Sharon Hodgson MP

Working hard for Washington and Sunderland West.

Recent speeches by Sharon Hodgson MP

As Shadow Minister for Public Health, Sharon spoke in a Westminster Hall Debate on Antibiotic Resistance and the need to improve public awareness of this issue, along with research and development of new and improved antibiotics to be brought onto the market to tackle antibiotic resistance of bacteria. 

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Image copyright Parliamentary Recording Unit 2017

You can read Sharon's speech here in Hansard: Antibiotic Resistance Westminster Hall Debate 09.03.17

Speech pasted below:

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. I congratulate the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Kevin Hollinrake) on bringing this important debate to the House. He gave an eloquent and knowledgeable speech clearly setting out the issue and the matters to be discussed following the O’Neill review. I thank him for that.

An estimated 50,000 deaths occur every year due to untreatable infections, rising to 700,000 globally. That is why it is only right that we do all we can to address antibiotic resistance. It is believed that the number of deaths will rise to 10 million a year by 2050 if no significant action is taken. As we have heard from a number of Members, deaths from drug-resistant infections could exceed deaths from cancer.

This is an incredibly timely debate. Only a couple of weeks ago, the World Health Organisation published a list of 12 bacteria for which new antibiotics are now needed. Some strains of bacteria have built-in abilities to find new ways to fight off treatments that can then be passed on to other bacteria via genetic material to make them drug-resistant too. I find it a bit scary to consider what we are up against. This is a battle that we have to win.

I also thank other hon. Members who have spoken in this debate. My hon. Friend the Member for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy) gave a very knowledgeable speech about the use of antibiotics in farming; other hon. Members touched on the subject as well. I really think we need to get a firm grip on it internationally, with the UK leading the way. Ten other Members spoke in this very active debate: my right hon. Friend the Member for Rother Valley (Sir Kevin Barron), my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, Southall (Mr Sharma), the hon. Members for Erewash (Maggie Throup), for Bosworth (David Tredinnick), for Glasgow North (Patrick Grady), for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Dr Johnson), for Mole Valley (Sir Paul Beresford), for Strangford (Jim Shannon) and for Stafford (Jeremy Lefroy), and the hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Martyn Day), who speaks for the Scottish National party. Their speeches were all thoughtful and knowledgeable, albeit brief because of time constraints.

I will touch on two key points: raising public awareness, and supporting research and innovation to combat antibiotic resistance. It is generally accepted that antibiotic resistance is a natural process—bacteria naturally evolve to become resistant to certain drugs used to fight them off—but it has been exacerbated by humans. As Dr Hsu of the Singapore Infectious Diseases Initiative has said, the causes come down to

“a single axiom—abuse and overuse of antimicrobial drugs.”​

Concerns have also been raised that the development of new antibiotic drugs has dried up, contributing to the situation. According to the World Health Organisation, we are left in a precarious position. The WHO’s director general, Dr Margaret Chan, describes antimicrobial resistance as

“a crisis that must be managed with the utmost urgency.”

That urgency applies here in the UK, too. In 2014, the chief medical officer, Dame Sally Davies, said that

“we could be taken back to a 19th century environment where everyday infections kill us as a result of routine operations.”

We could be taken even further back: as the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton said, this could be the new black death. That is not as melodramatic a statement as people may first think. Antimicrobial resistance is a really serious problem that we need to address here and now, so that those predictions do not come true.

I do not always do this, as I am sure you have noticed, Mr Hollobone, but I must give credit to David Cameron’s coalition Government, who were global leaders when they announced Lord O’Neill’s review into antimicrobial resistance. The review’s 10 recommendations show just how complex and multifaceted the issue is and how wide-scale the actions needed to address it are. The review’s final report was published in May 2016 and the Government responded at the end of last year, so now is a good time to ask the Government for an update.

One of the review’s key recommendations was to introduce a large-scale global awareness campaign to reduce the demand from patients to be prescribed antibiotics when they are diagnosed with an illness. I am a firm believer in public awareness campaigns relating to health issues, especially cancer. My hon. Friends and I fully support such a campaign for antimicrobial resistance and we want to see the Government working hard to achieve it. The review’s recommendation was for an international awareness campaign, but what does the Minister plan to do here in the UK to complement that international work? That is a pertinent question because a 2015 Wellcome Trust study found that people in the UK did not fully understand antibiotic resistance and how it affects their health. They did not understand that antibiotic resistance is to do with the bacteria in people’s bodies, rather than a lack of antibiotics or the cost of them; it is not just a case of doctors being awkward. I would therefore be grateful if the Minister told us what relatable public awareness campaigns she is planning to ensure that people understand more about the problem and about what they can do personally.

I have already mentioned the problems with combating antibiotic resistance caused by the drying up of innovative developments in drug technologies. The O’Neill review identifies that the low commercial return on research and development for antibiotics makes them less attractive to pharmaceutical companies and reduces the chance of new drugs being developed. To reverse that situation, it recommends considering market entry rewards to encourage companies to develop new or improved drugs, especially in areas of urgent need. I hope the Minister will explore that issue further in her reply.

Public and private funding is being made available to help to combat these issues. On 20 December, the Minister referred to

“international programmes to tackle AMR, including the Fleming fund and the Global AMR innovation fund, which represent ​more than £300 million of investment over the next five years.”—[Official Report, 20 December 2016; Vol. 618, c. 1294.]

There is also the incredible work of the Longitude Prize, which is in the middle of its competition to develop

“a cheap, accurate, rapid and easy-to-use point of care test kit for bacterial infections”

to help to address antibiotic resistance. That is important work and we support it.

In summary, we cannot afford to get antimicrobial resistance wrong. Millions of lives depend on our tackling it. It is not far away; it is happening right here, right now, and it affects us all, so it is important that we do all we can to address this growing problem, both in the UK and internationally.

Antibiotic Resistance Westminster Hall Debate 07.03.17

As Shadow Minister for Public Health, Sharon spoke in a Westminster Hall Debate on Antibiotic Resistance and the need to improve public awareness of this issue, along with research and...

Sharon spoke in a Westminster Hall Debate on Maintained Nursery Schools and the impact of changes in the Early Years Funding Formula and what this will mean for local maintained nursery schools.

sharon_maintained_nurseries_debate.jpgImage copyright Parliamentary Recording Unit 2017

You can read Sharon's speech here on Hansard: Maintained Nursery Schools Westminster Hall Debate 01.02.17

Speech pasted below:

9.59 am

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

I am very happy to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Dorries. I want to make a small contribution to this very important debate, because I passionately believe that nursery schools are a vital contributor to social mobility in this country. There is ample evidence to show that maintained nursery schools that offer high-quality early education can have profound impacts on the start of children’s lives. That is why it is not surprising that nursery schools have been described as the “jewel in the crown” of the education system. However, the current Government are allowing the crown to be tarnished by going down a route that will place all nursery schools under threat. That is especially true for children in some of the most deprived communities in the country.​

As was said at the last meeting of the all-party parliamentary group on nursery schools and nursery classes, which my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester Central (Lucy Powell) so excellently chairs, it was estimated in 2011 that 80% of three-year-olds from the most deprived areas attended a setting with a qualified early years professional compared with just 50% in more affluent areas. That was surely a good thing.

In my own constituency, Washington and Sunderland West, there are four maintained nurseries: Hylton Red House, Usworth Colliery, Oxclose and Pennywell Early Years Centre. I understand that I am lucky because there are four good maintained nursery schools in my constituency, but that also shows the demographics of my constituency. It must be pointed out that Sunderland has one of the highest numbers of these nurseries within our local authority area—a total of nine.

The Government have partially redeemed themselves with transitional arrangements. That is welcome, as it will help to mitigate any problems that nursery schools face due to the cuts in their funding. However, it must be said that funding will still be reduced and the transitional subsidy may not continue—the Minister may tell us otherwise this morning—after the two years are up.

In Sunderland, the baseline funding rate for three and four-year-olds for 2016-17 stood at £5.38 per hour, but through the early years national funding formula that will decrease to £5.11 per hour. That might not sound like much of a decrease, but it is per hour and it is the difference between survival and closure. As the Social Mobility Commission has stated:

“It would be a travesty if funding reforms mean that over time we lose more of the remaining high-quality, maintained nursery schools.”

I could not agree with that more, and I hope that the Minister agrees with it, too.

The concerns expressed have been echoed by staff and parents at my local nursery schools—they have all been in touch with me. Claire Nicholson, the local headteacher of Pennywell Early Years Centre, has told me that

“such a big percentage is going to be lost, that it won’t allow us to be viable”.

Also, nearly 100 parents at Pennywell Early Years Centre, in a letter they sent to me, have described their disbelief and dismay at the policy and the direction in which the Government are taking early years education.

These schools are a proven and vital part of our country’s strategy for improving social mobility, which is something we desperately need to be doing more of, not less. It is important that the Government do all they can to give children the best start in life. That is why many of us in this House, and specifically in this Chamber today, got into politics, and we will hold Ministers to account every step of the way on this matter. I urge the Minister not to squander the life chances of any of the children in this country, especially those in the most deprived communities. Our young constituents do not deserve this, and I hope that the Minister will reconsider for their sake.

Maintained Nursery Schools Westminster Hall Debate 01.02.17

Sharon spoke in a Westminster Hall Debate on Maintained Nursery Schools and the impact of changes in the Early Years Funding Formula and what this will mean for local maintained...

In her capacity as Shadow Minister for Public Health, Sharon was invited to speak to a group of Socialist Health Association members in the North East about public health and prevention. In her speech, Sharon raised concerns over the progress of the Five Year Forward View's promise of a "radical upgrade in prevention and public health" and how the crisis and mismanagement the NHS is facing is currently not allowing this promise to be fulfilled.

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You can read Sharon's speech below:

CHECK AGAINST DELIVERY

Thank you for inviting me to speak to you this morning.

The Socialist Health Association is an organisation of academic specialists, medical practitioners and those with health interests within the organisation, and I know that myself and the rest of the Shadow Health team greatly appreciate the work you do to support Labour’s approach to all matters related to health policy.

Health inequality is an issue which we continually need to work on to get right, especially here in the North, where it is well documented that our region and other northern regions have persistently poorer health than the rest of the country. This gap has widened over the last four decades.

Figures show this to be the case, with latest public health outcomes data showing that the North-East and the North-West have the lowest life expectancy compared to London and the South-East, which have the highest.

It was highlighted in the Due North report that since 1965, there have been 1.5 million excess premature deaths in the North due to the disparity in health outcomes.

This is something that cannot be ignored.

This shows what we all know to be true: people in the more deprived areas of the country do not live as long as those in more affluent areas.

This is exacerbated by the fact that those short lives can also be unhealthy lives. Long-term health conditions, cancer prevalence, and addictions are all far more common in more deprived areas of the country.

It is not only the health of people which is affected by health inequalities, but also there is an economic argument to be made too. In England, as a whole, the cost to the NHS of treating illnesses and diseases arising from health inequalities is estimated at £5.5 billion a year, and ill-health means a loss to industry of £31 to £33 billion each year in productivity.

If we are to improve health outcomes and reduce health inequalities in our region, and indeed across the country where there are pockets of persistent inequality, then it is important that we look at how our health and social services are working now and how we need to ensure services are working towards improving the health of our nation, especially through prevention.

The NHS, Social Care and Public Health Funding

It goes without saying that this winter saw our NHS face unprecedented challenges which has pushed it virtually to the brink.

In the week of 9th January to 15th January, we saw 69 trusts out of 152 reporting serious operational pressures at some point during that given week – with the average deemed to be 50 Trusts a day reporting operational pressures.

There are countless stories in the media about the pressures the NHS is facing, and sadly, the Government have buried their heads in the sand and acted as if the issue isn’t as bad as it is in reality.

Whilst we are seeing the NHS facing a crisis, we are also seeing yet another reorganisation of services at a local level through Sustainability and Transformation Plans (STPs).

Whilst in principle, the idea of improving integrated services through STPs is a welcome idea, there are real and perceived concerns on the ground – not just here in the North, but across the country – that the efficiency savings are all about cuts, rather than improving clinical services for patients.

Pair all of this with the pressures in adult social care services, which saw a cut in funding of £4.6 billion in the last Parliament and experts warning there is an expected £1.9 billion funding gap in social care this year alone, then there is no wonder why there is no ability to seriously address health outcomes and inequalities.

Even in my own area of policy – public health - we are beginning to see what could be a crisis.

Whilst the total spend on public health is just over 4% of GDP, the then Chancellor in 2015, announced a £200 million in-year cut to the pot of money, and then in the Autumn Statement announced an average, real-terms cut of 3.9% until 2020.

It is estimated that that by 2020-21, public health funding will fall to just over £3billion, compared to the £3.47billion in 2015-16.

Even though the Government has ring-fenced this money when it reaches local authorities, there is no guarantee it will continue in the next spending round in 2018.

It is hypothetical what will happen, but when local authorities are strapped for cash already, if the ring fence is removed, there is a real concern that those councils with difficult decisions to make may take from this budget to plug other areas.

This can in some way be backed by current figures on the cuts we are seeing to public health services, as reported in the Health Select Committee’s report: Public Health, post-2013, where they cited figures by the Association of Directors of Public Health.

These figures showed the stark impact of the cuts we are already seeing. Take for example, health checks in 2015-16 which saw a cut of 27% and soared to 59% in 2017-17 with a 1% decommissioning.

Or weight management support which saw a 32% reduction and 9% decommissioning in 15-16, which then rises to 52% reduction and 12% decommissioning in 2015-16.

What we are seeing in the NHS, social care and public health is a complete mismanagement and lack of commitment to fund these important services properly.

This is something I have raised with Health Ministers across the House of Commons: if you cut from one area in the health and social care service, you will see a knock on affect in others.

This has unsurprisingly been met with disregard from ministers who fail to recognise the impact their mismanagement is having on these vital services and the health of the country.

It must be remembered, that for a region – such as our own – where ill-health and health inequalities are clearly apparent that this approach to our health services will have a serious impact on regions which are already at the lower end of the spectrum of dealing with health problems.

Yet, also this approach, especially to public health, goes completely against NHS England’s Five Year Forward View, which promised: “a radical upgrade in prevention and public health” and the Prime Minister’s own commitment to reduce health inequalities when she took office.

It is clear that the radical upgrade and desire to address these issues are not being met. In fact, it could be described as going backwards, or at best, staying still. Neither option is a welcome one.

However, if we remember the state of the NHS currently, which is fighting crisis after crisis every day, then it is not surprising that this worthy commitment to prevention and reducing health inequalities is not being worked towards.

How do we address this?

What we need to see is this radical upgrade made a central theme to any approach to improve services and not see them cut to the bone.

For me, improving the health of our nation is not just a health priority but a social justice one as well.

Because of persistent ill-health and poor health outcomes, people here in the North are not being allowed to reach their fullest potential and instead held back by inaction to improve their health, both through interventions but also providing them with the tools to improve their health themselves.

To do this, the NHS needs to bring forward a new funding settlement for the NHS and social care in the upcoming Budget, which will not only give the NHS the vital funding it needs to deal with increasing pressures, but also in order that it can begin to achieve its vision of radically upgrading prevention and public health as called for in the Five Year Forward View.

This should also include a rethink on the current approach to public health – the false economy of reducing funding when pressures remain the same, or increased, shows a complete lack of joined up thinking by the Government. And this is something I will push them to rethink at every available opportunity that I have as Labour’s Shadow Minister for Public Health.

It seems illogical to me that you cut prevention budgets, which will just present problems further down river in the NHS which as we know is already facing difficulties when coping with the demands it has now.

However, it cannot all be about funding. Labour’s approach at the last General Election was two-fold: one, ensuring interventions happen when necessary, especially at younger ages to correct bad habits which could lead to ill-health in adulthood, and second, ensuring that adults have the tools in their arsenal to make healthy lifestyle choices to live fulfilling lives.

This is something that I hope to continue to build upon in my time as Labour’s spokesperson on public health and ensure that any policies we propose will help seriously shift us away from the current situation where persistent health inequalities remain the norm.

Conclusion

To end, health inequalities are a serious issue that cannot be ignored. Reports after reports have shown that we have not made many serious inroads into health inequalities, and that is why it calls for a radical approach which doesn’t weaken the already fragile state of affairs we are seeing.

With innovation and political will, we can ensure the gap in health inequalities shrinks and health outcomes improve. To do this, we need that step change in ethos called for in the Five Year Forward View towards prevention but an NHS which itself is healthy enough to seriously begin to work towards this vision – if that does not happen, then it will never be achieved.

I hope in the discussions that we can start the process of doing just that, and I hope that you will all feed your thoughts and ideas into the Health and Social Care Commission.

Thank you. 

Sharon speaks at the North East's Socialist Health Association's seminar on public health

In her capacity as Shadow Minister for Public Health, Sharon was invited to speak to a group of Socialist Health Association members in the North East about public health and...

In her capacity as Shadow Minister for Public Health, Sharon responded to a Backbench Business Debate on Breast Cancer Drugs, specifically the drug, Kadcyla and other drugs used for treatment of breast cancer.  

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Image copyright BBC Parliament 2017

You can read Sharon's speech here: Breast Cancer Drugs Backbench Business Debate 26.01.17

Speech pasted below:

3.17 pm

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

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham and Morden (Siobhain McDonagh) for securing this debate, following the very sad news that her friend Samantha Heath, who had been receiving this life-extending treatment, had heard from NICE that it was being taken away from her. I am pleased that she was able to secure this important debate through the Backbench Business Committee.

I also thank all colleagues who have attended the debate and made excellent speeches, sharing with us their experiences and thoughts, including the hon. Members for Milton Keynes South (Iain Stewart), for Portsmouth South (Mrs Drummond), for Louth and Horncastle (Victoria Atkins) and for Wycombe (Mr Baker), my hon. Friends the Members for Torfaen (Nick Thomas-Symonds) and for Wythenshawe and Sale East (Mike Kane) and the hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Martyn Day), who spoke for the SNP. I am sure that the Minister has been given lots to think about, and I look forward to her response shortly. I also thank Breast Cancer Now for its work campaigning on this matter, along with Breast Cancer Care for its continued dedication and its support and advocacy for individuals with secondary breast cancer.

In my contribution, I will first briefly establish the documented and perceived benefits of Kadcyla, and then, building on that, discuss the broader issues around the provision of off-patent drugs, before moving on to present the problems with determining the funding of a drug based principally on its cost-effectiveness as judged by NICE.

Kadcyla’s continued funding through the cancer drugs fund in 2015 was a great success for patients and patient advocates. At the time, the value of the drug was recognised and the concession was made that, despite its high cost, its positive impact was worth the funding it needed. Yet just over a year later, the alterations to the cancer drugs fund have prevented the future funding of this drug, along with, potentially, that of a number of other secondary breast cancer drugs such as palbociclib and Perjeta—I hope that I pronounced those correctly—as it moves towards becoming a funding mechanism for under-researched but innovative drugs with cost and value as a principal driver, and away from its original principle, which was to finance drugs that were too expensive to be recommended by NICE but proved effective in treating cancer patients.

We can all agree that patients have benefited significantly since the introduction of the cancer drugs fund, but the progress that has been made in recent years in improving access to cancer drugs is now at risk. That is unsurprising, given the cash-strapped state of the national health ​service—we have discussed that in the House recently in the past few weeks—which faces pressures to provide these costly drugs that are developed by large pharmaceutical companies, and is forced to consider costs rather than clinical need. I hope that the Minister will tell us whether those concerns have been assessed, and how she plans to address them. We have heard a number of good suggestions today about how funding may be redirected.

Mary Glindon (North Tyneside) (Lab)

Is not the situation made all the more poignant by the fact that since 2001, the incidence of breast cancer has been rising by 9% every year?

Mrs Hodgson

That is a very good point. It may be that more and more people are coming forward and being diagnosed, but, as my hon. Friend says, this will clearly become more of an issue, not less of an issue, in the years to come.

As we have heard today, it is estimated that Kadcyla benefits 1,200 women every year in England alone, and that on average it can increase the length of a woman’s life by six months, although reports suggest that in the case of some women that can stretch into years. Even if it is measured in months, however, the extra time is surely priceless to the women and families involved. I speak from personal experience, as I lost my mother-in-law to secondary breast cancer 20 years ago this year, when my children were very small. I know that she fought for every extra week and day in the end, and that she would have given anything for an extra six months to spend with her grandchildren. We all wanted that little bit longer for her. For all those 1,200 women, that extra time is time with their families. It means seeing their children reach perhaps one more milestone, starting school or university, getting married, or even giving them a grandchild. What is the cost of such moments, such memories, which are so precious and which help families so much with what, ultimately and inevitably, will follow?

Iain Stewart

The hon. Lady has made a powerful point. In the case of the most aggressive cancers, the period between diagnosis and death can be very short. As the hon. Lady says, any extension of life enabling women to celebrate family events, or anything else, is incredibly important, and we should not lose sight of that.

Mrs Hodgson

I agree. What price can be put on those precious months?

Thangam Debbonaire (Bristol West) (Lab)

I have some investment in this. My own experience of breast cancer treatment over the last two years has left me passionate about the issue of prevention and early diagnosis. Will my hon. Friend join me in not just thanking the breast cancer charities—as she has already done—but calling on all Members to spread the word among all the women they know that they must learn how to examine their breasts? I learnt how to do it from a comic sketch in a television programme: that is how I diagnosed my lump. I want everyone to learn how to do it, and also to learn what they can do to help prevent breast cancer, because, although there is no magic prevention method, there are ways of reducing the risk.

Mrs Hodgson

Although we have not so far touched on prevention or early diagnosis, they are vital issues. We have discussed them in the House on many occasions, but they can never be discussed too often, and I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising them. Let me add that I am happy every day to see her back in this place, and doing so well.

What also stands out with Kadcyla is the reduced side effects, as we have heard, as opposed to alternative breast cancer treatments, the side effects of which can include the inducement of osteoporosis and an increased risk of blood clots. As some colleagues will, sadly, know first-hand or through experiences of family and friends or constituents, the side effects of some cancer treatments can be truly awful, and in some cases are daunting enough to prevent the acceptance of further treatment entirely. It is a common perception that women make the decision to end their treatment much earlier than planned, despite it prolonging their life sometimes. That is because they feel the suffering they are enduring as a result of the treatment is not worth the additional life it is providing to them, because it is all about the quality of that life.

Research conducted by Genentech in the United States on the side effects of Kadcyla found that less than 5% of women taking the treatment suffered any hair loss. Through my work as co-chair of the all-party group on breast cancer, I know that hair loss can be a highly traumatic experience for women undergoing cancer treatment and is one of the most discussed side effects of cancer treatment in general. Given that in this debate we are discussing the treatment of secondary breast cancer, which is ultimately a terminal disease, the best outcome we can offer through treatment is both the extension of life and the preservation of the quality of life enjoyed pre-diagnosis. Therefore, because Kadcyla causes fewer side effects, it represents a treatment that can effectively achieve not only an extension of life, but the preservation of some of that quality of life enjoyed by these women pre-diagnosis. So I look forward to hearing from the Minister about what she is doing to ensure women will benefit from this vital treatment in the future.

I will now move on to how we can better support off-patent drugs, especially for breast cancer. Drug patents typically last for 20 years—although sometimes only 10 years—and at the end of that patent there is very little incentive for the drugs to be licensed for use in another indication. These drugs are still clinically effective in many cases and can be a low-cost effective treatment, but currently the NHS has no method for making them routinely available.

Bisphosphonates are one such example of an off-patent drug that is not being made universally available to patients, despite evidence showing its effectiveness. It is estimated that, if given to the entire eligible population, this drug could prevent one in 10 breast cancer deaths. It is therefore concerning that research conducted by the UK Breast Cancer Group found that only 24% of breast cancer clinicians were offering bisphosphonates to patients. Solving this issue therefore provides an opportunity to improve breast cancer survival rates, and it is something that I hope the Minister will consider carefully.

I want to finish by discussing the cost-effectiveness of drugs. Currently NICE measures cost-effectiveness using quality-adjusted life years—QALY—and one QALY is ​equal to one year of life in perfect health. As I am sure colleagues will agree, it is almost impossible to objectively measure someone’s quality of life, and there are questions surrounding the morality of attempting to do so, as raised in NICE’s “Social value judgements” paper on the moral evaluation of drugs.

As is so often the case in these debates, a clear cause of the problem lies with how NICE approves drugs. At the last general election, Labour proposed a top-to-bottom reform of NICE, ensuring that drug acceptance and funding is determined solely by clinical need, not with cost or value considerations. This debate shows there is clearly a need to re-address these issues.

As I have already mentioned, Kadcyla patients tend to experience considerably fewer side effects, and this can potentially have a positive impact on their ability to enjoy a higher quality of life post-diagnosis. Because of practicality and cost implications, it is almost impossible for NICE to comprehensively and effectively measure this exact quality of life. However, what we can say, without a doubt, is that these individuals would suffer a lower quality of life without Kadcyla, and this, I believe, deserves more attention and value in the process of drug approval and funding.

The current funding of drugs is becoming based on the cost-effectiveness of a drug, rather than the clinical need, yet, as this debate has shown, it should not be the final deciding factor as it disregards very personal reasons for many people who rely upon drug treatments. Kadcyla has benefited many women during their time living with a terminal disease, and has now been pulled, devastatingly, out of their reach.

It is the Minister who has the levers of power to address the problems in the system which is letting these women down. Members from across this Chamber have eloquently made their case to the Minister. I hope she has listened—I am sure she has—and will give these women and their families some reassurances today.

Breast Cancer Drugs Backbench Business Debate 26.01.17

In her capacity as Shadow Minister for Public Health, Sharon responded to a Backbench Business Debate on Breast Cancer Drugs, specifically the drug, Kadcyla and other drugs used for treatment...

As Shadow Minister for Public Health, Sharon responded to a debate in Westminster Hall on the recently published Accelerated Access Review and the the impact that implementing these recommendations could have on issues surrounding access to drugs for people with long-term conditions, specifically cystic fibrosis and the drug, Orkambi. 

You can read Sharon's speech here: Sharon Hodgson MP Accelerated Access Review Westminster Hall Debate 13.12.16

Speech pasted below:

10.36 am

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

It is an honour to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Alan. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley North (Ian Austin) for securing this important debate. I note that as he said, it is just over a year since he first brought to the House a debate on cystic fibrosis.

I appreciate all hon. Members who have attended and spoken in this debate to show their support for the cause; it is one that we must urgently get right. Members have shared many moving cases involving their constituents whose lives Orkambi could save and would certainly transform. My hon. Friend the Member for Dudley North mentioned Carly Jeavons and Sam and Rob, the parents of Daisy. The hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) spoke about Evie-May, and my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy) mentioned her niece Maisie. My right hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham) spoke about his office manager Karen Aspinall and her son, as well as Philip and his sister Melissa, who sadly died. Philip believes that Orkambi would have helped his sister and would certainly help him, as he also suffers from cystic fibrosis. Those people believe that their lives would be transformed by Orkambi. I believe that too, and the evidence supports it, as we have heard in detail.

I thank all hon. Members who have spoken in this debate, including the hon. Member for St Ives (Derek Thomas), the hon. Member for Bath (Ben Howlett) and ​my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Daniel Zeichner), for their excellent contributions, as well as the many others who have made valuable interventions. I also thank the Cystic Fibrosis Trust for its dedicated campaigning on the issue, and the 20,000 people who have been involved in its survey, in the digital debate here in Parliament, and in petitions and e-action. The concerns and the need for action are clear, and it is up to the Minister to give all those people beyond this place the answers that they need.

In my contribution, I will set out why the Opposition want to see the Government do more on innovative drugs, through case studies involving Orkambi. I will touch on issues of access to Orkambi and other drugs for those living with cystic fibrosis and expand into the recommendations of the accelerated access review, which can do much to address many of the issues involving access to new drugs.

Although it is welcome that the prescription drug Kalydeco was given the go-ahead by NHS England last week for two to five-year-olds as part of re-prioritisation, Orkambi remains an issue. There is currently a deadlock in negotiations between the pharmaceutical company Vertex, the Government and NHS England for the drug to be accessible to the 2,700 people who stand to benefit from it. As we have heard in detail today, that is all down to rejection of the drug under NICE’s appraisal system because there is a lack of long-term data. Although it is welcome that NICE recognises the treatment as effective in managing cystic fibrosis, it is clear that we desperately need a new system under which drugs can be better accessed, especially those that show that they can benefit patients. We have also heard about new data that NICE did not take into account and that would have showed 42% effectiveness.

Orkambi has been shown to halve the amount of hospitalisation of cystic fibrosis sufferers, and 96-week data published recently showed that it can help to slow lung function decline by 42%. The data are also backed up by anecdotal evidence from people who have accessed Orkambi through the compassionate use programme and are beginning to report transformations in their health—some are reporting enough improvement to come off the lung transplant list. That information is all positive. It should be made better available for consideration as part of the appraisal process; it should also form part of the negotiations between Vertex, the Government and NHS England. However, when we see a deadlock, all of that information is for naught. Thousands of people are suffering irreversible lung damage that could be stopped if the current impasse between those around the negotiating table was broken. Those who will suffer the most are stuck in the middle.

It is up to the Government to facilitate the end of the deadlock so that people can access Orkambi and see their lives transformed. One way to do that is to begin the job of implementing the recommendations set out in the accelerated access review, which the Opposition welcome. The goal of speeding up access to drugs by cutting four years off the time needed to bring new medicines to patients is something that we should all welcome; we need to see whether it can be achieved. The review has the potential to change the philosophy of the NHS in line with the five-year forward view, but also to help to maintain our global lead in life sciences. The recommendations set out in its final report have the ​potential to transform how we provide drugs and treatments, ensuring that we see innovation in drugs, diagnostic tools and healthcare developments. However, there still remain issues around thresholds for new drugs, which NICE and NHS England are currently consulting on. I understand that some associations and charities have raised concerns about that, and I hope that the Minister will update us on some of those discussions.

Mark Durkan (Foyle) (SDLP)

My hon. Friend is right to be so positive about many aspects of the accelerated access review. However, as she has mentioned, there are concerns that new definitional ruts could be created by some of the terms of the review, which could lead to some patients and some promising drugs being trapped in exactly the sort of deadlock that she has described.

Mrs Hodgson

My hon. Friend is right to raise those concerns. We do not want to move into a new system that will create new unintended consequences. Perhaps the Minister will touch on that in his speech.

Although some are calling for interim solutions to help people who are stuck waiting for the accelerated access review’s recommendations to be implemented, it is also important that the Government get on with implementing those changes. The review was announced more than a year ago and was published two months ago now. It is important to remember that the transformation that we all want to see will not happen straight away, but it is still right that we keep up the pressure for the recommendations to be implemented. There are many such recommendations, and I hope that the Minister will be able to update us today on the progress on each of them. There are two in particular that illustrate what can be done to resolve the deadlock around Orkambi—the immediate establishment of an accelerated access partnership and the setting up of a new flexible strategic commercial unit.

The accelerated access partnership is one way in which, through co-ordination and collaboration across the system, we could see drugs brought on to the market more quickly to benefit patients who need access to them. I would be interested to hear from the Minister what progress has been made on its creation, especially in conjunction with the issues surrounding the deadlock on Orkambi.

It is clear that the strategic commercial unit could help to benefit those who wish to see Orkambi offered on the NHS. The unit could work with those involved in this dispute to end the current deadlock through facilitation of the flexibility and transformational change promised by the accelerated access review. That would go some way towards helping to access data on drugs such as Orkambi and getting them out to patients. There is a willingness out there for that flexibility to be brought into the system; for example, the Cystic Fibrosis Trust has offered to use the UK cystic fibrosis registry to help to provide essential data that can help to prove how effective drugs can be and what more needs to be done. We have already heard how substantial that registry is; it includes 99% of sufferers. I understand that the trust’s offer has been welcomed by all sides in the negotiations but is blocked due to the lack of progress in implementing the changes set out in the review. I hope that the Minister will give us some clarity on when the unit will ​be created and when we can see a culture shift within the system that will allow for flexibility to accept data and information that show how much effect these drugs have on people’s lives.

Dr Philippa Whitford

Does the hon. Lady share my concern about drugs for other conditions, such as sofosbuvir for hepatitis C? Even after they get NICE approval, those more expensive drugs are now being rationed at the NHS England stage. At the moment we are fighting to get through NICE, but it needs to be a smooth path all the way through.

Mrs Hodgson

The cost of drugs sometimes leads the NHS into the terrible and unfortunate situation in which rationing seems to become the norm. There can also be a postcode lottery, which is another element that we need to look at. The price of drugs really is the crux of the issue.

In conclusion, I hope that the Minister will offer some insight into the progress being made on the recommendations of the accelerated access review. The case of Orkambi can help to drive through these changes and to end this deadlock, which, as we have heard, is causing unnecessary suffering for those living with cystic fibrosis. The review has established a space for change and for patients to access new and innovative drugs and treatments. It is important that there is no stalling or delay in transforming the system, because people’s lives depend on the changes called for by the review. I am sure that the Minister will keep that in mind when he goes back to his officials.

Accelerated Access Review Westminster Hall Debate 13.12.16

As Shadow Minister for Public Health, Sharon responded to a debate in Westminster Hall on the recently published Accelerated Access Review and the the impact that implementing these recommendations could...

As Shadow Minister for Public Health, Sharon spoke during a secondary legislation committee on the approval of the Draft Consumer Rights (Enforcement and Amendments) Order 2016. This Order was to update current tobacco regulations in line with the Consumer Rights Act 2015. In her contribution, Sharon welcomed the order, along with the need to continue on the route to a smoke-free society and for the Government to finally publish their long awaited Tobacco Control Plan. 

You can read Sharon's speech here: Sharon Hodgson MP Consumer Rights (Enforcement and Amendments) Order 2016 Secondary Legislation 12.12.16

Speech pasted below:

 4.32 pm

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

The order does not change anything that is already on the statute book; it just updates enforcement provisions, following the passing of the Consumer Rights Act 2015. We therefore welcome it and will not divide on it.

Enforcing the regulations and legislation relating to the sale, packaging and marketing of tobacco is incredibly important, especially as we are continuing down the road to becoming a smoke-free society. Currently, one in five adults smokes, and although the number has halved since 1974 we still have a long way to go before we can cheer and pat ourselves on the back for achieving that vision of a healthier society.

Over the years, important work has been done to reduce the prevalence of smoking in our society, including the ban on smoking in public places introduced by the previous Labour Government and some important measures introduced under the coalition Government, such as the standardised packaging of tobacco products, which the hon. Member for Battersea (Jane Ellison) spearheaded so valiantly. I know it is peculiar for a shadow Minister to be bipartisan, but the hon. Lady deserves credit for her work on this matter, especially on the previous tobacco control plan.

That brings me nicely to my last point. I cannot miss the opportunity to remind the Minister that we remain concerned that our work to reduce tobacco consumption in our society could stall if the new tobacco control plan is not introduced sooner, rather than later. I want to use this opportunity to ensure that it is at the forefront of the Minister’s mind—I am sure it is—and that she does not forget it over the Christmas break.

Consumer Rights (Enforcement and Amendments) Order 2016 Secondary Legislation 12.12.16

As Shadow Minister for Public Health, Sharon spoke during a secondary legislation committee on the approval of the Draft Consumer Rights (Enforcement and Amendments) Order 2016. This Order was to...

As Shadow Minister for Public Health, Sharon responded to a debate on the progress on the implementation of the Cancer Strategy for England. In her speech, Sharon raised the need to improve preventative measures, especially around smoking and obesity, which are seen as two of the most preventable contributors to cancer, and also issues around workforce capacity and capability. 

You can read Sharon's speech here: Sharon Hodgson MP Cancer Strategy Backbench Business Debate 08.12.16

Speech pasted below:

4.33 pm

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

Like all other hon. Members who have spoken, I welcome this very important debate, which was secured by the hon. Member for Basildon and Billericay (Mr Baron) and others. Although he is, uncharacteristically, not in his place, for very important reasons—we all send him and his wife our very best wishes—I want to place on the record that this House and, indeed, the whole country owe him a huge debt of gratitude for all that he does on the issue and for his sterling leadership as chair of the all-party parliamentary group on cancer in aiding our work in fighting this terrible disease.

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Scunthorpe (Nic Dakin), who opened the debate. Like me and several others, he is a chair of an all-party group on cancer; his group is on pancreatic cancer. He works tirelessly on this issue, and he chaired the “Britain against cancer” conference with aplomb this week. He set the scene today so well, and his knowledge and passion shone through.

I thank all hon. Members who have spoken in the debate: the hon. Member for Crawley (Henry Smith), my hon. Friend the Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick), the hon. Members for Bosworth (David Tredinnick), for Strangford (Jim Shannon) and for Castle Point (Rebecca Harris)—the hon. Lady is also the chair of a cancer all-party group—the hon. Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman) and my very good friend the hon. Member for Bury St Edmunds (Jo Churchill), who is also vice-chair of the all-party group on breast cancer, of which I am a co-chair. They all made excellent contributions, and each and every one has made some important points about where we need to go next with the cancer strategy.

Much of the debate has focused on the report published by the all-party group on cancer, which looked at the progress made in implementing the cancer strategy one year on from its publication. The report makes many valid points and recommendations, and I look forward to hearing from the Minister on the specifics mentioned in it. The strategy can go a long way towards helping some of the estimated 2.5 million people living with cancer and the people who are diagnosed each year with cancer. The strategy, if implemented in full, could save 30,000 more lives per year by 2020.

That should be paired with the deeply worrying news that broke at the beginning of November that more than 130,000 patients a year have not been receiving cancer treatment on time, because cancer patients did not see a cancer specialist within the required 14 days. In some areas, the problem was so severe that more than ​6,000 patients were forced to wait 104 days or more. In addition, our findings show that the Government met their 62-day target only once in the last 20 months. That should drive the Government to do more, and it is clear that we are seeing issues around the transformations already. That should not be knocked, and I am certainly not knocking it, but we must all continue to hold the Government to account where we can.

That is why in my contribution I want to touch on two areas: improvement in preventive measures that can help to reduce the occurrence of cancer, and the significant concerns that have recently been raised regarding the cancer workforce. We can all agree that prevention is key to addressing many health conditions, illnesses and diseases, and cancer is no different. As we have heard from several hon. Members in this debate, four in 10 cancers are preventable, and we should be doing much more to prevent cancers from developing, especially those that could have been prevented by lifestyle changes. Prevention was a central pillar of the cancer strategy, along with the five-year forward view.

The Minister is surely prepared for what I am going to say next, because I have said it to him often enough in my short time as the shadow Minister with responsibility for public health. It remains true, sadly. The false economy of cutting public health funding with no assessment of the ramifications of doing so on various aspects of our lives, or on other parts of the NHS and the wider health service, is seriously worrying. According to data collected by the Association of Directors of Public Health, smoking cessation services are expected to be reduced by 61% in 2016-17, with 5% of services completely decommissioned. For weight management support there will be a 52% reduction, with 12% being decommissioned. That is damning information when smoking and obesity are, as we have heard, two of the biggest preventable causes of cancer. We know that 100,000 people are dying each year from smoking-related diseases, including cancer.

It is right that the cancer strategy strongly recommended the introduction of a new tobacco control plan post haste and an ambitious plan for a smoke-free society by 2035, as has been outlined. We still have not seen the plan, despite being promised repeatedly over the last year that we would. I am sure that the Minister will give us further information on that in his response, and we all look forward to it. I hope that we see that plan sooner rather than later, and that hope has been echoed by several hon. Members from both sides of the House.

A continued delay will never be beneficial for our shared vision of a smoke-free society or for preventing cancer from happening. Another plan we have finally seen, although it has been considerably watered down, is the one for childhood obesity. After smoking, it is understood that obesity is the next biggest preventable cause of cancer. If we allow current trends to continue, there could be more than 670,000 additional cases of cancer by 2035. This completely goes against the vision set out in the cancer strategy. We saw some of the detail of the sugary drinks levy earlier this week, and it will be interesting to see how this develops in the months ahead, but I hope the Minister can outline a little bit more about what else he and his colleagues plan to do on obesity and its links to cancer.

As part of the cancer strategy, a review of the current workforce was called for so that we could fully understand the shortfalls—the areas of investment needed and the ​gaps in the training of new and existing NHS staff—and meet the ambitious and noble goals set out in the strategy. In my capacity as chair of the all-party group on ovarian cancer and co-chair of the all-party group on breast cancer, I along with colleagues from both sides of the House—some of them are in the Chamber, notably the hon. Member for Bury St Edmunds, who is a vice-chair of the all-party group on breast cancer—raised this at the beginning of the year with Health Education England, which is conducting the review. In our letter, we raised the need for immediate solutions to fill the specialist gaps in our cancer workforce, but also the need for a strategic, longer-term solution to be put in place.

The issue of the cancer workforce is an incredibly important one, especially given that Cancer Research UK warned over two weeks ago that pathology services in the UK were at a tipping point, and that the Royal College of Radiologists warned earlier in the year that 25% of NHS breast screening programmes were understaffed, with 13% of consultant breast radiologist posts left vacant, a figure that has doubled since 2010. That should spur on the Department to push ahead on the workforce issues that have been raised so often with Ministers.

Only this July, organisations such as Macmillan and Cancer Research UK joined with other organisations to call for a set of principles to be taken up by the Government, including a review of the current and future workforce. The Minister should also heed the words of Dr Harpal Kumar, who during an oral evidence session for the inquiry by the all-party group on cancer into progress on the implementation of the review, said that workforce issues remained “significant and severe”.

The ageing population, which means that more and more people could be diagnosed with cancer, and the much welcomed push to improve earlier diagnosis of cancer mean that pressures on the workforce will rise if the right support is not found, especially given the projection that 500,000 Britons will be diagnosed with cancer by 2035. That should remain at the forefront of the Minister’s mind, and in the minds of his officials and those who deal with workforce capacity.

It is clear that investment is failing to keep up with demand. That was raised in the cancer strategy, which called on NHS England to invest to unlock the extra capacity we need to meet the higher levels of cancer testing. The Opposition support the calls made only a few short months ago by the national cancer advisory group for NHS England’s cancer transformation board to prioritise a focus on the cancer workforce in the coming months. I hope the Minister will ensure that that happens, and that when we come back from the Christmas recess, we will start to see the much needed progress that has been called for.

In conclusion, the work that has started on the transformative programme is to be welcomed. It is a large task to undertake, yet the Government will not be allowed to sit back; I know that they and the Minister will not do so. It is up to all of us in this House, along with many people outside this place, to continue to do all we can to hold the Minister and the Government to account on what are such important and personal matters for all of us who have been affected by cancer, be it ​personally or through family and friends. We must all be critical friends in this drive to fight off cancer once and for all. We all agree that cancer should be at the top of our list of health priorities. It is so destructive, and, very sadly, it will affect us all in some way. We must ensure that we get this right, because we cannot afford to get it wrong.

Cancer Strategy Backbench Business Debate 08.12.16

As Shadow Minister for Public Health, Sharon responded to a debate on the progress on the implementation of the Cancer Strategy for England. In her speech, Sharon raised the need...

As part of her long-standing campaigns against ticket touting and on improving access to free school meals, Sharon spoke during the Report Stage of the Digital Economy Bill on two amendments, which would ban the misuse of bots when buying tickets and also on sharing data between local authorities and schools to improve the take-up of free school meals, which have been proven to be beneficial to a child's life. 

You can read Sharon's speech here: Sharon Hodgson MP Report Stage of the Digital Economy Bill 28.11.16

Speech pasted below:

I want to speak for my two or three minutes in support of new clause 19 and new clause 31. I welcome these two new clauses after my many years of campaigning to put fans first and to improve access to free school meals.

Hungry children struggle to learn in school, and they fall behind their peers. That is why it is important that we improve the provision that is on offer and the access to it, and new clause 19 will do just that. This policy proposal was first introduced by my right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Frank Field) as a ten-minute rule Bill earlier this year. I have fully supported this policy change, and I congratulate my hon. Friends on the Front Bench on bringing it forward. It is estimated that having a child on free school meals can save a family up to £400 a year. A school will net £1,320 a year for each child who is currently on free school meals or who has been in receipt of free school meals in the previous five years. The proposed changes are simple and have been tried and tested by Calderdale Council and Greenwich Council, which have both used data sharing to improve the take-up of free school meals and, in turn, pupil premium in their boroughs.

I want to speak briefly to new clause 31. I thoroughly welcome this new clause, which has been introduced by the hon. Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Damian Collins) on behalf of the Culture, Media and Sport Committee after its excellent short inquiry into bots and ticket touting a few weeks ago—I had the pleasure, as I said earlier, of witnessing it at first hand—following the amendment originally tabled by the hon. Member for Selby and Ainsty (Nigel Adams) and supported by the Labour Front-Bench team and me. The new clause would take us one step closer to sorting the market out, but it is not a silver bullet; far from it. Alongside the new clause, we need the enforcement of existing legislation, such as the Consumer Rights Act 2015, and the implementation of the Waterson review recommendations on the secondary ticketing market.

Over the years, like the Minister and the hon. Member for Selby and Ainsty, I have heard about examples—I have experienced it myself—of people trying to buy tickets but finding that they were already sold out, and within minutes finding those tickets up on the secondary market. I never relented; I refused to buy any tickets from touts, but one can only deduce that there is a serious issue about how the tickets get on to the secondary market so quickly. One way in which they do so is definitely through the use of bots. Fans are not getting a fair crack at getting tickets, just as the Minister and other Members have not had a fair crack at getting them.

In the past 18 months, there has been a massive escalation in the number of tickets harvested by the aggressive software used by touts, with these attacks becoming more and more sophisticated. Attacks appear to emanate from all over the world, but the majority of ​attacks on ticketing systems are orchestrated by UK-based and UK-resident touts. Some 30% to 50% of tickets for high-demand events are harvested by aggressive software and immediately placed for resale on viagogo, GetMeIn!, StubHub and Seatwave, despite the best efforts of the industry, which has tried to police itself and to bring in technical solutions. The industry has tried to sell tickets through fan clubs, but even those are attacked. Where tickets are sold by ballot, there are ballot bots. Where fan club registration is required, there are email-generating bots that flood systems with thousands of false identities. There is not one single way to offer tickets for sale to the public for which there is not already a bot out there that will attack the system.

The situation is deteriorating. Primary ticket sites have to detect an attack, examine the data, identify the software used, reverse engineer it and develop measures to prevent a further attack. That process can take months. In the meantime, a tout can simply pay a coder overseas a few hundred pounds to develop a new bot to circumvent the new security features. Bots can be coded to attack a specific ticketing system in as little as a day.

Although legislation is in place in the form of the Computer Misuse Act 1990, which has broad applications that could be used to address bots, it is 25 years old and it is yet to be tested in this regard. This is an arms race that the primary ticket sellers simply cannot win. The secondary market has already shown its blatant disregard of civil remedy legislation, such as the amendment to the Consumer Rights Act 2015, which is flouted daily. The only effective deterrent is a very clear criminal offence, with appropriate punishment on conviction, and that would be provided by new clause 31.

Report Stage of the Digital Economy Bill 28.11.16

As part of her long-standing campaigns against ticket touting and on improving access to free school meals, Sharon spoke during the Report Stage of the Digital Economy Bill on two...

As Shadow Minister for Public Health, Sharon responded to a debate on reducing health inequalities and the need for the Government to take action to address variations in health outcomes across the country. In her speech, she raised two specific interventions that the Government could go on: childhood obesity and publication of the Tobacco Control Plan. 

You can read Sharon's speech here: Sharon Hodgson MP Reducing Health Inequalities Backbench Business Debate 24.11.16

Speech pasted below:

4.37 pm

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

I welcome the opportunity to speak in the Chamber for a second time today, on yet another important topic. This time we are debating health inequalities and I thank the Backbench Business Committee for allowing this debate to take place following the application by the hon. Member for Totnes (Dr Wollaston) and other hon. Members across the House. The hon. Lady made an excellent speech, and we are very grateful to her for that. I also want to thank other hon. Members across ​the House for their excellent contributions today. I especially want to highlight the excellent speeches by my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle (Alan Johnson) and my hon. Friends the Members for Stockton North (Alex Cunningham), for Bradford South (Judith Cummins), for Heywood and Middleton (Liz McInnes) and for Hackney South and Shoreditch (Meg Hillier).

I enjoyed the speeches by the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Oliver Colvile)—a fellow member of the all-party parliamentary group on basketball—and by the hon. Member for Erewash (Maggie Throup), who made an excellent speech on obesity and childhood obesity. I also enjoyed the speech by the hon. Member for Glasgow Central (Alison Thewliss). As she knows, I agree with most of what she says, especially about breastfeeding. We have had an excellent debate, with excellent contributions all round.

When it comes to addressing health inequalities, there are many conversations about the need for systemic change to reverse the trends. However, in my contribution today I want to look at tangible specifics that the Minister can get to work on in her remit as Minister for Public Health. I will do that by looking at the current state of health inequality and then the two key areas of smoking and childhood obesity and what more can be done to address those signifiers. I will then move on to the cuts to public health grants, which are exacerbating the situation.

The most recent intervention on health inequality came from the Prime Minister, who used her first speech on the steps of Downing Street to highlight that,

“if you’re born poor, you will die on average 9 years earlier than others.”

We have heard clear examples of that from constituencies around the country. That welcome intervention set the tone of her Government’s serious work to address health inequalities.

It is hard not to agree when the facts speak for themselves. Two indicators from the most recent public health outcomes data show that London and the south-east have the highest life expectancy while the north-east and north-west have the lowest. The same pattern appears when looking at excess weight in adults, about which we have also heard today. Rotherham comes out the highest at 76.2% and Camden is the lowest at 46.5%. Those figures prove what we all know to be true: people living in more deprived parts of the country do not live as long as those in more affluent areas. Contributors to ill health such as smoking, excessive alcohol consumption—which we heard about from the hon. Member for Congleton (Fiona Bruce)—and obesity are more prevalent in deprived areas.

On a moral level, it is important for the Government to address such issues, so that we can improve our nation’s health, but there is also an economic argument to be made. If we have an unhealthy population, we will not be as productive. In England, the cost of treating illnesses and diseases arising from health inequalities has been estimated at £5.5 billion a year. As for productivity, ill health among working-age people means a loss to industry of £31 billion to £33 billion each year. Those two facts must spur the Government into action, but there are many issues to tackle and multiple ways for the Government to address them. Many such issues ​have been raised in the debate but, as I said, I will examine two key areas that the Minister must get right: smoking cessation and childhood obesity.

My first outing as shadow Public Health Minister was to debate the prevalence of tobacco products in our communities and the need for the Government to bring forward the new tobacco control plan.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health (Nicola Blackwood)

indicated assent.

Mrs Hodgson

The Minister is nodding, so she remembers it well. The Government need to set out key actions to work towards a smoke-free society. Smoking is strongly linked to deprivation and has major impacts on the health of those who do smoke, such as being more prone to lung cancer and COPD and facing higher mortality rates. If we look at that by region, which I have already established is a factor in health inequality, smoking levels are higher in the north-east at 19.9% compared with the lowest in the south-east at 16.6%. When looking at smoking by socioeconomic status, we find that smoking rate in professional and managerial jobs is less than half that in routine and manual socioeconomic groups, at 12% and 28% respectively.

In the debate held just over a month ago, the Minister was pushed on when the new tobacco control plan would be published. Concerns have been raised by various charities, including ASH, Fresh NE and the British Lung Foundation, about how the delay could jeopardise the work already done. Sadly, the Minister evaded my specific question back then, so I will ask her the same thing again: when can we expect the new plan? Will it be this year or next year? The plan will not only go a long way to work towards a smoke-free society, but help to reduce health inequalities in deprived areas. The Minister can surely understand that and the need to come forth with the plans.

The Minister knows that I also take a keen interest in childhood obesity. She has said repeatedly that the publication of the childhood obesity plan was the start of the conversation. Childhood obesity is the issue on everyone’s lips right now as it is the biggest public health crisis facing the country. I will not repeat the stats we all know about the number of children who start school obese and the number who leave obese—they are shocking. Many organisations and individuals, including Cancer Research UK, the Children’s Food Trust and Jamie Oliver, have made clear their dismay at the 13-page document that was snuck out in the summer and have said that it did not go far enough. Incidentally, it came out on the same day as the A-level results, so it looked like it was being hidden.

Obesity-related illnesses cost the NHS an estimated £5.1 billion a year, and obesity is the single biggest preventable cause of cancer after smoking. It is also connected to other long-term conditions such as arthritis and type 2 diabetes. When obesity is linked with socioeconomic status, we see real concern that the plan we have before us will not go far enough to reverse health inequality. National child measurement data show that obesity among children has risen, and based on current trends there could be about 670,000 additional cases of obesity by 2035, with 60% of boys aged five ​to 11 in deprived communities being either overweight or obese. There is a real need for the Government to come to terms with the fact that many believe the current plan is a squandered opportunity and a lot more must be done. That is why I hope the Minister will be constructive in her reply to this debate, giving us reassurances that move us on from this being “only the start”. At the end of her speech, the hon. Member for Erewash gave us a list of four or five items that we could start straightaway, which would certainly take us further on.

The Government have stalled or not gone far enough on the plans I have mentioned, but there is also deep concern that the perverse and damaging cuts to public health spending will widen the health inequality gap. The Minister knows the numbers that I have cited to her previously, but I will cite them again, even after my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle has done so. We are greatly concerned about the £200 million cut to local public health spending following last year’s Budget, which was followed by the average real-terms cut of 3.9% each year to 2020-21 in last year’s autumn statement. I want to add some further concerns that go beyond those raised by Labour.

Concerns were identified in a survey by the Association of Directors of Public Health, which found that 75% of its members were worried that cuts to public health funding would threaten work on tackling health inequalities. Those concerns are backed up by further evidence published by the ADPH, which found that local authorities are planning cuts across a wide range of public health services, because of central Government cuts. For example, smoking cessation services saw a 34% reduction in 2015-16, and that will become 61% in 2016-17, with 5% of services being decommissioned. That is seen across the board among local public health services and will be detrimental to reversing health inequalities. For the Government to fail to realise that cutting from this important budget will not help the overall vision on health inequality, set out by the Prime Minister earlier this year, is deeply worrying and shows a distinct lack of joined-up thinking around this issue.

In conclusion, health inequality is a serious issue that we cannot ignore or let the Government get wrong, as the health of our nation is so important, not only in a moral sense, but economically. I know the Minister will fully agree with the Prime Minister’s statement from earlier this year—there is no second-guessing that, as we all do—but we need radical proposals that get to the bottom of this persistent issue, which blights the lives of so many people living in our most deprived communities. We all want to see a healthier population, where nobody’s health is determined by factors outside their control, and we must all work together to get to the point where it is no longer the case that the postcode where somebody is born or lives determines how long they will live or how healthily they will live that life.

Reducing Health Inequalities Backbench Business Debate 24.11.16

As Shadow Minister for Public Health, Sharon responded to a debate on reducing health inequalities and the need for the Government to take action to address variations in health outcomes...

As Shadow Minister for Public Health, Sharon responded to a Backbench Business Debate on contaminated blood and blood products, secured by Diane Johnson, MP for Hull North, who has led on this issue for a number of years. In her speech, Sharon spoke about the support given to those affected by this scandal under the new system and those missed out, the involvement of private for-profit companies in the administering of payments, and also the need for an independent Hillsborough-style panel.

You can read Sharon's speech in Hansard here: Sharon Hodgson MP Contaminated Blood and Blood Products Backbench Business Debate 24.11.16

Speech pasted below:

1.27 pm

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

It is a pleasure to speak in such an important debate. I want, first and foremost, to thoroughly thank my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Diana Johnson), who for many years now has championed and pushed on this vital matter. Her work cannot and must not go unnoticed or unrecognised. I am sure people across the country, and indeed across the House, will want to join in thanking her.

The experiences of those men and women affected by this awful scandal should never be out of our minds as we continue to do all that we can to support them. Doing all we can for them is paramount, knowing full well that whatever we do will not be enough to give them back their life or a life without suffering or pain. HIV and hepatitis are terrible conditions. Someone living with HIV or hepatitis will face fears of developing other conditions and have to face the stigma that comes with these conditions. This debate is welcome, as it is the first time the House has had the chance to debate the new scheme since it was announced and to continue to hold the Government to account to do more. It is important that we now have the chance to discuss that in a considered and comprehensive manner.

In my contribution, I want to touch upon three areas: first, the current funding system in England; secondly, the involvement of private companies to administer support to beneficiaries; and, thirdly, the need for an independent Hillsborough-style panel to recognise the failures of the system that these people have had to live with.

It was announced earlier in the year that a new financial arrangements system would be introduced, and a public consultation was conducted to get views ​and opinions on how that would take shape. Although there has been a welcome, if somewhat modest, increase in the annual payment to people with HIV, hepatitis C at stage 2 and those who are co-infected, as well as the first guaranteed ongoing payments for people with stage 1 hepatitis C, it is concerning that these payments fall short of what has been drawn up in Scotland.

Also, the current English system makes no mention of support for people who have been cleared of hepatitis C prior to the chronic stage but who, despite fighting off the disease, may still exhibit symptoms ranging from fatigue to mental health issues and even diabetes. These people have never been entitled to any support, and continue to get none. The scheme does not include support for those infected with other viruses, such as hepatitis B, D or E, and for those people it has meant continuous monitoring of their liver function. It is estimated that that group is extremely small and, according to the Haemophilia Society, would be a minimal cost to the Department of Health.

We find that the new scheme does little or nothing for bereaved partners, parents or children of those who have sadly died from diseases contracted through the contaminated blood scandal. The new system should have gone a long way to supporting those various groups within the affected community. I hope that the Minister can give us some reassurance that those concerns have been noted, and that she will go away and look into what more can be done to help the people I have just mentioned.

There are also concerns regarding the discretionary payments, which, thankfully, were saved, despite it being announced in the consultation earlier this year that they could be scrapped. That should be welcomed, but there is a clear concern that the discretionary support will not go far enough to improve the support on offer for those with HIV or those who are co-infected. The Government need to consider that impact and what more they plan to do. It is worrying that the Government have yet to make clear the minimum and maximum discretionary support that people will be able to receive.

I understand that the Reference Group on Infected Blood is currently considering that policy and that we will hear more from it in the new year, but would it not be worth while for the Minister to give us some indication now, so that those who will depend on this money in the years to come can have some reassurance, especially as we enter the festive period? There are many questions to be answered. That is why I hope that in the time allowed the Minister will give us in the House and those who will be watching the debate the reassurances that they need.

The new scheme will replace the current system so that the five trusts across the country that administer the payments are amalgamated into one, and I know that that has been welcomed. However, there is one very concerning point that was so eloquently put by my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull North when she opened the debate and which needs to be addressed by the Minister. I refer to the potential involvement of a private sector company, such as Atos or Capita, which both bid in the tender process. The Minister no doubt expects me to make the typical party political point, but I am not going to do that.​

That potential involvement was never included in any talks with the all-party parliamentary group on haemophilia and blood contamination, no consultation was held with the affected community, and there was no mention of it in the Department’s response to the survey, yet we see it happening now. The concern here is that the many thousands of people affected by the mistake—which, it must be remembered, was often made by US private companies—feel aggrieved at the potential involvement of a profit-making private company. That resentment is justified, especially as it was the mistake of a private company that put them in their current situation. There should be no profit making when it comes to compensating for the failures of the private sector. That was highlighted well by my hon. Friend in her speech and was also touched on by the former Health Minister, the right hon. Member for North East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt).

The issue was highlighted too by the APPG’s survey of nearly 1,000 people affected by the scandal, who clearly had concerns about the involvement of a profit-making private company. It is important that those affected have their say in the administration of the payments and support. I would therefore be interested to hear the Minister’s thoughts on their involvement, as we have seen in Scotland, where there has been an alternative scheme operator which includes beneficiary involvement. Perhaps the Minister can tell us why private involvement is now being considered, but was never consulted upon.

My final point is about co-ordinating an independent panel, such as in the case of Hillsborough. The Prime Minister promised in September that she would keep an open mind about an independent panel, but she has, sadly, quashed the idea. The rationale given is that we have had two public inquiries into this matter already, by Lord Archer and Lord Penrose. That may be the case, but it is important that we consider the approach to helping people to get the justice they deserve, especially as it is clear that neither of the inquiries met the needs of the affected community. The two inquiries were narrow in their focus and were not about apportioning blame. The affected community is not calling for that. What it is calling for, which is strongly supported by the Opposition, is a truth and reconciliation process and public disclosure of the failures, which those affected rightly deserve.

Mark Durkan

On the need for some vehicle of inquiry into the background, in an intervention, I pointed out that, in the Irish Republic, the right to compensation was established in 1995. There was an Act in 1997, but it was following a tribunal of inquiry that the state admitted liability, so there was further legislation in 2002. The liability of the Irish state rested on the fact that the tribunal found that the state knew that there was a risk and carried it because the UK and others were prepared to carry the same risk.

Mrs Hodgson

I am grateful for that important intervention, which emphasises why we need an inquiry into issues such as the one that the hon. Gentleman has raised.

I am sure the Minister can understand the concerns across the House and out in the community among the people affected and their families. Before she replies, I ask her not to adopt the same language as that used by the Prime Minister, who attributed the lack of support ​for an independent panel to the delay in the introduction of a support system. An independent panel with clearly defined terms of reference would not impede the development and implementation of the new system. I hope the Minister will keep that in mind when she responds, and recognise how important it is for those affected to get the reconciliation for which they have fought so long.

The Government must be committed for reforming the system and listening—must be commended, rather, for reforming the system and listening. I know they are committed to that. However, this is such an important issue that we must get it right, and once more I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull North for her steadfast campaigning on this issue over many years. I am sure the community will also recognise that fact. Those people who have had their lives marked so significantly by the failures of the past should rightly be compensated and respected. Those who have died because of that serious mistake, those who are still living with the repercussions of the mistake, and those who have thankfully fought it off but still live with the impact of it all deserve respect and dignity, and I hope that in her reply the Minister will give them just that.

Contaminated Blood and Blood Products Backbench Business Debate 24.11.16

As Shadow Minister for Public Health, Sharon responded to a Backbench Business Debate on contaminated blood and blood products, secured by Diane Johnson, MP for Hull North, who has led...

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