Sharon Hodgson

Labour Party Candidate - Working hard for Washington and Sunderland West.

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  • Speeches / Self-Care Westminster Hall Debate 22.11.16

Self-Care Westminster Hall Debate 22.11.16

As Shadow Minister for Public Health, Sharon responded to a debate on Self-Care. In her speech, Sharon raised the need to ensure self care was fully supported by the Government o help reduce pressures on the wider NHS and health services and also the impact of cuts to public health funding will have on self care.

You can read Sharon's speech here: Sharon Hodgson MP Self Care Westminster Hall Debate 22.11.16

Speech pasted below:

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

It is an honour to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Walker. I welcome this important debate and the fact that it has been secured during Self Care Week - 

Sir Kevin Barron

Just after it.

Mrs Hodgson

Just after Self Care Week. I commend my right hon. Friend the Member for Rother Valley (Sir Kevin Barron) for securing this debate and for his excellent speech, which shows his deep knowledge of and passion for all matters relating to the health of our nation, especially with regard to preventive health measures. I thank him for that.

This debate is especially important, as it is the first time we have had a dedicated debate on self-care in a very long time. We heard an excellent contribution from the hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Martyn Day). Before we hear from the Minister, I want to look at the issue of self-care and the wider picture of preventive measures through the lens of the cultural shift in the NHS away from care and repair to prevention and wellbeing promotion. I will also look at how aspects of current Government policy, such as the cuts to public health funding—I know I keep banging on about that, but it is important—is detrimental to our shared vision for an improved NHS and to achieving a healthier nation.

When NHS England’s “Five Year Forward View” was published just over two years ago, we were promised a radical upgrade in prevention and public health. That belief in reshaping the approach of the NHS and our health services away from a sickness alleviation service towards a wellbeing service that promotes healthier lifestyles choices, improved wellbeing and the prevention of ill health through behavioural change is supported across the NHS and in wider society.​

That shift is paramount when we see the NHS in a state of crisis, with longer A&E waiting times and GP appointments becoming harder and harder to come by. One in four patients wait at least a week to see their GP. My husband had to wait three weeks to see the GP because it was not an emergency, but he thought it was an emergency; sometimes we do not know, and it is up to the doctor to decide what is important and what is not.

Some parts of the NHS are at crisis point. That is not a party political point at all; it is supported by health organisations such as the Nuffield Trust and the Health Foundation, which professed this time last year that the NHS was at risk of a “catastrophic collapse”. If the worrying trends in waiting times that I have described are ever to be reversed and we are to save the NHS, we need to have a wholesale rethink about the way we approach health policy. Prevention must be the key, and self-care should be a central part of that reconsidered approach.

Self-care is about empowering people and patients to maintain their own health through informed lifestyle choices, better awareness of symptoms and better awareness of when it is important to seek professional advice—for example, for possible cancer symptoms, where early diagnosis is absolutely crucial and a matter of life and death—and when an ailment can be treated by someone themselves in the appropriate manner by talking to their community pharmacist, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Rother Valley described on the occasion of a family holiday. With improved confidence, people can take control of their own health or long-term conditions much better and make decisions that are far better for the NHS.

It is completely understandable that when we are unsure about the cause of symptoms or the best course of treatment or care, our first port of call is the NHS. However, being more aware of how we can treat ourselves and having preventive practices in place that reduce the prevalence of ill health will help go some way towards pulling the NHS back from the brink. The NHS is a trusted bastion, but sadly we are seeing more and more people accessing NHS services when there is no need and when a chat to one of our excellent community pharmacists would have sufficed—for example, in the cases we have heard about today of splinters, paper cuts, hiccups or broken nails. A bit of common sense is all that is needed, certainly not a trip to A&E.

In 2014, A&E departments across the country dealt with 3.7 million visits for self-treatable conditions such as those mentioned today, as well as the common cold, flu or muscle pain, combined with 52 million visits to the GP for similar conditions. It is no wonder people cannot get an appointment when some people are going to see their GP for that sort of thing. That has an estimated cost to the NHS of more than £10 billion over the past five years, which is not a small or insignificant amount of money.

Self-care is a crucial preventive measure that must be developed further to ensure that the NHS is as resilient as possible and can respond in more effective and meaningful ways to the nation’s health. With all that in mind, it is deeply worrying that the vision set out in the “Five Year Forward View” has progressed little or not at all. That is seen most clearly through the Making Every Contact Count initiative, which aims to make NHS staff members an important part of boosting ​awareness of healthy living, rather than only administering healthcare to the sick. It is a fantastic initiative. In theory, that strategy can go far in addressing issues around lifestyle choices such as smoking, drugs, diet and alcohol consumption by just adding a one or two-minute conversation when a healthcare professional already has someone in front of them.

It is worrying that the progress and roll-out of that scheme is patchy, despite there being lots of good practice across the country, such as the social prescribing service in Rotherham that my right hon. Friend talked about. Where such system change is flourishing and showing that it can support a reduction in pressures on NHS services such as A&E and GP practices, it should be encouraged, and the roll-out should be far more substantial.

I hope the Minister can give us some reassurance on three key asks for the Make Every Contact Count initiative: first, that we see progress made on the scheme in the new year, as promised by Professor Fenton from Public Health England during the second oral evidence session for the APPG on primary care and public health inquiry; secondly, that best practice is made more readily available to improve provision across the country through the Self Care Forum’s database of best practice; and thirdly, that he commits to ensuring CCGs prioritise implementation of the scheme in their local areas and that training is provided for staff, to equip them to provide consistent self-care messaging.

It should not go without saying that there are examples across the country that show the innovative and positive impacts of improving self-care, such as a scheme in my own neck of the woods in South Tyneside—the neighbouring borough to my own—where a borough-wide conversation has been developed that shifts away from asking, “How can I help you?” and instead asks, “How can I help you to help yourself?”

Those initiatives need funding and encouraging from Government to succeed. However, what we are currently seeing has been described as a frustrating and perverse approach to preventive measures, with cuts to public health funding of £200 million in last year’s Budget, along with an average real-terms cut of 3.9% each year to 2021, announced in last year’s autumn statement. Hopefully tomorrow we will see our new Chancellor go some way to rectifying and reversing that; we can live in hope, unless the Minister has some insight into what the Chancellor will announce. We will keep our fingers crossed.

The Minister is well aware of my opinion on those cuts, because we discuss them every time we meet, and the need to rethink the whole approach, but it is not only me saying this. Only recently, the Health Committee, chaired by the hon. Member for Totnes (Dr Wollaston)—who I am sure would have been here today if not for the health debate coming up in the Chamber very soon—uncovered serious concerns about the finances and funding of the NHS and public health. In a letter to the Health Secretary in October, the Committee said:

“All the indicators suggest that demand is continuing to grow and that we need to go further on prevention”.

I could not agree more. These cuts are a false economy and are exacerbating the situation within our health services. We are seeing funding directed to our crisis-ridden A&E departments, which are having to crisis-manage failures that could have been addressed a lot sooner.​

The Minister needs fully to understand that to make cuts to one part of our health service without considering the impact on other parts is leading us down the road to rack and ruin. To give him some understanding of the cuts, I suggest that he look at the Health Committee report “Public health post-2013”. The Select Committee does good work, but the Chair is not here to hear me highlight all this work. The report that I have just mentioned highlights research by the Association of Directors of Public Health, which found that local authorities are planning deep cuts to public health services due to the cuts coming from central Government to local authorities. It shows a marked rise for 2016-17 compared with 2015-16.

The Government need to have a wholesale rethink of the funding of the NHS and public health services that sees a redirection to prevention, which will go some way towards addressing many of the problems in our health service that are now being documented weekly. I hope that the Minister takes some time in his response to consider the points that I have raised in relation to public health funding and how current actions are failing the vision of the five year forward view and the health of our nation. Self-care needs properly to be funded and supported to be innovative, so that we ensure that the continuing crisis facing the NHS can be reversed. We cannot continue as we are, because our NHS is too precious to let it fail. The health of the nation needs to be protected, where possible, to enable people to lead long, happy and fulfilling lives.

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