As Shadow Minister for Public Health, Sharon responded to a Westminster Hall debate ahead of World Cancer Day 2019 on behalf of the Opposition.
You can read Sharon's speech below:
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Christopher. I start by thanking the hon. Member for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk (John Lamont) for securing this timely debate, and the other hon. Members for their excellent contributions: my hon. Friends the Members for High Peak (Ruth George), for Lincoln (Karen Lee) and for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill (Hugh Gaffney), and the hon. Members for Strangford (Jim Shannon) for Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock (Bill Grant), and for Central Ayrshire (Dr Whitford).
World Cancer Day gives us an opportunity to come together and celebrate how far we have come in cancer diagnosis, treatment and care. It also gives us a chance to reflect on what more needs to be done to fight cancer. The Minister and I have previously worked closely together as co-chairs, as we often say in debates, on breast cancer, as I also have with the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire. That shows that all the main parties’ spokespersons are committed to working together on this issue.
Cancer is a very emotive issue, as we have heard in this debate in some passionate contributions. One in two of us will be affected by it in our lifetime. Most of us in this room will be here today because of the personal effect that cancer has had on our or our family’s lives. In the UK alone, more than 360,000 people are diagnosed with cancer every year. That figure is expected to rise to more than half a million cancer cases every year by 2035. That is equivalent to one new case every minute. That makes the Prime Minister’s commitment to diagnose three in four cancers at an early stage by 2028 all the more ambitious.
Our NHS workforce do a fantastic job every day in caring for us and our loved ones, but as we have heard, there are chronic staff shortages across the NHS. There are vacancies for 102,000 staff, including 41,000 nurses. That makes it harder and harder for them to do the jobs that they want to do. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Lincoln, who as a former nurse powerfully made the point about the effect that the lack of the bursary has on the situation. Cancer Research UK has also pointed to the chronic shortages in the diagnostic workforce, with over one in 10 positions unfilled nationally. This is a worrying trend, as more people are expected to be diagnosed with cancer over the years and the NHS cancer workforce are already struggling to keep up with demand.
We covered a lot of this ground with the Minister in the debate earlier this month, in which we also discussed the long-term plan. The Minister said that,
“we must ensure that we have the right staff with the appropriate skills and expertise to ensure that patients receive the best care.”—[Official Report, 8 January 2019; Vol. 652, c. 60WH.]
I agree with him. Therefore, will he tell the House when he plans to publish the workforce implementation plan and when the budget for Health Education England will be set? Patients have a right to the best possible care and it is crucial that the NHS workforce are able to provide that. That is why I believe the Minister should consider it—as he probably does—a top priority.
It will be World Cancer Day on Monday, and I am proudly wearing my wristband. We must recognise the contribution the UK in particular has made to cancer diagnosis, care and treatment around the world. For example, Cancer Research UK has played a role in developing eight of the world’s top 10 cancer drugs. More than a quarter of the clinical trials that Cancer Research UK funds involve at least one other country. Cancer Research UK’s international grand challenge scheme brings together researchers from the UK, Europe and around the world on three five-year programmes, to take on some of the toughest challenges in cancer research. Cancer is an international challenge, which is why we should all unite together against cancer.
It is not just about surviving cancer. As we have heard today, it is about living well with cancer. According to Macmillan, 70% of people with cancer are living with one or more other serious health condition, often as a result of cancer and its treatment. Similarly, a third of people who have completed their treatment in the last two years say that their emotional wellbeing is still affected. As we have heard, during and after treatment, the cost of cancer can be a major issue with regard to not just loss of earnings, but travel and transport costs, and the increasingly expensive parking charges.
I have supported Macmillan’s Cost of Cancer campaign for over 10 years now. It is sad that we still need to debate and discuss this, but it is still a major issue. The issue of parking could be very easily solved. The cost of cancer also includes access to benefits, as we heard from my hon. Friends the Members for High Peak and for Lincoln. That can also be solved easily by some joined-up action across Government. That is why, when thinking about cancer, we must not forget about after-care, advice and support, especially when it comes to further symptoms that could become secondary cancer. In this regard, I believe that it is vitally important that GPs are aware of all symptoms of secondary cancer, so that it can be picked up as soon as possible.
Finally, in this World Cancer Day debate, I want to pay tribute to all the NHS cancer workforce for all the hard work they do, day in, day out. Whether diagnosing, treating, caring or advising, they do a difficult, but fantastic job, which we are all very grateful for. I also pay tribute to the scientists and researchers who discover the groundbreaking new treatments and information. Finally, I thank the campaigners and volunteers. We cannot beat cancer alone, which is why we must all come together to do so. As always, I look forward to working with the Minister to do just that.
As Shadow Minister for Public Health, Sharon responded to a Westminster Hall debate ahead of World Cancer Day 2019 on behalf of the Opposition. You can read the debate here... Read more
As the Shadow Minister for Public Health, Sharon responded to a Backbench Business Debate on Appropriate ME treatment in the House of Commons.
You can read Sharon's speech below:
Mrs Sharon Hodgson (Washington and Sunderland West) (Lab):
I start by thanking the hon. Members for Glasgow North West (Carol Monaghan) and for Cheltenham (Alex Chalk) and the right hon. Member for Loughborough (Nicky Morgan) for securing this important debate. I thank all hon. Members who spoke; it was great that so many did so. Due to time, I shall not list them all.
I thank the charities—MEAction, Action for ME, the ME Association, the M.E. Trust and ME North East—and all the patients who have been in touch with me to share their thoughts, feelings and experiences of living with ME. The ME Association estimates that approximately 250,000 people in Britain are affected by ME; we have heard plenty of moving stories about those individuals today. However, an article published in the British Medical Journal in July 2018 reported that 90% of cases are thought to go undiagnosed, and that people with ME are substantially undercounted, underdiagnosed and undertreated. As we have heard, patients are often passed from pillar to post with dismissals and misdiagnoses, and sometimes left waiting over a year for a diagnosis. I am sure the Minister does not need me to tell him that that does not meet NICE guidelines of diagnosis within four months of the onset of symptoms. The Government should therefore do more, and considering that they are not doing much for patients with ME at the moment, I do not think that that is too much to ask.
The Government do not fund research and clinical care for people with ME at the rate they do for other serious prevalent diseases. As we have heard, the average spent on research for a person living with ME is just £1 a year. According to Action for ME, that represents just 0.02% of all active grants given by the mainstream UK funding agencies. I am therefore concerned that the Government recently confirmed in a written answer that ME research funding is lower now than it was even in 2013-14.
Current treatments of graded exercise therapy and cognitive behaviour therapy have been found to be harmful to patients with ME, and continue the narrative of disbelief and neglect of them, which we have heard about from a number of hon. Members. NICE has already recognised that its guidelines are outdated, and that patients do not receive the full picture on recommended treatments. NICE is updating its clinical guidance on the diagnosis and management of ME, but that is not expected to be published until October 2020. Patients and their families have already waited long enough, so will the Minister work with patients, charities, researchers and NICE to ensure that treatment and care for ME is appropriate?
We have heard today why funding for biomedical research into ME is so desperately needed. According to MEAction, the only year in which the Medical Research Council invested any meaningful sum in biomedical research was 2012, when £1.5 million of funds were ring-fenced. However, no funds have been allocated for biomedical ME research since then.
In the Westminster Hall debate in June last year, I called on the Government to consider funding research, because it is long overdue. Will the Minister commit to doing that today, or will the Government continue to leave it up to the charity sector to do so? Projects such as Invest in ME Research, which has four PhD students researching ME, have been financially supported by patients and their families via crowdfunding in excess of £870,000. That is fantastic, but it should not be left to patients to crowdfund research. More funding for research will enhance healthcare professionals and clinicians’ understanding of ME, which will improve the patient experience and debunk the myths of ME being a primarily psychological condition, as we have heard about today. Clinicians must have access to up-to-date research and information so that they can give patients the best possible care and advice.
In some areas, however, that is not the case, as Jennifer Elliot, the CEO of ME North East, has brought to my attention. Jennifer told me of the diminished services available to patients with ME in the north-east region. There are no services at all for young people with ME in the entire north-east. Adult services in Sunderland are closed to patients altogether, and have been for some months, with no date for them to be reinstated. For 20 years, ME North East has been doing all it can to help and support ME patients but, with a severe lack of funding, it is now at crisis point. I am sure that other regions have similar stories, as we have heard today, so will the Minister please consider the loss of services in his response? Will he ensure that the services are reinstated and supported financially by the Government?
Finally, we must ensure that the stigma of ME is tackled. Funding and research will help, but it cannot be right that, as found last year, more than one in five families caring for a child with ME have been referred for child protection proceedings due to school absences and a lack of understanding by the school, as we have heard. I am pleased that the vast majority of those accusations are dismissed in less than a year, but the added stress and burden to families with children suffering with ME can be overwhelming. We therefore need more funding for research, so that we can understand, care for and treat ME, and break down the stigma.
As the Shadow Minister for Public Health, Sharon responded to a Backbench Business Debate on Appropriate ME treatment in the House of Commons. You can watch Sharon's speech here You...
In a Westminster Hall debate, Sharon raised the concerns of constituents who have got in touch with her recently about leaseholds. Sharon has recently written to constituents to ask them to get in touch if they have been affected by leaseholds.
You can read Sharon's speech below:
Mrs Sharon Hodgson (Washington and Sunderland West):
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Ryan. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Stretford and Urmston (Kate Green) on securing this important debate. I would like to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick) in speaking about leasehold issues that relate to the protection of homebuyers.
An estimated 12.4% of homes sold in Washington and Sunderland West were sold as leasehold in 2016. I realise that my constituency does not have the largest number of leasehold homes—certainly not as many as the constituencies of some of my hon. Friends—but the issue is still important to my constituents. That is why I recently began a consultation on leasehold homes in which I asked constituents to get in touch with me about their experiences. I only launched the campaign three weeks ago, but 30 constituents have already written to me with their concerns, in some cases in detail. I do not have time to go into the details of each, but I would like to share the themes that have become apparent from their emails.
Most homebuyers were not aware what a leasehold was when they purchased their home. There is a serious lack of knowledge about what leasehold and freehold are; I feel that developers have a duty to inform prospective buyers about the difference between the two and what it means for them. As we have heard, solicitors also have a part to play. It makes a person wonder who they act on behalf of—the buyer or the developer—especially when the developer includes free conveyancing as part of the sale. Solicitors should always act in the best interest of their client, who in this case should be the buyer, not the developer. I have to agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland (Helen Goodman), who is not in her place at the moment, that this abuse should be referred to the Law Society. I hope that the Minister will make that recommendation; I am sure it is in her power to refer dodgy solicitors to the Law Society.
Does the Minister agree that if we are to protect homebuyers, we should educate them to know the difference between leasehold and freehold so that they can make the best decision for themselves and their families? That should certainly be the case for first-time buyers, and financial education lessons in schools have an important part to play in achieving that.
Notwithstanding the issue of educating the population as a whole, there should be complete transparency from very early on in the sale about whether the property is leasehold and what that means. Two of my constituents have told me that they were not informed that their property was leasehold until the very day of signing the contract. Another has told me that they were not aware that their property was leasehold until nearly 15 years after the original purchase—probably when they tried to make alterations or build an extension. Because of the lack of knowledge about leaseholds and the lack of information available to homebuyers, there is a lot of confusion and variation when it comes to buying the freehold.
Many leaseholders were told that they could purchase the freehold at a later date, perhaps when they had saved enough money. However, when some constituents inquired about purchasing the freehold, they found that the goalposts had moved and the price was much further out of reach than they had expected. Some have even been informed that the freehold is now not for sale—in some cases because it has been sold to a third-party company without the leaseholder’s knowledge.
Not only is the cost of buying the freehold out of reach for some of my constituents; so is the cost of ground rent, which can increase year on year. Then there are the admin fees that homeowners have to pay when asking the freeholder’s permission to make changes to their own property. One of my constituents was charged £400 by the freeholder to build a conservatory on their own property. Another constituent expressed great frustration that they are charged £100 for a yes or no decision on basic things, such as replacing a kitchen, bathroom or even a window. It can sometimes take more than eight weeks to hear back on whether that is a yes or a no.
I know that some leaseholders out there listening will now be horrified and will be deterred from making queries to the freeholder, for fear of being charged some of these exorbitant fees. Too many leaseholders are locked into a state of being regularly over charged by freeholders, being unable to afford their ever-increasing ground rent, or never being able to afford to buy their freehold due it to being linked to some sort of escalator that was hidden in the small print of the contract, which their solicitor never pointed out to them. I share the concerns of my constituents who feel like they have been ripped off by leasehold contracts and I call on the Government to launch an inquiry into the scandal as soon as possible.
In a Westminster Hall debate, Sharon raised the concerns of constituents who have got in touch with her recently about leaseholds. Sharon has recently written to constituents to ask them...
In a Westminster Hall debate on the equalisation of the State Pension age, Sharon raised the experiences of some of her constituents.
You can read Sharon's speech below:
Mrs Sharon Hodgson (Washington and Sunderland West)
It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend, who even got a naughty bit of applause from the Public Gallery.
I congratulate the hon. Member for North Ayrshire and Arran (Patricia Gibson) on securing this debate and on her passionate opening speech. It is important that we keep this issue on the parliamentary agenda, and that we continue to speak up for the women who have been so adversely affected by the changes.
Like other hon. Members, I have received a significant number of letters and emails from women who have been badly affected by the impact of the equalisation of the state pension age. I will use my time to share just a few of the experiences of the 6,100 women in my constituency who have been affected by all the various changes since 1995.
Janice wrote to me:
“I was born in 1956 and expected my pension when I was 60. The government has moved the goalposts twice and I now have to wait until I am 66…I am 63 and have left work to spend quality time with my 79-year-old husband. This has not been an easy decision as I am living without my pension.”
Then there is Carol, who wrote:
“I only received a letter from the DWP four years before I was 60, so had very little notice at all.”
Carol has a private pension, but will not receive her state pension until she is 66. She is caring for her 89-year-old mother, and two of her granddaughters.
Susie Donkin, who was born in 1957, received notice only two years before she turned 60 that she would not receive her pension until she was 66.
Another of my constituents, Sue, put it all succinctly when she wrote to me that:
“Women have so much against them. In the past they have had the burden of looking after the children and unable to build careers as men did…wages were not equal and opportunities for married women were not the same either.”
The WASPI women need action now. They have already waited long enough, and many are suffering real hardship and are basically destitute, as we have heard. It is totally unacceptable that the Government are simply ignoring the calls of those women. I ask the Minister to please listen to their calls now.
In a Westminster Hall debate on the equalisation of the State Pension age, Sharon raised the experiences of some of her constituents. You can read the debate here You...
As the Shadow Minister for Public Health, Sharon Hodgson MP responded to a debate in Westminster Hall on the diagnosis and treatment of Ovarian Cancer.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Bone. I thank the hon. Member for North East Derbyshire (Lee Rowley) for securing this very important debate and for his vice- chairmanship of the all-party parliamentary group on ovarian cancer, which I am extremely proud to chair. We work very well together. Indeed, earlier this year he and I shared the chairing responsibilities for two oral evidence sessions as part of the preparation for publication of our report entitled “Diagnosing ovarian cancer sooner: what more can be done?” to mark World Ovarian Cancer Day 2018. I thank him for that also.
The hon. Gentleman made an excellent and extremely moving opening speech. He shared many examples of women’s lived experiences of this awful disease, including his own experience with his mum Linda. I have no doubt she will be proudly watching him lead this debate. We are all MPs—that’s for sure—but we are also real people with lived experiences and families. Sharing those personal experiences can improve the debate, as it has done today. I thank the hon. Members for Strangford (Jim Shannon), for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk (John Lamont) and for Lanark and Hamilton East (Angela Crawley) for their contributions to this important debate. We have also had some excellent interventions.
Many of the key statistics around this awful disease have been covered so far in this excellent debate, but if something is worth saying once, it is worth saying twice. Over 7,000 women are diagnosed with ovarian cancer every day in the UK, but sadly survival rates are among the lowest in Europe. Less than half of women diagnosed with ovarian cancer survive five years or more. Tragically, 4,000 women in the UK die each year because of this awful disease. Although progress has been made in diagnosing and treating ovarian cancer, there is still much more to be done and I want to highlight some ways the Government can do that.
I was extremely grateful to the Minister for meeting with me recently to discuss the key recommendations from the APPG’s report, which I just mentioned, and I will raise some of them now. Diagnosis is one of the key ways that women with ovarian cancer are often let down. Many women report experiencing delays in diagnosis. An astonishingly high proportion, 45%, say that it took three months or even longer to receive a diagnosis after first approaching their GP with symptoms. As we have heard, symptom awareness is one of the key things we must address. It is most concerning because we know the significant impact early diagnosis can have on chances of survival. Nine in 10 women who receive an early diagnosis of ovarian cancer can survive for five years or more, compared with less than five in 100 women who are diagnosed at a very late stage.
I want to share a story, as a few hon. Members have. My constituent Gail wrote to me ahead of this debate telling me the experience of her younger sister, who has stage 3 ovarian cancer that has spread to her stomach lining. Although she is currently responding to treatment, it took a long time to get the diagnosis in the first place. At one point, she was being incorrectly treated for rheumatoid arthritis. That only changed when she developed blood clots in her legs, which led the hospital to look for cancer. We can only imagine the added distress that this kind of delay can cause in an already extremely difficult experience.
As a result of her sister’s diagnosis, Gail underwent genetic testing and discovered that she had the BRCA2 gene, which, as we know, gives her a high predisposition to ovarian and breast cancer. My constituent underwent elective surgery at the start of the year to remove her ovaries and fallopian tubes, and is awaiting the next step with regard to the breast cancer risk. This case shows how important it is that patients are diagnosed as soon as possible, not only for themselves, but for their family members who may have to undergo further testing.
On early diagnosis, will the Minister support a review of the referral pathway for ovarian cancer, particularly in relation to the introduction of the shortened pathway that we have seen in Scotland, so that, as the hon. Member for North East Derbyshire also requested, the CA125 blood tests and ultrasound tests can be done at the same time, rather than sequentially, as they are now? What steps has his Department taken to ensure that NICE guidelines, which say that women should be offered BRCA testing at diagnosis, are adhered to? Ovarian Cancer Action found that 30% of women are not being offered this testing. I know that the new multidisciplinary diagnostic centres will also help with early diagnosis, but they are currently in the pilot stage and limited to 10 sites. Will the Minister confirm whether there are plans for more centres, so that everyone can have access to those services regardless of where they live?
As we know, the four key symptoms of ovarian cancer are a bloated tummy, needing to urinate more often or urgently, experiencing tummy pain and always feeling full. Anyone newly experiencing those symptoms 12 times a month or more is advised to see their GP. However, awareness of these symptoms is worryingly low. According to Target Ovarian Cancer, just 20% of women can name bloating as a symptom and only 3% can name feeling full or loss of appetite. Awareness campaigns run by Public Health England have been shown to be highly effective. The one currently running focuses on blood in urine.
Considering that we know how important it is that those with ovarian cancer are diagnosed quickly, it would be helpful to know whether Public Health England has any plans to run a Be Clear on Cancer campaign that focuses on either ovarian cancer or a cluster of symptoms for a range of cancers, including ovarian.
I recently attended Ovarian Cancer Action’s research grant award ceremony, where I heard about some of the incredible work being funded across the UK. The innovation and determination of some of the projects is truly astonishing. One project—it is hard to describe, but I will give it a go anyway—had a huge number of examples of DNA that needed going through on an individual basis and labelling. Due to the sheer quantity of data that needed sifting, those in charge of the programme invented a Tinder-style app—I know it sounds unusual—that enabled people to quickly categorise the different examples of DNA by swiping left or right. That information was then fed back into the research team’s data, to build up a comprehensive body of data.
Another project that received funding was that of Dr Jonathan Krell and Dr James Flanagan of the Ovarian Cancer Action Research Centre. They are investigating how changes to our genes can play a big part in the risk of developing cancer, including assessing how feasible it would be to implement a new genetic testing model that identifies and supports families at risk of ovarian cancer because of an inherited BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation. With that in mind, does the Minister’s Department have any plans to increase Government funding into medical research for the early detection, diagnosis and prevention of ovarian cancer?
Finally, I want to cover the issue of surgery. As the Minister knows, surgery for ovarian cancer is widely considered one of the biggest factors in survival rates. Surgery for ovarian cancer is extremely difficult. Someone I know well who had the surgery once described it to me as being like trying to remove a bunch of grapes, and if any of the grapes was punctured or broke that would cause huge internal damage by spreading the cancer. Although there are a number of surgical centres of excellence across the UK, there are many women who do not have access to them and are being operated on by general surgeons—no generalist will ever be as good as a specialist. Through no fault of their own, those women will have a lower chance of survival than those who receive the specialist surgery. What assurances can the Minister give that steps are being taken to ensure that all women with ovarian cancer have access to a specialist surgeon and that the regional variation can be brought to an end?
Before I conclude I want to pay tribute to some of the incredible organisations and campaigners that I have had the pleasure of working with on this issue over the years. They work tirelessly not only to combat the disease, but to provide support and comfort to those who have it. They include Ovarian Cancer Action, the Eve Appeal and Target Ovarian Cancer, which also does much to support the work of the APPG on ovarian cancer in its role as the secretariat to the group. I look forward to hearing from the Minister about the ways in which the Government can support the work of those great charities and campaigners, and support the thousands of women across the country who sadly suffer from this disease.
As the Shadow Minister for Public Health, Sharon Hodgson MP responded to a debate in Westminster Hall on the diagnosis and treatment of Ovarian Cancer. You can read the full...
At Labour Party Conference, Sharon spoke at a fringe event hosted by the Northern Health Science Alliance (NHSA) and the Social Market Foundation (SMF) titled "How can we reduce regional health inequalities to create a healthier and wealthier Britain?"
Sharon is pictured here left to right with Dr Luke Mumford, Research Fellow, University of Manchester; Nigel Keohane, Research Director SMF and Dr Hakim Yadi OBE, CEO, Northern Health Science Alliance
You can read Sharon's speech below. Please check against delivery.
Sharon Hodgson MP:
I hope that you have all been making the most of conference and have enjoyed your time here in Liverpool.
I’m Sharon Hodgson, the Member of Parliament for Washington and Sunderland West; I am also the Shadow Minister for Public Health.
I’ve been in this role for two years now, and health inequalities – amongst other issues, of course – have taken up a lot of my focus.
It is therefore a pleasure to be here this afternoon to speak about regional health inequalities, something I am sure we are all passionate about tackling.
I should start by saying that although we are talking about health inequalities between the North and South today, I know that health inequalities do exist within regions and boroughs; especially in London.
For example, Kensington and Chelsea, which is the richest borough in the country, boasts the longest life expectancy in the country.
But the most disadvantaged people in Kensington and Chelsea can expect to live 14 years less than their more advantaged counterparts.
Even so a general pattern still emerges however between the North and the South overall and that is what I am talking about specifically today.
We all know that regional health inequalities exist, but when I met with Dr Hakim Yadi earlier this year and he showed me the health atlas I was taken aback by how stark the north / south divide was in terms of key life limiting conditions and diseases.
I don’t want to pre-empt anything that he may say when he speaks, but it really did bring into sharp focus, the realisation that people in the North are more likely to be unhealthy, and therefore die earlier, than people in the South.
Now, life expectancy in the UK has always gradually increased.
But for the first time in well over a century, the improvement in life expectancy began to stall in 2010, when a certain Mr Cameron walked into 10 Downing Street with a certain Mr Clegg!
Whilst Britain is being left behind and fast becoming “the sick man of Europe”, the Government will have cut public health funding by £200 million since 2015, and sitting back as if the issue will heal by itself.
Of course, it won’t.
In fact, the problem gets worse and worse the further North you go.
Research published in the British Medical Journal shows a 20% higher premature death rate for those living in the North across all age groups.
That is 1,173,360 Northerners dying earlier than if they had experienced the same life chances as those in the South over the last 50 years.
That is absolutely outrageous, and as Professor Iain Buchan (Buck-han) said:
“Five decades of death records tell a tale of two Englands, North and South, divided by resources and life expectancy.”
According to Buchan, there is currently a gap of two years between northern and southern life expectancy.
But when we look at the gap between specific regions, the story is much worse.
In the South East, the healthy life expectancy for men is 65.9 years and 66.6 years for women .
But up in the North East, where I represent, people can expect a much shorter healthy life expectancy.
Men in the North East have a healthy life expectancy of 59.7 years and women have a healthy life expectancy of 59.8 years – significantly lower than the England average .
That means that the inequality gap in healthy life expectancy at birth for the South East and North East is 6.2 years for men and 6.8 years for women.
If people in the North are more likely to be unhealthy and unwell before they even reach retirement age, then our productivity is significantly reduced through higher levels of absenteeism and unemployment.
The cycle of poor health and low productivity is therefore never ending, because high levels of absenteeism and unemployment means reduced earnings which can lead to poor health outcomes.
I know that the NHSA are undertaking research into this and will be launching its findings later this year. I will be really interested to look into those more closely as part of my work on this.
But the analysis so far shows that in order to improve productivity, we need to improve health; and we can’t improve health without investment.
Recent research has shown that there is a positive link between the level of investment in health research and the health outcomes of that area.
But as we know, there is very little investment in the North.
The North has seen significant underinvestment from the public sector in clinical and healthcare research compared to other regions.
In the recent funding allocation from the National Institute of Healthcare Research Biomedical Research Centres, only 6.7% of the £816 million total funding went to the North, whereas 83% was secured by the Golden Triangle.
The phrase, follow the money has therefore never been more apt, as this shows the total imbalance, not just for funding but for health and outcomes.
Those in the South are more likely to be healthy and ‘easier’ patients because of all this research and funding.
That has to change.
If we invest in the North, we invest in our people, we invest in our health and we invest in our workforce.
A healthier workforce in the North will contribute to closing the productivity gap of 4% that exists between the North and South, and growing the region’s GDP rate to the UK average, could unlock 850,000 jobs by 2050.
Improved prosperity in the North will therefore drive further improvements in the region’s population and health.
And with improved health follows more investment.
The Government talk a lot about the Northern Powerhouse, but in reality, the North continues to be ignored.
If we are to tackle regional health inequalities, then what we need is investment in the North and our public health services need to be properly financed so that people can live healthier lives.
As the Shadow Minister for Public Health, I am committed to ensuring our health and care system is properly funded so that all children are given the best possible start in life, and older people are treated with the respect and dignity that they deserve, no matter where they live.
This today forms part of the discussion in how we go about doing just that, and I look forward to hearing everyone’s thoughts and ideas on this.
You can visit the NHSA website here.
You can visit the SMF website here.
At Labour Party Conference, Sharon spoke at a fringe event hosted by the Northern Health Science Alliance (NHSA) and the Social Market Foundation (SMF) titled "How can we reduce regional...
At Labour Party Conference, Sharon spoke at a fringe event hosted by Wave Trust, titled "Radical, cutting-edge solutions to violence, mental ill-health, disease, poverty and inequality".
Sharon pictured here left to right with Paul Williams MP and George Hosking of Wave Trust
You can read Sharon's speech below. Please check against delivery.
Sharon Hodgson MP:
I hope that everyone is enjoying conference so far.
I’m Sharon Hodgson, the Member of Parliament for Washington and Sunderland West; I am also the Shadow Minister for Public Health.
It’s an honour to follow Paul who is making such an impact in Parliament, and I commend him for his work and leadership on the ACE’s campaign in Parliament and wider society. It is vital work as he so eloquently explained.
I would like to start by thanking George from Wave Trust for asking me to speak here today.
I’ve worked with George for many years now, from when I was the Shadow Minister for Children and Families and on various campaigns such as the 1001 critical days manifesto and the 70/30 campaign, and I’m pleased to continue my support for George, and champion the importance of prevention, the early years and infant mental health in my role as Shadow Minister for Public Health.
The importance of the early years of a child’s life really cannot be overstated.
What happens, especially during those 1001 critical days, really can affect every aspect of a child’s life as they grow into adulthood, and have serious implications for them in the future.
It is therefore surprising, and incredibly frustrating, that Governments around the world, including our own, don’t put more emphasis on the importance of this very earliest part of a child’s life, extending also into the early years and beyond.
On this Government’s watch, we have 14 million people, including 4.5 million children, living below the poverty line .
Almost 4 million children in the UK are living in households that struggle to afford to buy enough fruit, vegetables, fish and other healthy foods to meet the official nutrition guidelines .
As the cost of living continues to increase under this Government, not only for food but housing and child care, it is getting harder and harder for parents to make ends meet.
My aim as the Shadow Minister for Public Health – and when we have a Labour Government, as the Minister for Public Health (if I’m asked) – is to ensure our children are some of the healthiest in the world, and to tackle the glaring inequalities we still see throughout our society.
But when some of our children aren’t even receiving the most basic needs from an early age, this is really going to be an uphill struggle, because inequalities are evident before children even start school and then persist throughout adolescence and adulthood.
But as pointed out by Professor James Heckman, who says:
“An economically advantaged child exposed to low-quality parenting is more disadvantaged than an economically disadvantaged child exposed to high-quality parenting.”
It’s not all about financial poverty – which I know many of us are rightly quick to point the finger at.
It’s also about the soft skills deficit.
Character traits such as conscientiousness, perseverance, sociability, motivation, attention, self-regulation, self-esteem, ability to defer gratification are all important for success; but of course, these all come from being nurtured.
To quote Heckman again:
“The family plants and nourishes the seed that grows into the successful student and adult.”
But if the family don’t take the time to nurture and teach, then that child, regardless of materialist belongings or finance, will be at a social disadvantage in comparison to his or her peers.
As living costs rise and demands increase, parents do need support.
That is why Sure Start Children’s Centres were so important to not only parents and families, but to a child’s development, as it put children on a level footing before they started school.
We should all be screaming from the roof tops that since 2010, over 1,200 Sure Start Centres have closed.
Especially when Cameron so publicly promised they would be safe in his hands numerous times in the televised debates and on the eve of poll – saying Gordon Brown was scaremongering! Remember that?
We can’t help our genes, but what we can do is ensure that parents and families are equipped with the skills and access to services to ensure that they can support their child’s development and nurture them beyond whatever hand nature dealt them.
We must accept that we can’t change everything, but if we can change the outcome of someone’s life by early preventative intervention, then surely, we must do so.
I remember very fondly Tesssa Jowell, who set up Sure Start in 1998, telling me when I became Shadow Children’s Minister in 2010, how she had told her officials that she wanted to walk into a Sure Start centre and be able to smell the babies, so she would know the centres were being used and that lives were being changed.
I believe that we owe it to Tessa and her legacy to ensure that the remaining Sure Start centres are defended and used to capacity as intended, not stand as empty shells.
I am a firm believer in the quote that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, which is why I am such an avid campaigner for early intervention and indeed prevention.
Children with a high ACEs score are more likely to smoke, drink heavily, have depression and a high number of sexual partners.
All of these have effects on one’s health and wellbeing in the long run, and are also contributing to the strain on our NHS, which is why it is important to prevent ACEs in the first place.
The Government has consistently cut public health spending with cuts to public health budgets alone of over £200 billion since 2015 , but has failed to fill in the gap with any initiative that encourages people to live healthier lives.
As I said at the beginning, my aim is to ensure that our children grow up to be some of the healthiest in the world, and I know that I will be including this as part of the discussion when considering how Labour will reach that goal.
You can visit Wave Trust's website here.
At Labour Party Conference, Sharon spoke at a fringe event hosted by Wave Trust, titled "Radical, cutting-edge solutions to violence, mental ill-health, disease, poverty and inequality". Sharon pictured here left...
As Shadow Minister for Public Health, Sharon responded to a Westminster Hall debate on ME treatment and research. During her speech, Sharon raised the issue of limited funding for research on ME and delays in diagnosis.
You can read Sharon's speech below
Mrs Sharon Hodgson (Washington and Sunderland West) (Lab)
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Gapes.
I thank the hon. Member for Glasgow North West (Carol Monaghan) for her excellent speech setting the scene today and for securing this important debate, and I thank the Backbench Business Committee for granting the time for it. I also thank all hon. Members who contributed. A great number of them did so: the right hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Sir Edward Davey), the hon. Members for Mid Dorset and North Poole (Michael Tomlinson), for Cheltenham (Alex Chalk), for Strangford (Jim Shannon), for Stirling (Stephen Kerr), for Luton North (Kelvin Hopkins) and for Paisley and Renfrewshire North (Gavin Newlands), and my hon. Friends the Members for Stroud (Dr Drew), for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy), for Heywood and Middleton (Liz McInnes), for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Luke Pollard) and for Ealing North (Stephen Pound) all made excellent and moving speeches. I thank the many other Members who made excellent interventions. The packed Public Gallery and the number of Members attending and speaking in the debate on a Thursday afternoon shows the strength of feeling on the subject not only in Parliament but in the nation as a whole—more should be done to help people with ME. They should get the help, recognition, support and treatment that they deserve and need.
I thank MEAction, Action for ME, the ME Association and the ME Trust for the detailed brief that they sent me, and ME North East and especially the Sunderland and South Tyneside ME support group including Professor Malcolm Hooper—I first met him way back in 2010 on this very issue—for all the work that they do to campaign for better care, support and recognition for people living with ME. We have heard today in great and moving detail from numerous Members sharing tragic and very personal stories from their constituents, whom we thank for allowing their stories to be told.
ME is a neurological disease, or a disease of the central nervous system, but that does not begin to explain how devastating it can be to have to live with it—or die from it, as happened so tragically to 21-year-old Merryn Crofts. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Heywood and Middleton, who was her MP, and the hon. Member for Glasgow North West for sharing her story with us in some detail—I especially thank her family for allowing that—and helping to make the case so strongly in the debate.
ME affects an estimated 250,000 adults and children in the UK and about 17 million people worldwide. Despite the fact that so many people are affected by ME, it is little understood in the medical world, leaving patients feeling dismissed, neglected and stigmatised further by their condition. That can be no surprise, as no significant research has been done into the condition, as we have heard. ME receives far less research funding than other neurological conditions of similar prevalence or disease burden. The answer to a written question from the hon. Member for Glasgow North West revealed that the average research spend per person living with ME is only about £1 a year, as she said. Also, the majority of that research spending does not even come from Government; it comes from the charity sector.
Does the Minister think that research into this condition should be left entirely up to the charity sector? The ME charity sector in the UK does a fantastic job of researching the condition. For example, the UK ME/CFS Biobank is a vital part of the ME research infrastructure and has achieved an international reputation. All the start-up costs for the ME Biobank were funded by the charity sector, and ongoing costs are met by the ME Association’s Ramsay Research Fund. Do the Government have any plans to contribute to that research?
Patients with ME feel that they have been let down time and again as research such as the PACE trial—which, sensibly, we heard about—have been found to be seriously flawed. In fact, Jonathan Edwards, emeritus professor of medicine, said that the PACE trial would be a great example
“in an undergraduate textbook as an object lesson in how not to design a trial”.
In addition, a petition signed by more than 12,000 individuals —mostly patients, but also more than 90 scientists and clinicians—and more than 50 patient groups worldwide have demanded a retraction of the results of that trial. Does the Minister agree that ME patients deserve a trial that they can trust not to dismiss their condition or recommend treatments that could make it worse? Do the Government have any plans to fund a proactive and co-ordinated piece of research on ME that patients can trust?
Given the lack of medical research into ME, healthcare professionals are, unsurprisingly, not sufficiently trained in diagnosing the condition, as hon. Members have told us today. According to several ME charities, coverage of ME in many medical textbooks remains inadequate and can be misleading or even non-existent. The chief medical officer’s report and the NICE guidelines on ME set out clear timeline markers for making an early and accurate diagnosis. Both recommend that adults should normally have had the diagnosis confirmed within four months of onset of symptoms, or within three months for children and young people. However, standard medical tests often find nothing wrong, which leads many doctors initially to dismiss ME as psychological.
In 2016 a patient survey by the ME Association indicated that only a small number of patients were receiving a positive diagnosis within six months of onset. Further experiences from the charity sector suggest that a majority of patients have to wait for more than a year, and a significant number for many years, before they receive a diagnosis. That means that patients are being dismissed and stigmatised further and, more importantly, are not then receiving the care and support that they need. Does the Minister have any plans to create a care pathway for people with ME to ensure that patients are given access to the care and treatment they require in a timely manner?
In addition, has the Minister made any assessment of the effects that ME, and the delay in diagnosis of it, have on women in particular? I find it incredibly illuminating that 75% of patients with ME are women. That leads me to believe that there is an issue of women’s pain being dismissed and not taken seriously by healthcare professionals. Will the Minister consider that issue in his response?
It is therefore clear that more training is required, not only for healthcare professionals but for welfare assessors. A survey by Action for ME found that 79% of survey respondents disagreed with the statement that their assessor had sufficient expertise of their condition to conduct an assessment effectively and appropriately. Symptoms of ME can fluctuate so much and are often invisible, as we have heard, so the condition is difficult to manage for patients and, it has to be said, difficult for welfare assessors to detect.
A patient may perform well during a welfare assessment, but an assessor will not see how long patients rested in order to perform tasks during the assessment, or how long it took for them to recover afterwards. As we know, the onerous and ill-conceived assessment process can result in not only an inaccurate award, but an exacerbation of ME symptoms, which can result in a long-term deterioration of the individual’s health. Has the Minister had any conversations with his ministerial colleagues in the Department for Work and Pensions on that matter?
From this excellent debate, it is clear that the majority of issues that arise from ME do so because the condition is so little understood. The Government should consider funding research into ME to further our understanding of the condition. The hope is that that would, in time, improve perceptions of ME and improve the routes to diagnosis, care and treatment.
As Shadow Minister for Public Health, Sharon responded to a Westminster Hall debate on ME treatment and research. During her speech, Sharon raised the issue of limited funding for research... Read more
As Shadow Minister for Public Health, Sharon opened a General Debate in the House of Commons on acquired brain injuries.
During her speech, Sharon highlighted that although more and more people are surviving and living with a brain injury, this puts increased pressure on vital services, such as Neuro-rehabilitation. Sharon also praised the work of Headway Wearside, who provide support for people living with acquired brain injuries and their families.
You can read Sharon's speech below
Mrs Sharon Hodgson (Washington and Sunderland West) (Lab)
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. That is now in Hansard. I am sure the Minister will enjoy it in the months and years to come.
It is an honour to speak in this very important debate, and I thank the Government for allowing the time for it. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) for calling for it and for his tenacity in ensuring it went ahead, against all the odds, when we all doubted it would and even though we are very pushed for time. I thank the all-party group on acquired brain injury and the right hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr Hayes) for all their work and for their excellent campaign for better support and recognition for people living with ABI. I join the Minister in praising the work of the late and great Baroness Jowell. I, too, will never forget her last appearance in this Chamber in the Under Gallery.
Last month, along with colleagues from across the House, I was pleased to attend the rally for people with acquired brain injury at which they, along with their families, friends and carers, talked about their conditions and the services available to them. As we have heard, 1.3 million people in the UK live with the consequences of ABI, and each year approximately half a million patients attend UK emergency departments for traumatic brain injury. That is nearly 1,500 patients with traumatic brain injury attending A&E departments in the UK each day; one every minute. Brain injury can happen to anyone at any time, and all Members will have constituents living with the consequences of an ABI.
Despite the fact that so many people are living with ABI, it is little understood, which is why I am so pleased that the time has been allowed to discuss it in this place this evening. A brain injury can happen in an instant, but its effects can be devastating and last a lifetime. Thankfully, due to excellent advances in emergency and acute medicine, more and more children, young people and adults now survive and live with an ABI, but this brings its own challenges. As ever more people survive an ABI, further pressure is put on the vital services that people require.
For example, many individuals with an ABI require early and continued access to neuro-rehabilitation to optimise their recovery. The United Kingdom Acquired Brain Injury Forum says that the average cost of the initial rehabilitation programme is offset by savings in the cost of ongoing care within just 16 months and that this leads to an average saving over a lifetime in care costs of £1,475,760. That is a huge amount of money. Neuro-rehabilitation is therefore one of the most cost-effective services the NHS provides and one of the few services in medicine that result in long-term decreased costs to the economy. However, as is the case for many health conditions, the number of available beds across the UK is inadequate, service provision is variable and consequently long-term outcomes for brain injury survivors are compromised. What plans do the Government have to address those issues and improve the lives of patients living with an ABI? The UKABIF recommends a review of neuro-rehabilitation to ensure that service provision is adequate and consistent throughout the UK. Does the Minister agree that that is needed?
Many children and young people with an ABI are in education, and therefore the majority will receive most of their rehabilitation at school. Yet among education professionals there is a lack of awareness and understanding of ABI, its consequences, and its impact on learning. A pupil with an ABI may also require extra support when transitioning between primary, secondary and further education. What discussions has the Minister had with his colleagues in the Department for Education to ensure that children with an ABI receive the support that they need throughout their journey through the education system? Will he discuss with them the inclusion of ABI in the code of practice for special educational needs co-ordinators?
Brain injuries can be difficult to detect for people who are not already aware of them, which is why all education professionals should have a minimum level of awareness and understanding of ABI. In fact, that requirement goes beyond education and into everyday life. People living with ABI are discriminated against because of the general lack of understanding of their condition. For example, earlier this year Grace Currie was escorted out of a pub on a Saturday night because the bouncers believed that she was “too drunk”. In fact, Grace, who had suffered life-changing injuries after being hit by a car in 2010, had had just one drink. The incident must have been extremely upsetting and embarrassing for Grace, and I am sure that it really knocked her confidence.
Sadly, such encounters are not rare, and the level of misunderstanding of brain injuries is high among the general public, including assessors for employment and support allowance and personal independence payments. A study conducted by Headway found that 71% and 60% of respondents felt that assessors for ESA and PIP, respectively, did not have an understanding of brain injury. Further, assessors were widely reported to lack empathy and patience, resulting in a stressful and even traumatic experience for many brain injury survivors. Many respondents also said that their medical evidence was not taken into consideration, and that the assessment location and environment were not suitable for them, despite requests made in advance. Consequently, a strong sense of frustration and anxiety was reported by brain injury survivors and their carers about the failure to recognise or respect their needs throughout the application process. Has the Minster had any discussions with his colleagues in the Department for Work and Pensions about that issue? Will he look into those concerns with his colleagues, and ensure that they are properly addressed?
Living with a brain injury is difficult enough for people without their having to struggle to explain and prove their disability to anyone who lacks understanding of the condition. Each brain injury is different, which is why it is so important to raise awareness of ABIs. However, it is also important to recognise that such injuries affect not just the people directly concerned, but their families and friends. Headway aimed to highlight that during brain injury week last month for its “you, me, and brain injury” campaign. Headway found that 69% of brain injury survivors reported breakdowns in their friendships after the injury, and that 28% of relationships ended after an ABI. However, it is not all doom and gloom: 47% of survivors reported improvements in their relationships with family members. It was clear from Headway’s study that a little bit of understanding and time really can go a long way. That is the kind of service that is provided by its 127 groups and branches across the country.
Headway Wearside, whose representatives I met recently at the rally in Parliament, provides information, support and social activities for brain injury survivors, and works with the local community, relevant professionals and organisations to promote understanding of ABI. I spoke to Neil and Jimmy, who use the Headway Wearside service, and was touched when they explained that Headway had brought them together as a community, and they had formed friendships that they never expected to form. Headway Wearside does not just teach new skills, but helps people to form and develop friendships at a time when doing so might otherwise be hard. When I met with Neil and Jimmy we feared that this service might soon be lost, and I am pleased to say that it has been extended to June 2019, and I hope it will be extended still further so that patients can have access to this life-changing service. I pay tribute to Headway Wearside and all the work it does for the local community, and I will continue to support it so that this vital service can continue to support its 4,000 patients.
Jamie Stone (Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross) (LD)
My wife suffered exactly this problem in 1999. The eldest of my three children was sitting her exams—her highers—at school, and while that school and the education system in general supported them fantastically well, there is the issue of supporting the children, quite apart from supporting the sufferer of an injury like this. Will the hon. Lady elaborate on how we might increase the support and help for families caught up in such situations? My children got through it, but it was touch and go, and I remember these events without much happiness.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for sharing such a personal anecdote from his own experience. It demonstrates why it is important that we support the Headways across the country that are giving this vital support to families in the position his family was in, and he is right to mention the children of people with acquired brain injuries; they must not be forgotten in all of this.
Unfortunately, not every patient with an ABI will have access to a service like Headway Wearside. If the Minister is to take away one thing from this debate, I urge him to recognise the need for services such as Headway Wearside and the other 126 across the country, so that the more than 1 million people living with a brain injury can access the support they need and deserve.
As Shadow Minister for Public Health, Sharon opened a General Debate in the House of Commons on acquired brain injuries. During her speech, Sharon highlighted that although more and more...
As Shadow Minister for Public Health, Sharon responded to a Westminster Hall debate on the elimination of Hepatitis C. NHS England have a target of eliminating the virus by 2025. During her speech, Sharon welcomed this target but also highlighted the challenges that need to be tackled before then.
You can read Sharon's speech below:
Mrs Sharon Hodgson (Washington and Sunderland West) (Lab)
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Streeter. I thank the hon. Member for Southend West (Sir David Amess) for securing this important debate and for the work that he has done as co-chair of the all-party group on liver health for many years, as well as for his excellent opening speech today. My hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, Southall (Mr Sharma), a vice-chair of the all-party group, is not in his place today, but I pay tribute to him for the work that he has done to raise awareness of this issue. I thank the hon. Members for Strangford (Jim Shannon) and for Central Ayrshire (Dr Whitford) for their excellent contributions and I thank the hon. Member for Central Suffolk and North Ipswich (Dr Poulter) for his interventions.
Finally, I thank Professor Steve Ryder, whom I met earlier this year, for his expert briefing and for the obvious passion that he has for eradicating hepatitis C in this country as soon as possible. I also pay tribute to the Hepatitis C Trust and the Hepatitis C Coalition for the work that they do.
I welcome NHS England’s ambitious commitment earlier this year to eliminate hepatitis C by 2025, five years ahead of the World Health Organisation’s target. Healthcare professionals and experts are confident that hepatitis C can be eliminated, notwithstanding everything we have heard today about the cap on the treatment. Today is the first time I have heard about that, but I am sure the Minister will respond to the issue in his remarks soon. I remain concerned about some of the challenges that need to be faced by 2025 if the target is to be achieved.
Hepatitis C, as we have heard, is a hidden disease with patients experiencing few or no obvious symptoms for many years, but its long-term effects can cause severe liver damage if it goes untreated. Across the UK, around 214,000 people are infected with hepatitis C, but I understand that 40% to 50% remain undiagnosed. That huge percentage of people going undiagnosed is one of the biggest challenges to eliminating this virus—we cannot treat people if we do not know who they are. As Professor Paul Klapper and Pam Vallely of Manchester University ask in an article published this year,
“how do we identify those who are infected so that they can be guided into treatment and care?”
As I, and many others, have mentioned today, hepatitis C is a hidden disease. People may be completely unaware that they are living with the virus, and at risk of unknowingly passing it on to those around them. Although awareness of hepatitis C is gradually improving, low awareness and stigma remains a challenge to ensuring that as many people as possible are tested, diagnosed and treated.
Levels of stigma and poor awareness are particularly high among at-risk groups, such as former or current drug users, or those who do not access conventional healthcare facilities, possibly because of fear of being challenged or stigmatised. How will the Government ensure that those at-risk groups are reached—not only for testing but for continued treatment? Again, this is where the cap will come into things; as more people come forward and are diagnosed, we must be able to treat them.
People need continued support throughout their treatment to ensure that they complete the course of medicine—if they do not, it is just a waste of time and money. Will the Government provide extra support to at-risk groups to ensure that that happens? An effective way of raising awareness and breaking down the stigma of hepatitis C is to introduce peer-to-peer messaging programmes for at-risk groups. Such a provision could be increased in settings such as drug services and prisons, and would mean that there will already be an understanding and relationship between the two parties. Has the Minister made any assessment of the role that a peer-to-peer programme might have in achieving the goal of eliminating hepatitis C by 2025?
Although at-risk groups make up a huge proportion of those living with hepatitis C, people who do not consider themselves to be at risk also pose a challenge to the 2025 target. As we have heard, Anita Roddick from The Body Shop was one of those who would not have been in an at-risk group, and she would have had no way of knowing that she was infected with hepatitis C. The excellent all-party group on liver health stated that
“A high-profile, Government-backed awareness campaign should be considered, and awareness messaging should be targeted through novel channels at those who may not consider themselves to be ‘at risk’.”
Do the Government have any plans to support Public Health England in raising awareness of hepatitis C among the wider general public, and what format might that campaign take?
Crucially, awareness among primary care professionals should be increased through targeted testing initiatives in primary care, with additional resources and support for primary care workers. If we are to eliminate hepatitis C, we must seize the opportunity when people are already having blood taken—tests for HIV for example, or when bloods are taken in A&E—and test them for hepatitis C. Testing should become routine in substance misuse services, sexual health clinics and prisons, and it must also increase in primary care and community settings, such as hostels, daycentres and police custody. The prevalence of hepatitis C among the prison population is four times that of the population as a whole. If the amount of people tested increases, we will be closer to identifying the 40% to 50% of infected people who are living with it unknowingly, and we will be one step closer to eliminating the virus.
A big step in recent years has been the development of a new class of drugs—direct-acting antivirals or DAAs—that has revolutionised the treatment of hepatitis C. The drugs no longer carry the toxicity or side effects of previous treatments, and the short treatment courses effectively cure the infection in a high percentage of cases. Once patients are diagnosed, however, it is crucial that they are treated immediately, because the time between diagnosis and starting treatment poses the greatest risk of patients dropping out of the care pathway.
For example, a prisoner who is diagnosed and treated while in prison but who is then released might not continue with the treatment and could be at risk of infecting others, as well as of not being cured. What mechanisms will the Government put in place to ensure that those who begin their treatment can finish it, regardless of any change in circumstances? Quicker referrals are also needed to simplify the process of linking people into care. Currently, some secondary care services will only accept referrals for treatment from GPs. The all-party group on liver health recommends that referrals for hepatitis C treatment should be accepted from any service where someone might receive a test and be diagnosed. Has the Minister made any assessment of that recommendation?
Finally, I move on to prevention. If we are to eliminate hepatitis C—we all want that to happen—we must ensure that the number of new infections falls. Substance misuse services and sexual health clinics have a crucial role in that, but their funding has consistently been cut by the Government. The King’s Fund estimates that spending on tackling drug misuse in adults has been cut by more than £22 million compared with last year, and funding for sexual health services has been cut by £30 million compared with last year. What role do the Government expect such services to play in the elimination of hepatitis C, given such finite funding and resources? Those services provide not only a testing service, but an educational one that could help reduce reinfection rates—a further challenge to the elimination of this virus.
I am sure the Minister will agree that serious challenges lie ahead in meeting our ambition to eradicate hepatitis C by 2025. All those challenges need to be addressed—not only to meet NHS England’s target, but to ensure that this potential public health crisis is averted. I look forward to hearing the Minister’s response on how the Government plan to tackle those challenges in the months and years ahead.
As Shadow Minister for Public Health, Sharon responded to a Westminster Hall debate on the elimination of Hepatitis C. NHS England have a target of eliminating the virus by 2025....