Sharon Hodgson MP

Working hard for Washington and Sunderland West.

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Sharon was invited along to speak at the Socialist Health Association's conference on Public Health Priorities where she outlined the policy direction the Labour Party was taking when it came to public health issues. 

You can read Sharon's speech below.


Thank you for inviting me to come speak to you today.

It is always an absolute pleasure to speak at a SHA event – this being my third in the year that I have been Labour’s Shadow Minister for Public Health.

It is wonderful to be with so many like-minded people who are committed to improving people’s health and ensuring that prevention is a key cornerstone of our approach to public policy.

I know you have an incredibly packed agenda with many excellent speakers, so I won’t be keeping you for too long.

But in my contribution to today’s discussions I want to set out Labour’s approach to public health and how all of you can help shape and contribute to the policy development as we move forward in this Parliament, and to the next General Election – whenever that may be.

That said, Labour are ready to take on the task of addressing the challenges we see when it comes to the public’s health.

I can commit to you today that whenever the public give us the opportunity to govern, Labour will be ready to get on with the task at hand of reversing the damage inflicted after seven years of Tory rule.

For Labour, our clear aim is to champion better public health services across the country which tackle the entrenched health inequalities that have been all too often ignored, tackling the permeation of ill-health that cripples our communities and ensuring our NHS has the right level of funding and resources so it is fighting fit for the future.

Under the Tories all of this has been ignored and failed. It cannot go on any longer.

Specifically, when it comes to public health, I have identified what I believe to be a “public health crisis”.

This is not about scaremongering or blustering; it is seeing what the Tories have done to our NHS and wider health services and having the understanding that their actions have consequences which put our nation’s health in jeopardy.

We all know the facts – by 2021, £800 million will have been siphoned away from public health services and this has had an unimaginable impact on services in our local communities which have stalled the improvement of health we so desperately need.

It isn’t just Labour who have recognised these concerns, but the likes of The King’s Fund, who earlier this year, analysed DCLG data on local spending priorities for public health and found that the prognosis was not good.

Their analysis identified that local authorities would be spending on average 5% less on public health initiatives than in 2014 with some of the worst hit services being sexual health promotion and prevention along with wider tobacco control which both see devastating cuts of more than 30%.

The King’s Funds’ conclusion is one that I completely agree with. They said:

“… there is little doubt that we are now entering the realms of real reductions in public health services. This is a direct result of the reduced priority that central government gives to public health.”

The idea of reduced priority isn’t one without basis. If we look at NHS England’s Five Year Forward View update report compared to the document published in 2014, public health has seen a clear downgrade from “a radical upgrade” to one deemed to be no more than an efficiency saving exercise in the 10-point efficiency plan.

Whilst efficiencies can always be found to improve outcomes and results, they categorically should never be done to the detriment of our health.

Since 2013, when public health was moved from central government to local authorities, it was welcome to see a more localised approach to addressing health needs – as we all too often know that health inequalities can be local and must be addressed by those who know their communities the best rather than faceless civil servants at their Whitehall desks.

Yet as the planning, commissioning and procurement of these services was devolved they were met with eye-watering cuts which left them struggling to ensure the new responsibilities they had acquired could be used effectively.

The icing on the cake, for those who believe passionately that improving public health should be done at a local level, was scrapped away when central government laid down these short-sighted cuts.

This has meant that services have had to fight to survive and maintain the standards that the public have come to expect, which in turn has led to the money needed to oil the wheels of innovation at a local level has not materialised.  

It is always important that innovation sits at the heart of public health so we can meet the health challenges of the day and ensure that we continue to move towards a society that is healthier and happier.

Whilst the local level has seen serious problems arise because of the Tories’ failures, there have also been concerns about action at a national population level too.

It is safe to say that delay, decisiveness and joining of the dots are lacking when it comes to national policy by Tory ministers.

We have seen an 18-month delayed Tobacco Control Plan finally published which failed to recognise that to provide the vision of smoke-free society set out in the Plan, that the Government must put their money where their mouth is to see it succeed.

The same can be said of the Home Office’s Drugs Strategy which failed to move on from its 2010 predecessor and ignored the significantly reduced funding envelope for prevention and treatment services we now have.

We also saw the PrEP Impact Trial continually delayed after the evidence has been abundantly clear that providing PrEP can revolutionise our approach to halting the spread of HIV in society.

Then there is the failure to address burgeoning issues such as lung diseases with what can only be described as disdain by ministers even considering the idea of a lung diseases strategy which could help co-ordinate action to improve outcomes for those blighted by these diseases, especially those in our most deprived communities.

The most perfect example of these failures by ministers was the Childhood Obesity Plan – published over a year ago now.

Though measures announced in the Plan two summers ago were, of course, to be welcomed and it is pleasing to see steady progress has been made when the Government published their update this summer, the Plan and the progress made have left us wanting.

We all know that obesity is one of the most burgeoning public health crisis facing our country right now and this Government have done the bare minimum so they can be seen as if they are acting on these worries. Labour won’t let this continue and we set out quite clearly how we would do this in our manifesto in June of this year with a radical approach to childhood health issues.

However, it is not only health issues specific to the brief which I shadow that this Government are failing on, but a whole host of policies which are damaging when it comes to our nation’s health.

The clear and most pronounced of these is: the growing prevalence of poverty in our society.

Poverty is not an inevitability of society but is in fact an inevitability of a failed society.

Through-out my parliamentary career, I have ensured that poverty is one of the key issues that I work on – may this have been through education or health matters.

It is what drives me in my work in Parliament as it is a damning indictment of any society to see poverty become so normalised that it is left to be ignored, especially in one of the richest countries in the world.

And it is what will drive me if I am ever honoured with the chance to be a minister in Government.

Poverty is a multi-faceted issue and realistically one fix will not address all of the causes of poverty, but the fact of the matter is, austerity is exacerbating the problems of poverty we see in our society.

Instead of putting their heads in the sand, it is high time that ministers got to task and addressed these issues head on.

Poverty has untold consequences on our society – may this be on education, life opportunities or on our health.

These matters cannot be ignored much longer and it is important that governments put the health of our nation first and to do that health must be considered in every action that is taken by a Government.

What I have set out is a sorry state of affairs which we find ourselves in due to the crippling policies of the Tories, but Labour is up to the task of reversing them.

We have heard it said often since the snap General Election in June, but Labour is a government-in-waiting and Labour’s Shadow Health team of myself, Jon as our Secretary of State and Barbara, Justin and Julie, are ready to work tirelessly to improving our nation’s health.

We have a track record on this. Take our June manifesto, where we set out in a comprehensive fashion a radical programme on public health and wider health and social care services.

I, for one, was incredibly proud of what we offered to the country. I may be a bit biased here but we offered hope and a true vision on what government should be doing around health.

But, as I said at the outset of my speech, we must continue to look forward – especially with another General Election forever looming over us with this shambolic government in office.

That is why I welcome these opportunities to meet with you all and speak to you about our priorities as a Labour Party. And about what you believe a future Labour Government should prioritise when it comes to our health policy.

We have a lot to sort out, so there will be many competing priorities if we are to get into office but I want you to know that I will continue to champion an improved preventative health service and work towards our ambition to be the healthiest society we have ever seen.

I can only do that with your support and guidance, but I know for sure that together we can achieve this ambition that I lay before us today.

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