Sharon Hodgson MP

Working hard for Washington and Sunderland West.

Recent speeches by Sharon Hodgson MP

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Ahead of Holocaust Memorial Day, Sharon spoke in a debate on the proscription of Hezbollah, where she raised her concerns about the anti-Semitic language used by this organisation. 

You can read the full debate here: Proscription of Hezbollah Backbench Business Debate 25.01.18

You can read Sharon's speech pasted below: 

I thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Enfield North (Joan Ryan) for securing this important debate. It has been excellent.

I think that it incredibly important for the Home Secretary to take a clear look at Hezbollah, its activities and the positions that it takes. As we know, it is involved in a number of terrorist activities and has made clear its desire to wipe Israel off the face of the earth, but the main concern that I wish to raise today concerns its anti-Semitic language. Let me take a moment to read out some of the comments made by leaders of Hezbollah to emphasise how shocking they are.

Hassan Nasrallah, Hezbollah’s leader, has been quoted as saying—I read this out with deep discomfort—

“the Jews…are a cancer which is liable to spread…at any moment.”

He has also said:

“If they all gather in Israel, it will save us the trouble of going after them worldwide.”

Such views are expressed not just by Nasrallah, but by his deputy. Naim Qassem has been quoted as saying:

“The history of Jews has proven that, regardless of the Zionist proposal, they are a people who are evil in their ideas.”

I am sure that Members on both sides of the House agree that those comments are utterly deplorable and should be challenged at every opportunity. Such language should not be allowed to continue, because it feeds into a terrorist ideology that calls for the destruction of Israel, but also of the wider Jewish people. We have heard it in the past, and we stood up against it then. We should stand up against it now as well, because the use of such language in our society should not be tolerated, whether it is used here or elsewhere in the world. There is absolutely no place for it.

What is especially pertinent when we recommit ourselves to standing up to this hate-filled language is that, as we speak, many people are gathering near Parliament Square to remember the holocaust at the Holocaust Memorial Day service. I was torn today: I wanted to take part in both events, but I chose to come to the House and make my speech. Only a week ago, colleagues stood here in the Chamber and movingly marked that auspicious day.

The theme of this year’s Holocaust Memorial Day is the power of words. The aim is to explore how language was used in the past and is used in the present. It reminds us never to be complacent. Right now, an organisation that calls for the annihilation of one of our allies and a whole ethnic population is lawfully allowed to be supported in this country, and last year, as we have heard, its flags were flown on the streets of our capital. Hatred should not go unchallenged, wherever it may raise its ugly head.

The British Government must stand strong with resolve and say, “Enough is enough, and we will not stand for their hatred and terrorist activity.” We can all agree that Hezbollah is a dangerous organisation that commits terrorist crimes across the world in the name of its warped view of Islam and that repeatedly vocalises hate-filled language towards a group that it wishes to exterminate. There is no room for its deep-seated hatred—none at all. Therefore, in response to this debate, I hope the Home Secretary—although not present—will ensure that she listens in full to the concerns raised from across the House today.

Proscription of Hezbollah Backbench Business Debate 25.01.18

Ahead of Holocaust Memorial Day, Sharon spoke in a debate on the proscription of Hezbollah, where she raised her concerns about the anti-Semitic language used by this organisation.  You can... Read more

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On the 19th January, Frank Field MP had the 2nd Reading of his Holiday Provisions (Meals and Activities) Bill in Parliament.

Unfortunately, due to time restraints, Sharon was unable to speak in the debate.

However, if she had, Sharon would have given this speech in the Chamber. 

You can read the short debate here: Frank Field MP's Holiday Provision (Meals and Activities) Private Members Bill 19.01.18

Sharon's speech:

Many Members will know that the issue of child holiday hunger is one that I care deeply about and believe we should be doing far more to address.

That is why I welcome this Bill brought before the House today by my Rt. Hon. Friend for Birkenhead – he has been a great ally in campaigning on this issue and this Bill is testament to his passion for this issue.

The main thrust of my speech this afternoon is that the Government must be doing far more to support children and young people who suffer from hunger during the school holidays.

There are many, some in this House and some outside, who believe that when the school gates lock for the holidays, especially the long summer holidays, that it is none of our business how a child eats, or doesn’t in some cases.

For me, this train of thought fails to help us achieve the society we aspire to be: compassionate and caring. 

It is shameful that we will allow children to remain hungry during the school holidays, which will have a serious detrimental effect on their health and education thus negatively affecting their life opportunities.

If we are to truly believe that we are giving our children the best start in life, then it is important that this issue is addressed – and this Bill will help take us a step further to achieving that goal.

UNICEF estimate that 10% of children in the UK are living in severe food insecurity and my Rt Hon Friend’s Inquiry into this issue estimated 3 million children are at risk of hunger over the school holidays; we cannot allow this to continue.

Aside from the Bill by my Rt. Hon Friend, there is a clear policy gap when it comes to addressing food insecurity but, for me, the most pertinent issue is the lack of children’s and young people’s voices in any policy development.

That is why, with the support of the Food Foundation and the fantastic Lindsay Graham, I will be chairing a cross-party inquiry over the next year or so into the views of children and young people so that policy on food security can be developed based on their opinions.

This inquiry will not only address this issue, but place children at the centre of policy that affects them. It is very important they are heard.

We cannot allow this to go on any longer and I wish this Bill every success as it passes through Parliament.

It is vitally important and must be seriously considered by ministers on the Government benches, who must help get it onto the statute book.

I implore the ministers to do more on this issue, because over the next year, we will see children again going hungry during the school holidays.

Let us make 2018 the year that we end this societal failure.

There are far too many children experiencing hunger over the holidays and it is shameful that more is not being done.

As Members of Parliament, we all have a duty to introduce policy to protect children from hunger.

It was true 100 years ago and sadly it is still true today.

Holiday Provision (Meals and Activities) Private Members Bill 19.01.18

On the 19th January, Frank Field MP had the 2nd Reading of his Holiday Provisions (Meals and Activities) Bill in Parliament.Unfortunately, due to time restraints, Sharon was unable to speak... Read more

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As a local MP for Sunderland, and Shadow Minister for Public Health, Sharon was invited to speak at the launch of the Sunderland & District Keep Our NHS Public where she set out the national picture when it comes to our NHS, with specific emphasis on the NHS winter crisis. 

CHECK AGAINST DELIVERY

Thank you for that introduction. It is a pleasure to be here speaking with you about our NHS.

The scale of support shown for this recently set up campaign group shows just how strongly local people feel about our NHS and its future.

As a Shadow Health Minister, I know all too well how damaging the Tories policies towards our NHS are and it is groups like your own, working alongside the Labour Party in Parliament, that are helping us hold the Government to account for their actions.

In my contribution this evening, I have been asked to talk about the national perspective when it comes to our NHS and there is nothing more pressing right now than the utterly shameful winter crisis that is engulfing our NHS.

This winter crisis is unlike any we have seen before, and the blame lays squarely at the feet of the Health Secretary who has presided over serious underfunding, understaffing and underappreciation of our fantastic NHS.

Labour have repeatedly dragged ministers to the House to hold them to account on this.

In the first week back in Parliament of this year, we had an Urgent Question where our excellent Shadow Health Secretary, Jon Ashworth, took the Government to task on their dismal actions and all the while Jeremy Hunt was staging a sit-in in Downing Street to save his job.

If he put as much effort into saving our NHS as he did saving his own career, then part of me thinks our NHS wouldn’t be in the state that it is currently in.

As the age-old saying goes, you can never trust a Tory with our NHS.

But I think we should now add: “especially Jeremy Hunt.”

Now many people are getting sick of the constant use of statistics to highlight the scale of the winter crisis, but they must never be forgotten and we should never stop repeating them.

The Tories have starved our NHS of resources. 

This has meant that this winter alone, 75,000 patients have waited in the back of ambulances for over 30 minutes – often in excruciating pain.

Over one third of England’s children’s care units were 100% full, with not one single spare bed for new admittances.

A total of just over 1000 people have been hospitalised with flu; almost three times more than the 366 admitted during the same period in 2016-17.

Our own analysis has shown that there is a workforce crisis with 100,000 vacant posts across NHS England. Labour have estimated that this means a total of 40,000 nurse vacancies, 12,000 nursing support staff vacancies and 11,000 scientific, technical and therapeutic staff vacancies.

It seems astounding that the Prime Minister has said that the NHS is “better prepared” for the winter than ever before, but are we even surprised or shocked when this Prime Minister is prone to saying “nothing has changed” and sticking her head in the sand.

It beggar’s belief that the Tories believe that the NHS is only facing seasonal struggles and believe the NHS is in good health, when the key targets which help us gauge our NHS’s health are not being met.

It is worrying that right now bed occupancy stands at 95% when it should be at 85% and the gold standard A&E four hour waiting target is at 85% when it should be 95%.

So they are meeting the targets – just the wrong way around!

This whole saga is saddening, but what should shame the Tories (though I don’t think it ever will), is that in the 70th year of our NHS existence, it started the year marred by story after story of ambulances queuing up outside of hospitals and Trusts urging patients not to go to A&E because they were full to capacity and couldn’t cope. 

The warning signs have been there for months, if not years.

Back in October, Jim Mackay, Head of NHS Improvement told the House of Commons’ Health Select Committee, and I quote:

“we are running tighter than any of us would really want to … so, it will be difficult – it will be very tight – over the winter”

This is from one of the top people within the NHS and the Tories turned a blind eye and ignored these warning signs.

But Labour has also driven home the need for this winter crisis to be prevented and avoided at all costs, so that patients can have the full confidence they rightly expect in our NHS.

At the General Election, Labour committed to an additional £6 billion being pumped into our NHS to not only prepare the NHS for a crisis such as the one we see now but also make sure our NHS has the money to continue being the jewel in the crown of our public services.

Even back in October 2017, Jon Ashworth was calling on the Government to direct emergency funding towards the NHS with a bailout of £500million to protect those who rely upon an overstretched NHS service.

This was all ignored and ridiculed by the Tories who yet again showed their disregard for the importance of protecting our NHS when they should be doing all they can to ensure our nation’s health is always put first.

But we know exactly what the Tories will say which is that they have moved funding towards the NHS but does anyone really think that an additional £1.6 billion will help address these pressures? It is paltry in comparison to what the NHS needs.

It is also concerning that NHS Trusts who had heard this announced and had probably let out a sigh of strained relief were not informed of their allocation until a month later.

The Budget was announced on the 22nd November and Trusts were not receiving their emergency funding until late December – some only getting it days before Christmas.

It is not surprising that NHS Providers turned around and said this money had come: “very late to be used to maximum effect”.

Chris Hopson, Chief Executive of NHS Providers, also providing a damning analysis of the reality our NHS finds itself in last week said, and I quote:

“For the first time since [targets] were introduced, despite best efforts, last year the NHS missed all four of the long standing acute and ambulance performance standards. The four hour A&E standard. The 18-week elective surgery standard. The 62-day cancer standard. The ambulance response time target.”

End Quote.

This has culminated in NHS staff describing the state of their A&E departments as “third world” or “never seen anything like this”.

This has meant Trusts have had to delay all elective surgeries – which is estimated at 55,000 operations – until the end of January and no sign of when they will be rescheduled for.

This, of course, will have a knock-on effect for future operation schedules and will see patients living in pain for far longer than they should and many even see, god forbid, fatalities.  

And this crisis is not over yet, as John Appleby of the respected think tank the Nuffield Trust said two weeks ago:

“the sobering reality is that winter for the NHS has hardly started”.

This is troubling. This is worrying. This is shameful.

We cannot allow this to continue.

That is why KONP is such a valuable local group which will help campaign to raise awareness amongst local people about our NHS and engage residents in defending our NHS before it is run completely into the ground and totally privatised.

Labour are committed to giving our NHS the support it needs.

In its 70th year we shouldn’t be seeing this precious public service being run into the ground but instead seeing investment that sees it through another 70 years and another 70 years after that.

People may say that this is an often misquoted line, attributed to Nye Bevan, but the thrust of it remains true.

“The NHS will last as long as there’s folk with faith left to fight for it.”

I am up for that fight, as I know all of you are too.

So let’s go from here and fight for our NHS.

Let us protect it and defend it at all costs.

Not just for those people who rely upon it now but for those future generations who will rely upon it too.

Sharon speaks at launch of Sunderland & District Keep Our NHS Public

As a local MP for Sunderland, and Shadow Minister for Public Health, Sharon was invited to speak at the launch of the Sunderland & District Keep Our NHS Public where...

As Shadow Minister for Public Health, Sharon spoke on behalf of the Opposition in a debate on blood cancer. In her speech, Sharon raised issues around psychological support and care pathways for blood cancer patients, the need to improve research into drugs and address issues with the appraisal support.

You can read the full debate here: NHS Blood Cancer Care

You can read Sharon's speech below:

It is a genuine pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Wilson, and I congratulate the hon. Member for Crawley (Henry Smith) on his good fortune in securing this debate just before the launch of the report by the all-party group on blood cancer, which will take place afterwards. That was very opportune and well done. He made an informative and heartfelt opening speech, and I am sure that he can secure no finer legacy in memory of his mother than what he is achieving in Parliament today. I am sure his whole family are proud of him.

As we have heard throughout this debate, blood cancer is the third biggest cancer killer in the UK, and the fifth most common cancer, with more than 230,000 people living with the disease. For those people and their families—some of whom are here today or watching the debate—action is needed to improve the treatment and support on offer. That includes some of my own constituents who contacted me prior to this debate, and it is for them that we are here today. There is much that we can do to improve treatment and support, as so eloquently put by the hon. Member for Crawley, and others who have spoken today, including my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry North East (Colleen Fletcher), and the hon. Members for Gordon (Colin Clark), for Strangford (Jim Shannon), and for Central Ayrshire (Dr Whitford), who all made excellent speeches.

Blood cancer patients need to see their GP many more times before being referred to hospital than those with other cancers. Indeed, 35% of blood cancer patients had to see their GP three or more times before being referred, compared with only 6% of those with breast cancer, and 23% of those with all other tumour types. Such figures must be the fire beneath that spurs us on to do more, otherwise we will be failing the 230,000 people who live with this disease. Today I want to pick up on three key issues: first, patient experiences, and specifically the “watch and wait” principles of treatment and support; secondly, the improvements needed in research and access to treatments; and finally I will discuss post-stem cell transplant care. 

Each year, 5,000 people with slow-growing blood cancers do not start treatment straight away, but instead are placed on a regime called watch and wait. That means that patients are monitored until they reach a point where treatment must start. It can take many years for that to happen, which can add much pressure to a patient’s life, including the psychological struggles that they might face. That is understandable: it must be excruciatingly difficult for someone to live with a cancer, including a blood-borne one, yet not receive any treatment, even though they know they have the disease. 

To help fully understand this struggle, I want to read from a case study that was sent to me by Bloodwise, and written by the blogger who writes the “Diary of a ‘Fake’ Cancer Patient”. It states:

“About a month after diagnosis, I went to pieces and sat in front of my consultant panicking, crying and generally not coping.”

Reading the full case study is harrowing but heart-warming at the same time. That may sound peculiar, but it shows the scale of the struggle that blood cancer patients face under “watch and wait”, and also that when support is offered they can lead as normal a life as possible, and have the support to cope with the disease and the situation in which they find themselves. That is why Labour supports calls for tailored psychological support for patients who are on watch and wait, and it would be welcome if the Minister addressed that point when he replies to the debate.

It would be of great interest to hear from the Minister whether the Government plan to look at the perceived pitfall in the cancer strategy regarding the recovery package, and the failures to take into consideration the unique characteristics of blood cancer, as well as the use of terms such as “beyond cancer” and “post- treatment”, which can be alienating to blood cancer patients. As we know, blood cancers are very different to solid tumour cancers, and that determines the kind of treatment on offer to patients. For blood cancer patients, treatment is not about surgery or radiotherapy; it is about drugs to help to fight their cancer, and importantly, about access to said drugs. It is therefore crucial that innovation and the development of new drugs is encouraged to help improve patient outcomes. The Government must continue to commit to ongoing research to help save lives, and capitalise on our world-leading position as blood cancer research pioneers.

Lots of this work already happens, including charitable investment and collaboration between public bodies. One such example is IMPACT—a £4 million clinical trials programme that is jointly funded by Anthony Nolan, Leuka, and NHS Blood and Transplant services. By 2020, this exciting and much welcomed project will have established 12 clinical trials involving approximately 1,500 patients. It will play an invaluable role in achieving the vision set out in the Government’s life sciences industrial strategy and—most importantly—it will help to save lives. It is of utmost importance that the Government continue their commitment to this work.

We must also consider how the cancer drugs fund works, and how the temporary collection of data to make appraisal decisions can, for some rare blood cancers, lead to insufficiency in collecting robust data, and therefore to negative appraisals for drugs. I have raised concerns in the past about the way we appraise drugs—indeed, I worked with the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire when we were both co-chairs of the all-party group on breast cancer, and we carried out work on some breast cancer drugs, including Kadcyla. It is therefore disappointing, yet not surprising, that we find similar situations when it comes to blood cancer drugs with, for example, the drug ibrutinib being given to patients with mantle cell lymphoma. That drug received a negative appraisal, and later a positive one. That causes unnecessary distress and anxiety for patients, and it is important that such problems are addressed. I hope that the Minister will give us some steer on when the Government plan to rectify these matters.

Finally, I will touch briefly on the need for support for those living post transplant, and the care that should be on offer to them. It is estimated that by 2020 more than 16,000 people will be living post transplant, and they will therefore be more exposed to physical and psychological effects, such as graft-versus-host disease, depression and prolonged duress stress disorder. Although stem cell transplants can save a person’s life—that is fantastic—it is important that when someone’s life is saved, they can live it to its fullest. Sadly, only 54% of those who need psychological support actually receive it. That is down to the commissioning of post-transplant services not working for all patients, especially at the 100-day cut-off after a transplant, when responsibility for services moves from NHS England to CCGs, and therefore leads to gaps in the care and support provided. Is the Minister aware of that, and will he commit to looking at how that gap can be filled so that patients receive the best post-transplant support possible?

This debate has been incredibly important, and I am sure it has given the Minister a lot to think about. I hope that when he gets back to his office, he will look at this issue in depth and read the APPG’s report following its launch today—I am looking forward to that—so that all the 230,000 people living with blood cancer can be confident that the Government are doing their utmost to give them the best chance of living.

Blood Cancer Westminster Hall Debate 17.01.18

As Shadow Minister for Public Health, Sharon spoke on behalf of the Opposition in a debate on blood cancer. In her speech, Sharon raised issues around psychological support and care pathways...

As Shadow Minister for Public Health, Sharon spoke on behalf of the Opposition in a debate on junk food advertising and childhood obesity. In her speech, Sharon highlighted the affects junk food advertising has on children and high obesity rates in the UK. Sharon called for a ban on junk food advertising before 9pm watershed to tackle this issue.

You can read the full debate here: Junk Food Advertising and Childhood Obesity Westminster Hall

You can read Sharon's speech below:

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Dorries. I thank the hon. Member for Erewash (Maggie Throup) for securing this important debate, and for sharing her knowledge in her passionate speech. I also thank the other hon. Members who have spoken this morning for their eloquent speeches: my hon. Friend the Member for Reading East (Matt Rodda), the hon. Members for South West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous), for Strangford (Jim Shannon) and for Angus (Kirstene Hair), my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy) and the hon. Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East (Stuart C. McDonald), who spoke for the Scottish National party.

The UK has one of the worst obesity rates in Europe, with almost two in every three people either overweight or obese. I am, as hon. Members can see, one of those two. I am back on a strict diet post-new year, with no sugar or alcohol for the foreseeable future—if any hon. Members see me with either or both in my hand, please take them off me—and I hope that by August there will be a lot less of me.

I commend the honesty of the hon. Member for Strangford. I have been on a similar journey to him healthwise, and I hope to share his success weightwise. It is hard though—if it were easy, nobody would be overweight. We have not all got metabolisms as good as a horse, as the hon. Member for South West Bedfordshire attests to. However, I started life as a skinny kid and was a slim teenager. I am proud to say that I was a size 10 when I got married, but I still ended up overweight as time went by. Therefore, I worry greatly when I see the stats, as I know we all do, for this country’s children.

As we have heard this morning, a pattern now emerges at a very early age. In 2016-17, almost a quarter of reception children aged between three and four were overweight or obese. In the same year, for pupils in year 6, it was more than a third. An obese child is five times more likely to grow up into an obese adult. I did not start as an obese child, and hon. Members can see where I got to, so it is important that the Government do all they can to ensure that child obesity rates are reduced as a matter of urgency.

As we know, obesity is linked with several health issues: lung and liver disease, heart attacks, strokes, seven or more types of cancer, and type 2 diabetes, all of which could be prevented with healthy eating and a healthy lifestyle. According to Cancer Research UK, continued eating and drinking patterns—alcohol is also a major factor in cancer—could lead to being overweight and obese and could cause an additional 670,000 cases of cancer in the UK over the next 20 years. Diabetes UK also warns that there are now 12.3 million people at an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes. If overweight and obesity levels were to be reduced, three in five cases of type 2 diabetes could be prevented or delayed.

Obesity comes at a high financial cost too. Obesity and its related health problems cost the NHS in England an estimated £5.1 billion a year, projected to reach £9.7 billion by 2050, if the Government and the people themselves fail to take any action—as we have heard in the debate, people need to take action for themselves. That is why this debate is so important. If we do not do anything about obesity today, the children of tomorrow are the ones who will suffer.

There are many ways to address obesity. No one intervention is a silver bullet, but it is the Opposition’s belief that action on advertising and marketing can make serious inroads.

Ten years ago, Ofcom’s restrictions on junk food advertising came into effect, but over that decade, our viewing habits have changed, as we have discussed. At that time, the Ofcom report said:

“Advertisements of high fat, salt and sugar products should not be shown in or around programmes specifically made for children...For the avoidance of doubt this measure will remove all HFSS advertising from dedicated children's channels”.

Ten years on, as we all know, that is incredibly outdated and out of touch with the way children watch TV. Children are likely to watch TV with their family or watch programmes that are not on specific children’s channels, such as “The X Factor”, “Britain’s Got Talent”, “Hollyoaks” and other programmes.

A report by the University of Liverpool found that 59% of food and drink adverts shown during family viewing time were for high fat, salt and sugar products and would have been banned from children’s TV. The same report also found that, in the worst case, children were bombarded with nine junk food adverts in just a 30-minute period and that adverts for fruit and vegetables made up only 1% of food and drink adverts shown during that family viewing time. Ofcom’s restrictions on junk food advertising are therefore totally obsolete and in need of a serious update to protect children from the bombardment of junk food advertising from multinational companies.

Many of the charities and organisations that provided me with briefings for this debate called for junk food advertising to be restricted until the 9 pm watershed on all channels, which was something I was pleased to commit to in the 2017 Labour party manifesto and am proud to remain committed to. I hope that the Minister will hear the calls today from hon. Members across the House and will see why an update of the restrictions is necessary.

Children must of course also be protected from other forms of advertising, such as billboard and bus shelter adverts, as well as subtle advertising in films and in made-for-purpose games, which are so prevalent there is a name for them—advergames. “Newsnight” last night noted that there are major concerns with the regulations around confectionary firms and their marketing to children. There seems to be a loophole in the law with regard to advergames, which needs to be closed.

There are also genuine games that are very popular with children although they are not aimed at them, such as Candy Crush—I have to admit to having tried that one myself—which embed advertising in the game and have been shown to drive children's food choices. Sponsorship has also been shown to have a huge impact on brand awareness and purchasing decisions among children. Products high in fat, salt and sugar are often found to sponsor sporting events or teams of which children are a key part of the audience. For example, Cadbury is the official snack partner of the premier league.

The current restrictions do not encapsulate those areas, and in our digital world it is important that our restrictions advance to protect children. Will the Minister commit to holding a cross-Departmental meeting with colleagues in the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport to discuss the urgency of addressing junk food marketing to children across those forums?

Not only do we watch TV and use the internet differently, but we also shop differently. Our sedentary lifestyles mean that we now rush into supermarkets trying to buy the quickest or cheapest products. As soon as we walk through the door, we are tempted with promotions, such as buy one get one free or three-for-two offers. Such discounts make up for more than half of all food sold in the UK, a higher proportion than in any other country in western Europe. We all love a bargain, but research has shown that 76% of purchases were unplanned and decided on in store, which shows the power of such promotions.

That trend is increasingly prevalent among families from poorer backgrounds who are not able to afford more expensive, nutritious and healthier food, or lack the skill to cook it. It is therefore no wonder that children aged five from poorer backgrounds are twice as likely to be obese, and that those aged 11 are three times as likely to be obese. Following what the hon. Member for South West Bedfordshire said, we also need affordable, healthy and nutritious products available on promotion to change habits.

I am sure the Minister will uphold the Government’s pledge to tackle childhood obesity, but their efforts are dwarfed by multinational corporations’ spending on junk food advertising. In 2016, the 18 highest-spending crisps, confectionary and sugary drinks brands together spent more than £143 million advertising their products. I recently met an advertising executive who has turned gamekeeper since having a damascene conversion—he now campaigns against added sugar and obesity. He told me how much effort multinational corps put into marketing specifically to children. It is not accidental, but a deliberate, well-thought-through and lucrative strategy.

Eighteen months ago, the Government launched their much-depleted childhood obesity plan, which left much to be desired. Will the Minister update us on the current situation of the childhood obesity plan? Will he commit to looking beyond it and going further by introducing the initiatives that have been suggested today, such as a 9 pm watershed on junk food marketing, which were sadly dropped from the original plan?

All of the arguments we have heard this morning point to the fact that essential Government action is needed to ensure our children grow up in a healthy environment so they can be fighting fit for the future. I hope the Minister will take these suggestions back to his Department and think about how they can be implemented into a serious drive to reduce childhood obesity over the next 10 years. Childhood obesity must be addressed. We cannot have a soft-touch approach. We must do this for future generations of children, and make a promise to them that they can be some of the healthiest children in the world.

Junk Food Advertising Westminster Hall 16.01.18

As Shadow Minister for Public Health, Sharon spoke on behalf of the Opposition in a debate on junk food advertising and childhood obesity. In her speech, Sharon highlighted the affects...

Sharon spoke in a Backbench Business Debate secured by Yasmin Qureshi MP on Hormone Pregnancy Tests, or also known as Primodos, which was used in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s and the adverse affects it had on women and their babies. In her speech, Sharon joined cross-party calls for a judge-led public inquiry into this scandal. 

You can read the full debate here: Primodos Backbench Business Debate 14.11.17

Read Sharon's contribution to the debate pasted below:

I congratulate the right hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead (Sir Mike Penning), who opened the debate so powerfully, and my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton South East (Yasmin Qureshi), who has been a strident campaigner on this issue for more than six years and knew all about it before it had even reached my consciousness. She gave an excellent, if rather too short, speech. I thank all other Members for their passionate and thoughtful contributions; because of the time constraints, I hope they will please forgive me for not naming them all. Ultimately, thanks must go, as others have said, to Marie Lyon, the chair of the Association for Children Damaged by Hormone Pregnancy Tests. I am sure that I speak for all of us in the House today when I say that she has the utmost respect and admiration of Members from across the House.

I want to touch on not only the science that was used to come to the conclusions in the review, but what is missing and what should have been considered before any conclusions were drawn. I will then highlight why this is a matter of injustice and why it is important that answers are found so that we can finally conclude this sad chapter.

The main sticking point of the review’s conclusions is that the expert working group found that the science did not support a causal association between HPTs during pregnancy and adverse outcomes. My focus will be on the science used and the historical documentation that we are aware of, but which seems not to have been considered—we heard about some of it in the excellent speech by the right hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Sir Edward Davey). I will not deviate into the important argument about “possible” and “causal”, as that was covered comprehensively by other Members, including the right hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead.

I must make it clear from the outset that I am no scientist—I am sure that Members are aware of that—and my speech is not a critique of the integrity and expertise of the specialists involved. However, the conclusions arrived at in the report and the conversations I have had with many of those who have been involved in the campaign show a need for us to be critical of what was concluded by the expert working group. That is our duty ​as Members of Parliament, especially when it comes to what is such an important matter for so many women and their families, and also because a great deal of public funds were invested in the review over the past few years.

In the report’s consideration of the scientific detail regarding HPTs, it is argued that there are inconsistencies in the conclusions drawn from the evidence used. Take, for example, the fact that of the 15 studies that looked at heart defects, 11 favoured a link, and of five studies into limb reduction, all found a link, yet those studies were deemed to show “insufficient evidence” of the drug’s harm. Even information I requested recently and got just this week from the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency in the lead up to this debate is at odds with the conclusions of the review, including graphs that plot birth defects against the availability of HPTs. Even to my untrained eye, they show a possible link. In one graph on all malformations, it is clear that birth defects increased during the period in which HPTs were on the market, and shortly afterwards. They began to decrease soon after HPTs were taken off the market.

Further, in the briefing I received, the MHRA said that for every 100 babies born in the general population, around two to four are expected to have a birth defect, which means that 14,000 babies a year would be expected to be born with a birth defect. That is just generally. Using those figures, the MHRA concluded that for the more than 1 million women who took HPTs, as many as 19,000 babies would be born with a birth defect, irrespective of any additional risk from HPTs. Yet let us compare Primodos to thalidomide, for instance. More than 30 million thalidomide prescriptions saw 600 children affected in the UK, which is a rate—I have had help with these numbers —of 0.002%. Some 1.2 million Primodos prescriptions were sold and 800 children were affected, which is a rate of 0.06%. That shows a much higher prevalence caused by Primodos compared with thalidomide. It also shows how little meaning a comparison of HPT adverse reactions has against today’s prevalence of birth defects in the general population, and it is hardly a defence of disproving a link.

As I have said, I am no scientific professional, but I believe that the red flags that arise when reading what the evidence says and what conclusions were drawn from it are not ones that only an expert in this field would see. This reflects the arguments that were raised last week by Dr Neil Vargesson—that the report does not provide definitive evidence that the drug was safe. As others have said, the only conclusion that can be drawn is that a link cannot be ruled out.

That leads me on to my next point, which is to touch briefly on the historical perspective and cover-up of the evidence. We have got to use that word—it is the only word we can use—as this is something that should have been considered by the expert working group.

One such example was in 1975, when the UK regulator knew of a potential five-to-one risk that the drug could cause deformities, but that evidence was apparently later destroyed. This is a running theme—I do not have time to go into it all—through the chronology of this scandal. We see multiple examples of suppressed information regarding the adverse effects and delayed notification of those effects to medical professionals who administered the drugs.​

It is also deeply concerning that this drug came into the market in 1958, with no studies on its effects at all until 1963. Five years passed before it even underwent teratogenic testing. It was still officially in circulation until 1975, but we are aware of cases of its use up until 1978. All the evidence uncovered should have been considered as part of the review. The question is: why was it not?

With any scandal such as this, it is important that those affected have the trust and confidence of any review or inquiry undertaken. In this instance, that has not been the case. The victims feel that the review has muddied the waters even more and that their views have been ignored. I have been told many harrowing stories, many of which we have heard today, and how, time and again, they have been ignored. These women did not ask to be given HPTs. Nor were they ever made aware of the effects that they could have on them or their unborn baby. They were just given them—sometimes out of a supply in a drawer on the doctor’s desk. There were no warnings, no explanations, no discussions.

A great injustice has been inflicted on these women. It is up to this House to put pressure on the Government of the day, here and now, in a fully cross-party, non-partisan way, to make things right. It is paramount that a judge-led public inquiry be conducted—one that is independent and can fully examine all the materials and documentation available and insist that all information be made public, including that which has been withheld so far. I hope that this debate helps us to take that one step further to achieving that.

In closing, may I quote the hon. Member for Mid Norfolk (George Freeman), the then Minister for Life Sciences? In October 2014, when he instigated this review, he said that the review would

“shed light on the issue and bring the all-important closure in an era of transparency”.—[Official Report, 23 October 2014; Vol. 586, c. 1143.]

Let this debate and the following actions by the Minister ensure that what was promised in 2014 is actually achieved.

Hormone Pregnancy Tests (Primodos) Backbench Business Debate 14.12.17

Sharon spoke in a Backbench Business Debate secured by Yasmin Qureshi MP on Hormone Pregnancy Tests, or also known as Primodos, which was used in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s...

As Shadow Minister for Public Health, Sharon spoke on behalf of the Opposition in a debate on mental health within the Autism community. In her speech, Sharon raised concerning figures regarding mental health for autistic people and what more needs to be done by the Government to address these matters. 

You can read the full debate here: Autism and Mental Health Backbench Business Debate 30.11.17

You can read Sharon's speech below

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

I congratulate the hon. Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Dr Cameron) and others on securing this important debate and on her excellent opening speech.

I thank Autistica, the National Autistic Society and Ambitious about Autism for the important work that they do and the support that they provide for people living with autism.This is our second debate on autism since our return from the summer recess and it is good that it has been so constructive. I also thank all other hon. Members here for their excellent and passionate speeches. The hon. Members for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mrs Trevelyan), for Bexhill and Battle (Huw Merriman) and for North Ayrshire and Arran (Patricia Gibson), and my hon. Friends the Members for Bristol West (Thangam Debbonaire), for Blaydon (Liz Twist) and for North Durham (Mr Jones), all spoke movingly, often from personal family experience or about constituents. This debate may have been short, but it has none the less been very powerful.

It is important to say that autism is not a mental health condition: it is possible to have both autism and good mental health, but that is not always the case, as we have heard. Between 70% and 80% of autistic people develop mental health problems such as anxiety and depression, and four out of 10 children with autism have at least two mental health problems.

Adults with autism who do not have a learning disability are nine times more likely to die by suicide than the general population; those with a learning disability are still twice as likely to take their own lives. Clearly, more needs to be done to support the mental health needs of people living with autism. Reducing the health inequalities experienced by people living with autism is a priority for the NHS mandate for 2017-18, and that is welcome. Mental ill health is a major contributory factor to health inequality for people with autism. Ensuring access to appropriate mental health care is important in the fight to tackle these disparities.

However, there are too often significant barriers to accessing the right treatment. In a debate in September, we talked about waiting times for autism diagnosis—it is a scandal that those can be as long as 125 weeks. Accessing a diagnosis is the first step towards securing the support that people living with autism need, and that is also true for mental health support. We are pleased that data on autism diagnosis waiting times is going to be collected and published from April 2018; hopefully, it will help to drive an improvement in this area.

Today, I want to focus on how mental health services can be improved for people living with autism. Last week, my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton South (Dr Williams) told the Health Committee about T, a young boy with autism. As we heard from the hon. Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow, T was rejected four times for treatment by child and adolescent mental health services, despite reporting suicidal thoughts and having a family history of suicide. He was rejected because he had not yet attempted to take his own life.

The Children’s Commissioner for England confirmed concerns about the issue when she stated to the Health Committee that this type of situation was now “the norm” within children’s mental health services. That is worrying generally for children’s wellbeing, but for those living with autism it is particularly so, for a number of reasons. Experiences of suicide are different in the autism community from those in the wider population; relying on certain behaviours and expectations of what someone in need of support will look like can be dangerous.

As the Children’s Commissioner put it, children with mental health problems will become adults with mental health problems very soon. We cannot continue to miss opportunities to intervene early. That means, sadly, that T’s experience is just one of many. The five year forward view for mental health recommended that NHS England develop autism-specific mental health care pathways, but there is currently no information on the timetable, the scope of the pathway or who will be leading the issue. The pathway should cover children, young people and adults on the autism spectrum. It should take into account the fact that mental health conditions can present themselves in different ways for people with autism and it should recognise that mental health treatment may need to be tailored for people with autism. I hope the Minister will reflect on that in her response. Will she tell the House when and how the pathways will be developed?

Early intervention and prevention should form the basis of our mental health services. However, too often specific issues make it difficult for people with autism to access that early support that is so vital. The first point of call for many people experiencing mental health problems is their GP; for many people with autism that can be difficult, as GP surgeries are often not autism-friendly. This is how one autistic adult described their experience:

“When anxiety is really bad I start to feel a panic attack at the prospect of just having to step out of my front door. So having to go to the GP is like having to climb Everest.”

It is important that GPs understand that every autistic person is different, and that each person may need some adjustments to be made before he or she can feel comfortable about attending the local GP’s surgery. For example, some autistic people may be hypersensitive to sound and light and may therefore need an appointment at a quieter time of day, while others may be hyposensitive and benefit from a more stimulating environment. GPs may also need to tailor the way in which they communicate with patients—for instance, using clear language, or finding ways of communicating with somebody who does not speak. To do that, GPs must be able to access detailed and accurate records about their patients’ needs. Currently GPs often do not record much information about their autistic patients, and may not even record that a person is autistic at all.

In August, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence recommended that GPs keep a set of local autism registers similar to those kept for people with learning disabilities, asthma and diabetes. Will the Minister tell us when she expects the NICE recommendations on autism GP registers to be adopted, and whether NHS England will work to ensure that the data gathered is used to inform better commissioning of autism and mental health services?

We have heard powerful accounts today from Members on both sides of the House about what happens when we get mental health treatment wrong. It is all too easy for people with autism to receive inappropriate mental health treatment, or to be blocked altogether from access to treatment. As the Government review the Mental Health Act 1983, it is important that they consider everything that has been raised in today’s debate and ensure that autistic people are supported. The shocking suicide statistics and testimonies from Members today show starkly how crucial it is that more is done on the issue, and the power is in the Minister’s hands. I hope that she has listened and will act.

Autism and Mental Health Backbench Business Debate 30.11.17

As Shadow Minister for Public Health, Sharon spoke on behalf of the Opposition in a debate on mental health within the Autism community. In her speech, Sharon raised concerning figures...

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

You can read Sharon's speech below.

CHECK AGAINST DELIVERY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SHARON SPEAKS AT SHA CONFERENCE ON PUBLIC HEALTH PRIORITIES

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

As Shadow Minister for Public Health, Sharon spoke on behalf of the Opposition in a debate on the human and financial cost of drug addiction. In her speech, Sharon highlighted the damning figures around the cost of drug addiction but also the worrying impact of the Government's cuts to public health budgets which have had an impact on local services. 

You can read the full debate here: Human and Financial Cost of Drug Addiction Westminster Hall

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.

Let me start by thanking the hon. Member for South Thanet (Craig Mackinlay) for securing this important debate, and for his excellent opening speech, which laid out all the human and associated monetary costs that drug addiction costs society and indeed the Exchequer. His figures are even greater than the ones I will be citing in my contribution, which is perhaps because he included all classes of drugs. I will only be citing figures for class A drugs, but that shows the enormity of the costs that we are dealing with today.

While there is a very important debate going on in the main Chamber, it is welcome to see the number of MPs here today to discuss this important issue. We have had many excellent contributions to the debate, including from the right hon. Member for North Norfolk (Norman Lamb), the hon. Members for Reigate (Crispin Blunt), for Inverclyde (Ronnie Cowan) and for Henley (John Howell), and the hon. Member for Glasgow East (David Linden), who is the Scottish National party spokesperson; he made a pertinent and moving speech, and I commend him for that. They all made strong and thought-provoking speeches, and we have had some excellent interventions. I thank all Members for taking the time to set out their positions and thoughts on drug addiction and the costs to society.

As we have heard, drug addiction is one of the most deeply concerning issues we face today. Drug addiction, in its many guises, can blight communities and the lives of so many people, which is why it is vital that policy is developed to significantly reduce the harm that addiction can inflict on individuals and communities. According to Home Office figures, the number of people taking drugs has fallen significantly over the past decade. That is to be welcomed. Reducing the number of people taking drugs is a step in the right direction to not only improve the health of the nation but reduce crime and pressures on our public services.

Sadly, if we scratch the surface, we unveil more uncomfortable truths that the Government must face. In 2016, there were a total of 2,593 drug misuse deaths involving illegal drugs—the highest number since comparable records began in 1993. That trend in avoidable deaths is reflected across both genders. However, for men the drug misuse mortality rate has jumped sharply over the last three years and reached a new peak of 67.1 deaths per million people—another high since records began in 1993. The female rate is less pronounced but is also at an all-time high.

Across Europe, it is estimated that a total of 8,441 deaths occurred due to drug overdose in 2015, mainly from heroin or other opioids. Here in the UK, we come out on top with the highest percentage of those deaths, at 31%. That is absolutely damning, especially when the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs stated in a report last year that England alone saw an increase of 58% in opioid deaths between 2012 and 2015. Much of that is put down to ageing users of heroin and opioids, which begs the question: what are the Government doing to address the often complex social care needs of drug addicts?

It is not only the deaths that occur from drug misuse and addiction that are concerning, but also the costs to society in general, as we heard from the hon. Member for South Thanet. In terms of monetary costs, it is estimated that class A drugs such as heroin and crack cocaine cost us £15.4 billion a year, which is £44,231 per problematic user. Broken down, that figure is roughly £13.86 billion on social and economic costs, £535 million on drug arrests and £488 million on the NHS dealing with mortality and morbidity and providing acute treatment and support for mental health and behavioural disorders associated with drug misuse. As I said, that is just for class A drugs. When we include all classes of drugs, the sums increase substantially, as has been set out in detail.

Mary Glindon (North Tyneside) (Lab)

Does my hon. Friend agree with the drugs, alcohol and justice cross-party parliamentary group that, to reduce alcohol and drugs-related deaths and illnesses, a co-ordinated harm reduction strategy needs to be prioritised?

Mrs Hodgson

Yes, I do agree.

It is no wonder, when we go off all these figures, that earlier this year the UK was deemed the overdose capital of Europe and is now seen internationally as having serious shortcomings when it comes to addressing addiction and drug misuse. What are the Government going to do to address these problems? I am sure the Minister will cite the recent publication of the drugs strategy in the summer. As he will know, Opposition Members welcomed the strategy, but it left us wanting. There is much to be welcomed in it, but it is clear that what was announced has not moved us on any further from what was happening in 2010 and now works within a seriously reduced financial envelope due to short-sighted cuts to public health budgets.

The Minister knows all too well that public health budgets have been decimated, with an estimated £800 million expected to be siphoned out of local budgets by 2021. That has meant drug rehabilitation services being closed and budgets to tackle drug abuse cut, all against a backdrop of an NHS under significant pressure. Labour’s analysis of figures published by the Department for Communities and Local Government shows that this year we will see 106 councils reduce drug treatment and prevention budgets by a total of £28.4 million, 95 councils reduce alcohol treatment and prevention, at a total of £6.5 million, and 70 local authorities reduce drug and alcohol services for children, at a total of £8.3 million. That works out at a total reduction of £43.3 million imposed by the Minister’s Government on a whole host of services created to prevent and treat addiction problems. Those figures are unavoidable and shameful. We should be putting greater emphasis on the radical upgrade in public health and prevention promised in the “Five Year Forward View” in 2014.

The Minister cannot come before us today and honestly say that his Government are improving services and seriously addressing this issue when they are overseeing such significant cuts that are rolling back provision on addiction services. It is not just me or Labour making that case, but also the likes of the chief executive of Collective Voices, Paul Hayes, who said earlier this year:

“The more we disinvest in treatment, as we are doing at the moment, the more we will put increasing numbers of people at risk of early avoidable deaths.”

The Minister has the power to go back to his Department and ensure that these avoidable deaths are avoided and the unnecessary losses of life halted.

The Government’s failure to seriously get to grips with the issue of drug addiction and the sad outcomes associated with it is shaming us across the world. Yasmin Batliwala, chair of the Westminster Drug Project, was recently reported as saying:

“We once had services that led the way.”

She went on:

“We now need to do a lot to catch up with countries in the developing world that are doing a lot more for their service users. The sign of a civilised society is how it cares for its most vulnerable.”

The Minister needs to acknowledge that his Government are overseeing such a negative and backwards approach to prevention, instead of taking radical steps to address and prevent drug addiction.

It is high time this Government seriously came to terms with the actions they have taken over the last few years on public health and rethink their short-sighted approach. Otherwise, we will see the figures that I quoted at the beginning of my speech become ever worse under their watch. The people who struggle and battle with addiction deserve and need our support, not just for them, to improve their lives, but for the rest of society, so that we can finally ensure that no one’s life is blighted by drug addiction.

Human and Financial Cost of Drug Addiction Westminster Hall Debate 22.11.17

As Shadow Minister for Public Health, Sharon spoke on behalf of the Opposition in a debate on the human and financial cost of drug addiction. In her speech, Sharon highlighted...

As Shadow Minister for Public Health, Sharon spoke in a debate which conferred public health functions onto the Greater Manchester Combined Authority and it's Metro Mayor, Andy Burnham. 

Read the full debate here: Greater Manchester Combined Authority (Public Health Functions) Order 2017

Read Sharon's speech below:

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms McDonagh. I thank the Minister for setting out the draft order in such detail. Let me say at the outset that the Opposition welcome it and do not oppose it, so I do not think we will be here much longer. I think everyone will be happy about that. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear!”] How to win friends and influence people.

Over the years, there has been much movement in Manchester towards a new style of local government, with a combined authority and now a metro Mayor, and it makes sense for public health duties to be undertaken by that new local government structure. I, for one, have no doubt that the former right hon. Member for Leigh, ​Andy Burnham, will do excellent work alongside his combined authority colleagues to champion the improvement of public health in communities across Greater Manchester.

We have already seen visionary planning and passion with the creation of plans to improve the health and quality of life of people in Manchester, but I cannot miss an opportunity to remind the Minister of his responsibilities on public health—responsibilities that I know he takes seriously. He knows that severe cuts to public health budgets—there is expected to be an £800 million cut over the five years leading up to ​2021—are having serious ramifications for public health services across the country, including in Manchester. The placement of duties on a new body as part of the new landscape of local government is to be welcomed, but the funding to provide for those duties must not be ignored and left out of the picture. The Government must get to grips with the wider public health agenda and not let it be sidelined in any way.

Greater Manchester Combined Authority (Public Health Functions) Order 2017

As Shadow Minister for Public Health, Sharon spoke in a debate which conferred public health functions onto the Greater Manchester Combined Authority and it's Metro Mayor, Andy Burnham.  Read the...

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