hodgson MP

Working hard for Washington and Sunderland West.

News Highlights

As Shadow Minister for Public Health, Sharon spoke on behalf of the Opposition in a debate on blood cancer. In her speech, Sharon raised issues around psychological support and care pathways for blood cancer patients, the need to improve research into drugs and address issues with the appraisal support.

You can read the full debate here: NHS Blood Cancer Care

You can read Sharon's speech below:

It is a genuine pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Wilson, and I congratulate the hon. Member for Crawley (Henry Smith) on his good fortune in securing this debate just before the launch of the report by the all-party group on blood cancer, which will take place afterwards. That was very opportune and well done. He made an informative and heartfelt opening speech, and I am sure that he can secure no finer legacy in memory of his mother than what he is achieving in Parliament today. I am sure his whole family are proud of him.

As we have heard throughout this debate, blood cancer is the third biggest cancer killer in the UK, and the fifth most common cancer, with more than 230,000 people living with the disease. For those people and their families—some of whom are here today or watching the debate—action is needed to improve the treatment and support on offer. That includes some of my own constituents who contacted me prior to this debate, and it is for them that we are here today. There is much that we can do to improve treatment and support, as so eloquently put by the hon. Member for Crawley, and others who have spoken today, including my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry North East (Colleen Fletcher), and the hon. Members for Gordon (Colin Clark), for Strangford (Jim Shannon), and for Central Ayrshire (Dr Whitford), who all made excellent speeches.

Blood cancer patients need to see their GP many more times before being referred to hospital than those with other cancers. Indeed, 35% of blood cancer patients had to see their GP three or more times before being referred, compared with only 6% of those with breast cancer, and 23% of those with all other tumour types. Such figures must be the fire beneath that spurs us on to do more, otherwise we will be failing the 230,000 people who live with this disease. Today I want to pick up on three key issues: first, patient experiences, and specifically the “watch and wait” principles of treatment and support; secondly, the improvements needed in research and access to treatments; and finally I will discuss post-stem cell transplant care. 

Each year, 5,000 people with slow-growing blood cancers do not start treatment straight away, but instead are placed on a regime called watch and wait. That means that patients are monitored until they reach a point where treatment must start. It can take many years for that to happen, which can add much pressure to a patient’s life, including the psychological struggles that they might face. That is understandable: it must be excruciatingly difficult for someone to live with a cancer, including a blood-borne one, yet not receive any treatment, even though they know they have the disease. 

To help fully understand this struggle, I want to read from a case study that was sent to me by Bloodwise, and written by the blogger who writes the “Diary of a ‘Fake’ Cancer Patient”. It states:

“About a month after diagnosis, I went to pieces and sat in front of my consultant panicking, crying and generally not coping.”

Reading the full case study is harrowing but heart-warming at the same time. That may sound peculiar, but it shows the scale of the struggle that blood cancer patients face under “watch and wait”, and also that when support is offered they can lead as normal a life as possible, and have the support to cope with the disease and the situation in which they find themselves. That is why Labour supports calls for tailored psychological support for patients who are on watch and wait, and it would be welcome if the Minister addressed that point when he replies to the debate.

It would be of great interest to hear from the Minister whether the Government plan to look at the perceived pitfall in the cancer strategy regarding the recovery package, and the failures to take into consideration the unique characteristics of blood cancer, as well as the use of terms such as “beyond cancer” and “post- treatment”, which can be alienating to blood cancer patients. As we know, blood cancers are very different to solid tumour cancers, and that determines the kind of treatment on offer to patients. For blood cancer patients, treatment is not about surgery or radiotherapy; it is about drugs to help to fight their cancer, and importantly, about access to said drugs. It is therefore crucial that innovation and the development of new drugs is encouraged to help improve patient outcomes. The Government must continue to commit to ongoing research to help save lives, and capitalise on our world-leading position as blood cancer research pioneers.

Lots of this work already happens, including charitable investment and collaboration between public bodies. One such example is IMPACT—a £4 million clinical trials programme that is jointly funded by Anthony Nolan, Leuka, and NHS Blood and Transplant services. By 2020, this exciting and much welcomed project will have established 12 clinical trials involving approximately 1,500 patients. It will play an invaluable role in achieving the vision set out in the Government’s life sciences industrial strategy and—most importantly—it will help to save lives. It is of utmost importance that the Government continue their commitment to this work.

We must also consider how the cancer drugs fund works, and how the temporary collection of data to make appraisal decisions can, for some rare blood cancers, lead to insufficiency in collecting robust data, and therefore to negative appraisals for drugs. I have raised concerns in the past about the way we appraise drugs—indeed, I worked with the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire when we were both co-chairs of the all-party group on breast cancer, and we carried out work on some breast cancer drugs, including Kadcyla. It is therefore disappointing, yet not surprising, that we find similar situations when it comes to blood cancer drugs with, for example, the drug ibrutinib being given to patients with mantle cell lymphoma. That drug received a negative appraisal, and later a positive one. That causes unnecessary distress and anxiety for patients, and it is important that such problems are addressed. I hope that the Minister will give us some steer on when the Government plan to rectify these matters.

Finally, I will touch briefly on the need for support for those living post transplant, and the care that should be on offer to them. It is estimated that by 2020 more than 16,000 people will be living post transplant, and they will therefore be more exposed to physical and psychological effects, such as graft-versus-host disease, depression and prolonged duress stress disorder. Although stem cell transplants can save a person’s life—that is fantastic—it is important that when someone’s life is saved, they can live it to its fullest. Sadly, only 54% of those who need psychological support actually receive it. That is down to the commissioning of post-transplant services not working for all patients, especially at the 100-day cut-off after a transplant, when responsibility for services moves from NHS England to CCGs, and therefore leads to gaps in the care and support provided. Is the Minister aware of that, and will he commit to looking at how that gap can be filled so that patients receive the best post-transplant support possible?

This debate has been incredibly important, and I am sure it has given the Minister a lot to think about. I hope that when he gets back to his office, he will look at this issue in depth and read the APPG’s report following its launch today—I am looking forward to that—so that all the 230,000 people living with blood cancer can be confident that the Government are doing their utmost to give them the best chance of living.

Blood Cancer Westminster Hall Debate 17.01.18

As Shadow Minister for Public Health, Sharon spoke on behalf of the Opposition in a debate on blood cancer. In her speech, Sharon raised issues around psychological support and care pathways...

As Shadow Minister for Public Health, Sharon spoke on behalf of the Opposition in a debate on junk food advertising and childhood obesity. In her speech, Sharon highlighted the affects junk food advertising has on children and high obesity rates in the UK. Sharon called for a ban on junk food advertising before 9pm watershed to tackle this issue.

You can read the full debate here: Junk Food Advertising and Childhood Obesity Westminster Hall

You can read Sharon's speech below:

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Dorries. I thank the hon. Member for Erewash (Maggie Throup) for securing this important debate, and for sharing her knowledge in her passionate speech. I also thank the other hon. Members who have spoken this morning for their eloquent speeches: my hon. Friend the Member for Reading East (Matt Rodda), the hon. Members for South West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous), for Strangford (Jim Shannon) and for Angus (Kirstene Hair), my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy) and the hon. Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East (Stuart C. McDonald), who spoke for the Scottish National party.

The UK has one of the worst obesity rates in Europe, with almost two in every three people either overweight or obese. I am, as hon. Members can see, one of those two. I am back on a strict diet post-new year, with no sugar or alcohol for the foreseeable future—if any hon. Members see me with either or both in my hand, please take them off me—and I hope that by August there will be a lot less of me.

I commend the honesty of the hon. Member for Strangford. I have been on a similar journey to him healthwise, and I hope to share his success weightwise. It is hard though—if it were easy, nobody would be overweight. We have not all got metabolisms as good as a horse, as the hon. Member for South West Bedfordshire attests to. However, I started life as a skinny kid and was a slim teenager. I am proud to say that I was a size 10 when I got married, but I still ended up overweight as time went by. Therefore, I worry greatly when I see the stats, as I know we all do, for this country’s children.

As we have heard this morning, a pattern now emerges at a very early age. In 2016-17, almost a quarter of reception children aged between three and four were overweight or obese. In the same year, for pupils in year 6, it was more than a third. An obese child is five times more likely to grow up into an obese adult. I did not start as an obese child, and hon. Members can see where I got to, so it is important that the Government do all they can to ensure that child obesity rates are reduced as a matter of urgency.

As we know, obesity is linked with several health issues: lung and liver disease, heart attacks, strokes, seven or more types of cancer, and type 2 diabetes, all of which could be prevented with healthy eating and a healthy lifestyle. According to Cancer Research UK, continued eating and drinking patterns—alcohol is also a major factor in cancer—could lead to being overweight and obese and could cause an additional 670,000 cases of cancer in the UK over the next 20 years. Diabetes UK also warns that there are now 12.3 million people at an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes. If overweight and obesity levels were to be reduced, three in five cases of type 2 diabetes could be prevented or delayed.

Obesity comes at a high financial cost too. Obesity and its related health problems cost the NHS in England an estimated £5.1 billion a year, projected to reach £9.7 billion by 2050, if the Government and the people themselves fail to take any action—as we have heard in the debate, people need to take action for themselves. That is why this debate is so important. If we do not do anything about obesity today, the children of tomorrow are the ones who will suffer.

There are many ways to address obesity. No one intervention is a silver bullet, but it is the Opposition’s belief that action on advertising and marketing can make serious inroads.

Ten years ago, Ofcom’s restrictions on junk food advertising came into effect, but over that decade, our viewing habits have changed, as we have discussed. At that time, the Ofcom report said:

“Advertisements of high fat, salt and sugar products should not be shown in or around programmes specifically made for children...For the avoidance of doubt this measure will remove all HFSS advertising from dedicated children's channels”.

Ten years on, as we all know, that is incredibly outdated and out of touch with the way children watch TV. Children are likely to watch TV with their family or watch programmes that are not on specific children’s channels, such as “The X Factor”, “Britain’s Got Talent”, “Hollyoaks” and other programmes.

A report by the University of Liverpool found that 59% of food and drink adverts shown during family viewing time were for high fat, salt and sugar products and would have been banned from children’s TV. The same report also found that, in the worst case, children were bombarded with nine junk food adverts in just a 30-minute period and that adverts for fruit and vegetables made up only 1% of food and drink adverts shown during that family viewing time. Ofcom’s restrictions on junk food advertising are therefore totally obsolete and in need of a serious update to protect children from the bombardment of junk food advertising from multinational companies.

Many of the charities and organisations that provided me with briefings for this debate called for junk food advertising to be restricted until the 9 pm watershed on all channels, which was something I was pleased to commit to in the 2017 Labour party manifesto and am proud to remain committed to. I hope that the Minister will hear the calls today from hon. Members across the House and will see why an update of the restrictions is necessary.

Children must of course also be protected from other forms of advertising, such as billboard and bus shelter adverts, as well as subtle advertising in films and in made-for-purpose games, which are so prevalent there is a name for them—advergames. “Newsnight” last night noted that there are major concerns with the regulations around confectionary firms and their marketing to children. There seems to be a loophole in the law with regard to advergames, which needs to be closed.

There are also genuine games that are very popular with children although they are not aimed at them, such as Candy Crush—I have to admit to having tried that one myself—which embed advertising in the game and have been shown to drive children's food choices. Sponsorship has also been shown to have a huge impact on brand awareness and purchasing decisions among children. Products high in fat, salt and sugar are often found to sponsor sporting events or teams of which children are a key part of the audience. For example, Cadbury is the official snack partner of the premier league.

The current restrictions do not encapsulate those areas, and in our digital world it is important that our restrictions advance to protect children. Will the Minister commit to holding a cross-Departmental meeting with colleagues in the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport to discuss the urgency of addressing junk food marketing to children across those forums?

Not only do we watch TV and use the internet differently, but we also shop differently. Our sedentary lifestyles mean that we now rush into supermarkets trying to buy the quickest or cheapest products. As soon as we walk through the door, we are tempted with promotions, such as buy one get one free or three-for-two offers. Such discounts make up for more than half of all food sold in the UK, a higher proportion than in any other country in western Europe. We all love a bargain, but research has shown that 76% of purchases were unplanned and decided on in store, which shows the power of such promotions.

That trend is increasingly prevalent among families from poorer backgrounds who are not able to afford more expensive, nutritious and healthier food, or lack the skill to cook it. It is therefore no wonder that children aged five from poorer backgrounds are twice as likely to be obese, and that those aged 11 are three times as likely to be obese. Following what the hon. Member for South West Bedfordshire said, we also need affordable, healthy and nutritious products available on promotion to change habits.

I am sure the Minister will uphold the Government’s pledge to tackle childhood obesity, but their efforts are dwarfed by multinational corporations’ spending on junk food advertising. In 2016, the 18 highest-spending crisps, confectionary and sugary drinks brands together spent more than £143 million advertising their products. I recently met an advertising executive who has turned gamekeeper since having a damascene conversion—he now campaigns against added sugar and obesity. He told me how much effort multinational corps put into marketing specifically to children. It is not accidental, but a deliberate, well-thought-through and lucrative strategy.

Eighteen months ago, the Government launched their much-depleted childhood obesity plan, which left much to be desired. Will the Minister update us on the current situation of the childhood obesity plan? Will he commit to looking beyond it and going further by introducing the initiatives that have been suggested today, such as a 9 pm watershed on junk food marketing, which were sadly dropped from the original plan?

All of the arguments we have heard this morning point to the fact that essential Government action is needed to ensure our children grow up in a healthy environment so they can be fighting fit for the future. I hope the Minister will take these suggestions back to his Department and think about how they can be implemented into a serious drive to reduce childhood obesity over the next 10 years. Childhood obesity must be addressed. We cannot have a soft-touch approach. We must do this for future generations of children, and make a promise to them that they can be some of the healthiest children in the world.

Junk Food Advertising Westminster Hall 16.01.18

As Shadow Minister for Public Health, Sharon spoke on behalf of the Opposition in a debate on junk food advertising and childhood obesity. In her speech, Sharon highlighted the affects...


Sharon Hodgson, MP for Washington and Sunderland West and Shadow Minister for Public Health, is looking for the ideal candidate to join her hard-working, fast-paced and committed team in Parliament to assist in her Parliamentary work.


This would be an ideal opportunity for a candidate with at least one year’s experience as a Parliamentary Assistant who is looking to work for a frontbench spokesperson who is an active Member of Parliament.

Responsibilities will include, but not be limited to:

  • Dealing with and monitoring incoming telephone and visitor enquiries, responding to emails and letters, efficient data and file management;
  • Opening and dispatching mail where necessary;
  • Drafting political responses to constituent correspondence and keeping records on the software;
  • Undertaking photocopying, scanning and formatting of documents;
  • Assisting with the running of various All-Party Parliamentary Groups (APPGs);
  • Ensuring office records are kept and an efficient filing system is in place and up to date;
  • Adhering to the Data Protection Act principles and respecting the confidentiality of data at all times;
  • Liaising on behalf of Sharon with relevant groups/personnel within Westminster and within the Constituency, including liaison with outside organisations and the general public;
  • Performing other duties as and when required.

Knowledge of software as well as Microsoft Office would be an advantage. Previous experience of working for a Labour politician in Westminster is highly desirable.

Initial contract will be for one calendar year, pending a successful probationary period of 6 months and further review towards the end of the contract.

Upon appointment you will be required to comply with the Baseline Personnel Security Standard, undertaken by the Members’ Staff Verification Office (MSVO).

The deadline for applications is 6pm on Friday 26th January. Interviews will take place on Thursday 1st February. We may hold 2nd interviews on Friday 2nd February if needed. If you anticipate a problem with interview dates, please make this clear when you apply.

Candidates will be notified by email on the 29th January if they have been offered an interview with further instructions.

Please send a short covering letter (maximum 1 side of A4) detailing why you are interested in the job and your CV (maximum 2 sides of A4) to [email address removed], putting PASH18 as the subject line.

Sharon recruiting for a junior Parliamentary Assistant

** PLEASE NOTE: THE DEADLINE FOR THIS APPLICATION HAS PASSED ** Sharon Hodgson, MP for Washington and Sunderland West and Shadow Minister for Public Health, is looking for the ideal...

On Thursday 11th January, Sharon joined the likes of Action Against Smoking and Health, Fresh NE and a host of NHS professionals to launch the NHS Smokefree Pledge.

Sharon_Tony_Ailsa.JPGSharon with the NHS Smokefree Pledge, and Ailsa Rutter from Fresh NE and Dr Tony Branson, Co-Chair North East Smokefree NHS

NHS organisations who sign the Pledge are making a commitment to help smokers in their care to quit and create smokefree environments that support them to do so.

The commitment includes measures to:

  • Treat tobacco dependency among patients and staff who smoke as set out in the Tobacco Control Plan for England;
  • Ensure that smokers within the NHS have access to the medication they need to quit in line with NICE guidelines on smoking in secondary care;
  • Create environments that support quitting through implementing smokefree policies as recommended by NICE.

At the event, Sharon spoke alongside Bob Blackman MP (Chair of the APPG on Smoking and Health), Celia Ingham-Clark (Medical Director for Clinical Effectiveness and National Director for Reducing Premature Death at NHS England), Duncan Selbie (Chief Executive, Public Health England), Professor Sean Duffy (Clinical Director and Alliance Lead, West Yorkshire and Harrogate Cancer Alliance), Dr Tony Branson (Co-Chair North East Smokefree NHS/Treating Tobacco Dependency Taskforce) and Steve Brine MP, Minister for Public Health and Primary Care.  

In her speech at the launch event, Sharon said:

“Last year, it was welcome when the Minister finally published the delayed Tobacco Control Plan – after a little chivvying from myself at our first outing together at Health Questions. There is a lot in the Plan that we welcomed but recognised the need for the funding to be stumped up so that the vision set out in the Plan could be achieved.”

Sharon then went on to say:

“ … we have seen serious strides in the rates of smoking across the country there is still so much more we could be doing. This includes doing more work to make sure that smoking cessation becomes a central theme of healthcare staff’s engagement with patients and making every contact count to help people to quit smoking but also creating important smokefree environments where smokers can quit smoking and live healthier and happier lives.”

Sharon supports launch of NHS Smokefree Pledge in Parliament

On Thursday 11th January, Sharon joined the likes of Action Against Smoking and Health, Fresh NE and a host of NHS professionals to launch the NHS Smokefree Pledge. Sharon with...

Sharon Hodgson MP's report - Dec 2017-Jan 2018 number 100


Click on the picture above to read Sharon Hodgson MP's report - News from Westminster - Dec 2017-Jan 2018 number 100

Sharon Hodgson MP's report Dec 2017 - Jan 2018 number 100

Sharon Hodgson MP's report - Dec 2017-Jan 2018 number 100 Click on the picture above to read Sharon Hodgson MP's report - News from Westminster - Dec 2017-Jan 2018 number... Read more

20th Dec 2017 - Sharon receives response from Sunderland City Council on behalf of a constituent.  Click on image to view response.

Response from Council on Rolton Kilbride

Sharon receives response from Sunderland City Council - 20th Dec 2017

20th Dec 2017 - Sharon receives response from Sunderland City Council on behalf of a constituent.  Click on image to view response. Read more


Sharon has today (20th December) geared up her long-standing campaign to bring the Tyne and Wear Metro to Washington with a letter to the Transport Secretary, Chris Grayling MP, following the publication of the Department for Transport’s: Connecting people: a strategic vision for rail.

In her letter, Sharon raises the need for much needed economic growth in the North East and how this can be untapped with improved transport infrastructure investment and highlights how the extension of the Metro network into Washington is a perfect example of unlocking economic growth.

Further in the letter, Sharon outlines how statements made in the Connecting people document help make the case that she has been making for many years now, including the improved connectivity that extending the Metro, and therefore the Leamside Line, but also the jobs it can bring to not only the major cities but also Washington itself.

Following sending the letter, Sharon said:

“Banging the drum in Parliament for this campaign is something I have been honoured to do, and will keep on doing, as it would help unlock the much needed economic growth our region so desperately needs.

“The vision set out by the Government does leave me with trepidation following their shoddy track record on transport infrastructure; yet, this is a perfect opportunity to make the case to ministers to fund this long-standing campaign.

“For too long, the people of Washington have waited for improvements to their transport connectivity by extending the Metro to Washington and it is high time ministers acted to give the people of our town the transport network they desire and deserve.”

You can read Sharon's letter to the Transport Secretary by following this link HERE.

Sharon gears up campaign to extend Metro to Washington with letter to Transport Secretary

Sharon has today (20th December) geared up her long-standing campaign to bring the Tyne and Wear Metro to Washington with a letter to the Transport Secretary, Chris Grayling MP, following... Read more

Sharon has pledged to tackle children going hungry during the school holidays.

Attending the launch of charity Feeding Britain’s new report, Ending Hunger in the Holidays, Sharon showed her support for the upcoming School Holidays (Meals and Activities) Bill, which has been put forward by Frank Field MP and has cross party support.

The Bill would give local authorities the legal duty to ensure that children can have free food and fun activities during the holidays to support their educational attainment and health. The Bill would also bring extra resources for holidays clubs funded by money recouped from the Sugary Drinks Levy.

Sharon, said:

“I have long campaigned on the issue of children’s health, well-being and education, and the importance of feeding children properly so they can achieve their full potential and believe we need to be doing more to address the issue of hunger in our society.

“For the 5th richest economy in the world, it is deeply saddening that our 21st century society harks back to one from a Dickensian-era, where children go hungry for extended periods of time without any support or action from authorities to protect children – as is their duty.

“That is why I am fully behind this Bill, as it will help take us one step closer to ending child hunger and I will make sure I am in Parliament to help see this legislation through to its next stages.”

Feeding Britain’s report reveals that in excess of 187,000 meals were provided to children in the summer and during October half term holidays this year, but stresses that this is only a drop in the ocean compared to the level of need.

The report concludes: “Holiday clubs provide an urgently needed safety net to protect children from hunger and social isolation, but an incomplete one, and one that is increasingly strained.”

The report highlights the importance of holidays clubs, which protect children and their families from hunger and social isolation in the holidays, boost children’s health and learning, and to help prevent children falling behind their more affluent peers during the holidays.

Recent research done by Northumbria University in the North East showed that children from poorer backgrounds see a stagnation or reduction in spelling skills over the summer holidays, and take several weeks to recover lost learning.

The Feeding Britain report Ending Hunger in the Holidays, can be downloaded from


Sharon backs Bill to end Hunger in the Holidays

Sharon has pledged to tackle children going hungry during the school holidays. Attending the launch of charity Feeding Britain’s new report, Ending Hunger in the Holidays, Sharon showed her support...

Read Sharon's latest Sunderland Echo column below or by going to the Sunderland Echo website. 


Supporting children in their formative years has always been a passion of mine and an area which I have helped push during my time as an MP.

Yet recent analysis by Labour has shown that under the Tories we have seen £500 million cut from the Early Intervention Grant since 2013, with a projected £183 million more to be cut by 2020.

This represents a total cut of 40 per cent between 2013 and 2020.

Early intervention saves society a lot more than intervening at a later stage when support can be less effective.

It can ensure that children’s lives are improved and they have the opportunity to achieve all that they can. This is not being seen under the Tories, despite their rhetoric of being champions of social mobility.

If they were serious about improving the lives of children, then they wouldn’t be cutting off the vital funding necessary to achieving it.

The Government has a track record of putting the opportunities of children at risk with no consideration for their futures.

Firstly, we have seen one in three Sure Start Centres close across the country.

Secondly, we have seen the Government determined to scrap Universal Infant Free School Meals on two occasions now (2015 and 2017), which thanks to campaigners and parents we have seen saved for now.

Or, thirdly, the current worries regarding the roll-out of Universal Credit and the impact this will have on free school meals, where under proposals on the future of free school meals currently under consultation, the Children’s Society have estimated that one million children living in poverty may miss out on this important intervention.

Labour have always championed improving services for children and families, and will continue to hold this Government to account on their actions as they cut these services to the bone and provide an alternative approach that allows all children, no matter their background or circumstances, to flourish.

ECHO COLUMN: Tory Government has no consideration for children's futures

Read Sharon's latest Sunderland Echo column below or by going to the Sunderland Echo website.  Supporting children in their formative years has always been a passion of mine and an...

Sharon spoke in a Backbench Business Debate secured by Yasmin Qureshi MP on Hormone Pregnancy Tests, or also known as Primodos, which was used in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s and the adverse affects it had on women and their babies. In her speech, Sharon joined cross-party calls for a judge-led public inquiry into this scandal. 

You can read the full debate here: Primodos Backbench Business Debate 14.11.17

Read Sharon's contribution to the debate pasted below:

I congratulate the right hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead (Sir Mike Penning), who opened the debate so powerfully, and my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton South East (Yasmin Qureshi), who has been a strident campaigner on this issue for more than six years and knew all about it before it had even reached my consciousness. She gave an excellent, if rather too short, speech. I thank all other Members for their passionate and thoughtful contributions; because of the time constraints, I hope they will please forgive me for not naming them all. Ultimately, thanks must go, as others have said, to Marie Lyon, the chair of the Association for Children Damaged by Hormone Pregnancy Tests. I am sure that I speak for all of us in the House today when I say that she has the utmost respect and admiration of Members from across the House.

I want to touch on not only the science that was used to come to the conclusions in the review, but what is missing and what should have been considered before any conclusions were drawn. I will then highlight why this is a matter of injustice and why it is important that answers are found so that we can finally conclude this sad chapter.

The main sticking point of the review’s conclusions is that the expert working group found that the science did not support a causal association between HPTs during pregnancy and adverse outcomes. My focus will be on the science used and the historical documentation that we are aware of, but which seems not to have been considered—we heard about some of it in the excellent speech by the right hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Sir Edward Davey). I will not deviate into the important argument about “possible” and “causal”, as that was covered comprehensively by other Members, including the right hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead.

I must make it clear from the outset that I am no scientist—I am sure that Members are aware of that—and my speech is not a critique of the integrity and expertise of the specialists involved. However, the conclusions arrived at in the report and the conversations I have had with many of those who have been involved in the campaign show a need for us to be critical of what was concluded by the expert working group. That is our duty ​as Members of Parliament, especially when it comes to what is such an important matter for so many women and their families, and also because a great deal of public funds were invested in the review over the past few years.

In the report’s consideration of the scientific detail regarding HPTs, it is argued that there are inconsistencies in the conclusions drawn from the evidence used. Take, for example, the fact that of the 15 studies that looked at heart defects, 11 favoured a link, and of five studies into limb reduction, all found a link, yet those studies were deemed to show “insufficient evidence” of the drug’s harm. Even information I requested recently and got just this week from the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency in the lead up to this debate is at odds with the conclusions of the review, including graphs that plot birth defects against the availability of HPTs. Even to my untrained eye, they show a possible link. In one graph on all malformations, it is clear that birth defects increased during the period in which HPTs were on the market, and shortly afterwards. They began to decrease soon after HPTs were taken off the market.

Further, in the briefing I received, the MHRA said that for every 100 babies born in the general population, around two to four are expected to have a birth defect, which means that 14,000 babies a year would be expected to be born with a birth defect. That is just generally. Using those figures, the MHRA concluded that for the more than 1 million women who took HPTs, as many as 19,000 babies would be born with a birth defect, irrespective of any additional risk from HPTs. Yet let us compare Primodos to thalidomide, for instance. More than 30 million thalidomide prescriptions saw 600 children affected in the UK, which is a rate—I have had help with these numbers —of 0.002%. Some 1.2 million Primodos prescriptions were sold and 800 children were affected, which is a rate of 0.06%. That shows a much higher prevalence caused by Primodos compared with thalidomide. It also shows how little meaning a comparison of HPT adverse reactions has against today’s prevalence of birth defects in the general population, and it is hardly a defence of disproving a link.

As I have said, I am no scientific professional, but I believe that the red flags that arise when reading what the evidence says and what conclusions were drawn from it are not ones that only an expert in this field would see. This reflects the arguments that were raised last week by Dr Neil Vargesson—that the report does not provide definitive evidence that the drug was safe. As others have said, the only conclusion that can be drawn is that a link cannot be ruled out.

That leads me on to my next point, which is to touch briefly on the historical perspective and cover-up of the evidence. We have got to use that word—it is the only word we can use—as this is something that should have been considered by the expert working group.

One such example was in 1975, when the UK regulator knew of a potential five-to-one risk that the drug could cause deformities, but that evidence was apparently later destroyed. This is a running theme—I do not have time to go into it all—through the chronology of this scandal. We see multiple examples of suppressed information regarding the adverse effects and delayed notification of those effects to medical professionals who administered the drugs.​

It is also deeply concerning that this drug came into the market in 1958, with no studies on its effects at all until 1963. Five years passed before it even underwent teratogenic testing. It was still officially in circulation until 1975, but we are aware of cases of its use up until 1978. All the evidence uncovered should have been considered as part of the review. The question is: why was it not?

With any scandal such as this, it is important that those affected have the trust and confidence of any review or inquiry undertaken. In this instance, that has not been the case. The victims feel that the review has muddied the waters even more and that their views have been ignored. I have been told many harrowing stories, many of which we have heard today, and how, time and again, they have been ignored. These women did not ask to be given HPTs. Nor were they ever made aware of the effects that they could have on them or their unborn baby. They were just given them—sometimes out of a supply in a drawer on the doctor’s desk. There were no warnings, no explanations, no discussions.

A great injustice has been inflicted on these women. It is up to this House to put pressure on the Government of the day, here and now, in a fully cross-party, non-partisan way, to make things right. It is paramount that a judge-led public inquiry be conducted—one that is independent and can fully examine all the materials and documentation available and insist that all information be made public, including that which has been withheld so far. I hope that this debate helps us to take that one step further to achieving that.

In closing, may I quote the hon. Member for Mid Norfolk (George Freeman), the then Minister for Life Sciences? In October 2014, when he instigated this review, he said that the review would

“shed light on the issue and bring the all-important closure in an era of transparency”.—[Official Report, 23 October 2014; Vol. 586, c. 1143.]

Let this debate and the following actions by the Minister ensure that what was promised in 2014 is actually achieved.

Hormone Pregnancy Tests (Primodos) Backbench Business Debate 14.12.17

Sharon spoke in a Backbench Business Debate secured by Yasmin Qureshi MP on Hormone Pregnancy Tests, or also known as Primodos, which was used in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s...

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