Sharon Hodgson

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Rare Diseases Strategy Westminster Hall Debate 28.03.17

In her capacity as Shadow Minister for Public Health, Sharon responded to a debate on the UK's Rare Diseases Strategy and the need for an implementation plan to be drafted - which at the time of the debate, was being refused by both the Department of Health and NHS England. Sharon raised concerns that this deadlock between the two was having an impact on the lives of patients with rare diseases and their care, support and treatment, but also the need for specific recommendations in the Strategy to be worked on. 

You can read Sharon's speech here: Sharon Hodgson MP Rare Diseases Strategy Westminster Hall Debate 28.03.17

Speech pasted below:

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship this afternoon, Mr Pritchard.

I welcome this important debate and I thank the hon. Member for Bath (Ben Howlett) for securing it and for his excellent introduction to it, although I am sorry that I missed the start of his speech because it started four minutes early before my hon. Friends and I were in our places.

I also thank other hon. Members for their contributions this afternoon, including the hon. Member for South Down (Ms Ritchie), my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Daniel Zeichner) and the hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Martyn Day), the spokesman for the Scottish National party, who all made excellent and insightful speeches.

As others have said, here in the UK one in 17 people will be affected by a rare disease at some point in their life, which equates to approximately 3.5 million people in the UK. It cannot go unsaid that those 3.5 million people have a wide range of symptoms, which vary from condition to condition, some of which we have heard about this afternoon. It is clear that there are common experiences that people with these conditions all share. As Rare Diseases UK has estimated that it takes on average four years for a patient to receive a diagnosis, it is clear that there are many missed opportunities to help those people living with rare diseases. Each and every person who suffers from a rare disease deserves the necessary support to live a fulfilling life.

That is why it was welcome that in 2013 the coalition Government published their UK-wide strategy for rare diseases, which was seen as heralding a new era in the treatment and care of rare disease patients across all four home nations. The 51 recommendations are all to be welcomed, as they each take us a step further in addressing concerns about the care and treatment of rare diseases, and the strategy’s aim is to make sure that no one gets left behind just because they have a rare disease. It is an aim that Labour welcomes wholeheartedly.​

Most of my contribution to this debate will focus on the issues with the implementation of the strategy, but I will take a moment to mention some of the positives. It is welcome to see that the National Institute for Health Research has launched the Rare Diseases Translational Research Collaboration—I will use the acronym, RD-TRC, as it is much easier to say—which aims to empower patients to engage and become involved with research and research funding decisions. To date, the NIHR has invested £4 million in the RD-TRC, and the programme is expected to continue for another five years, with a £5 million investment.

Work has also been done by Public Health England on data recording, to bolster diagnosis and early intervention, and we have also seen Health Education England collaborate with the National School of Healthcare Science to produce two educational videos for healthcare professionals, in order to raise awareness of the problems faced by families who have a child with an undiagnosed condition and the importance of considering whether it is a rare disease. All this work is to be welcomed and should not go unnoticed.

Yet the sticking point in all of this, and the reason why we are here today to debate this issue, is that the Government are digging their heels in and not getting on with drafting an implementation plan, while the other home nations’ health departments are making significant strides. That betrays not only those patients living in England who wish this strategy to be properly implemented but the strategy itself, which stated that all four home nations must see the vision behind the strategy become a reality by 2020. It also undermines all the excellent work that I mentioned previously to implement the recommendations.

The strategy was published in 2013 and we are now just three years from the date set for the vision to be realised. However, the all-party group that the hon. Member for Bath so ably chairs has discovered that the Department of Health does not intend to publish an implementation plan, believing that it should be published by the NHS. Yet the NHS has said that it does not intend to do this either, as it does not have responsibility for other arm’s length bodies of the Department of Health. I want to ask the Minister why. I want to know why we are seeing patients and their families caught in this dispute between the NHS and the Department of Health. This situation cannot continue; there are people suffering right now who need this strategy to be implemented correctly.

I have briefly mentioned the report by the all-party group on rare, genetic and undiagnosed conditions on the lack of an implementation plan, but I know that it covers other issues as well, and I will take a moment to touch on some of them. One of the main issues raised was the lack of communication between organisations responsible for implementing the various aspects of the plan, and the failure to provide patients, families, doctors, industry experts and patient organisations with updates on progress of the strategy. That is deeply worrying, as it is important that people are made aware of the issues that affect them so personally. Therefore, it is not surprising that the all-party group heard from more than 300 patients that widespread disillusionment and disappointment had become the common feeling about the strategy, despite the optimism felt when it was published five years ago. The sting in the tail is that there are ​implementation plans for the strategy across the UK, with the exception of here in England. I share the frustration of the many others who are affected by the Government’s complacency. The Department’s rationale for not providing updates on progress is that patient organisations can disseminate information to patients and families, but it sadly fails to grasp that those organisations and charities are often very small and do not have the resources to pull together updates and send them out.

Also, issues that have not been worked on since the strategy was published have been identified, including prevention and identification of rare diseases, improving care pathways and failing to implement structures that would facilitate collaboration between the four home nations. In his response, I would be grateful if the Minister could provide us with an update on those points and tell us what his Department plans to do to see the recommendations through.

The strategy is now five years old, and although there has been work to see it realised, it has not gone far enough. The failure here is that the Department for Health in England is not fulfilling its duty to draft an implementation plan to realise the visionary goals in the strategy, which undermines the work already under way and hinders any future work. The Minister must set that right, and I hope he plans to do so today. He has the power to rectify the situation and he cannot be complacent when it comes to supporting people living with rare diseases.

We are not talking about a handful of people; many of our own constituents are being failed by the Government, and all they ask for is that the Department for Health do what Departments in the other home nations are doing and provide an implementation plan to enable the strategy to be fully realised and make the impact it was intended to have. I once more thank the hon. Member for Bath. I hope that the debate will make the Minister think again about the Government’s opposition to taking responsibility for a plan, and that he will honour the whole vision of the strategy, instead of cherry-picking from it.

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