Sharon Hodgson MP

Working hard for Washington and Sunderland West.

Recent speeches by Sharon Hodgson MP

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...

Sharon spoke in a Westminster Hall debate on vaping, and raised the Opposition's support for vaping products as part of the smoking cessation landscape but recognised the need for further long-term evidence to be collected on the impact of these devices along with ensuring that the wider package of smoking cessation on offer to smokers is maintained and not allowed to wither on the vine. 

You can read the full debate here: Sharon Hodgson MP Vaping Westminster Hall Debate 01.11.17

You can read Sharon's contribution pasted below:

Sharon Hodgson MP (Washington and Sunderland West)

It is an honour to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Howarth. I thank the hon. Member for Dartford (Gareth Johnson) for securing this debate. It is timely and important, especially because we have just seen the end of Stoptober, which vaping played a role in advertising. I thank all hon. Members for their thoughtful contributions, and I welcome the array of views and opinions they conveyed. It is clear that there is strong interest in the House in this topic. Although we are small in number here, the quality of the contributions made up for that.

E-cigarettes have been around since the mid-2000s, but in recent years we have seen them boom. Recent figures estimate that 2.9 million adults now use e-cigarettes, compared with only 700,000 in 2012. That increase is expected to grow as more people turn to e-cigarettes to reduce their tobacco consumption or to quit tobacco completely.

The interest in e-cigarettes can also been seen in the rapid growth in availability of such products and the advertising around them. In 2014, it was estimated that there were 460 brands and more than 7,500 flavour solutions. The BMJ highlighted that the advertising and promotion of the products had grown from £1.7 million in 2010 to £13.1 million in 2012—if we had the figures for 2017, they would obviously be a lot higher.

Labour Members welcome e-cigarettes as part of our drive towards a smoke-free society and because of the role they can play in the smoking-cessation landscape. What remains important, however, is that e-cigarettes are regulated correctly to ensure the health of our country is improved, not diminished—which, at the end of the day, is our main goal when it comes to smoking cessation. I will also use my contribution to this debate as an opportunity to further discuss smoking cessation, which is a crucial aspect of the debate around vaping, and the importance of continually looking at this market as we move towards a smoke-free society.

Smoking cessation is crucial. It improves the health of individuals and our nation significantly, and reduces the prevalence of cancer, lung disease and COPD—chronic obstructive pulmonary disease—diseases which we know are all too persistent. If smokers quit smoking when diagnosed with lung cancer, it is estimated that even at that late stage they will live nearly a year longer than if they continued to smoke. For those living with COPD, smoking cessation is the only treatment that can prevent the progression of the disease in smokers. It is also the most cost-effective one. The cost per QALY, or quality-adjusted life year, for smoking cessation in COPD patients is around £2,000 compared with between £7,000 and up to £187,000 per QALY for drugs to control the symptoms of COPD. The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, NICE, has estimated that for every £1 invested in specialist stop smoking services, a return of £2.37 will be generated in savings on smoking-related diseases and in ending loss of productivity.

I hope that such issues will be addressed as the Government implement their recently published tobacco control plan, and it is welcome that e-cigarettes have been included as part of that work. E-cigarettes, however, must never be seen as a silver bullet to achieve our vision of a smoke-free society. E-cigarettes are a crucial player in the cessation landscape, but they are not the only player. It is important that we maintain the position set out by research and evidence from the World Health Organisation and in the tobacco control plan that nicotine replacement therapy is four times more effective when prescribed by a doctor and monitored than when simply bought over the counter, which is how e-cigarettes are acquired.

It is important that smoking cessation is a wide-ranging package that reduces smoking in society. Sadly, however, I have to say that the Government’s actions are undermining that approach. As the King’s Fund and the Royal Society for Public Health have identified, public health cuts will reach £800 million in the five years to 2021 and, in 2017-18, spending on tobacco control services faces cuts of 30%. That is concerning, because ASH has identified that a growing number of local authorities no longer have a specialist stop smoking service accessible to all smokers.

Even across the wider health service, it is clear that there are failures to implement NICE guidance on smoking cessation. An audit by the British Thoracic Society of 146 hospitals found that 27% of hospital patients were not even asked if they smoked, and provision of NRT and other smoking cessation treatments in hospitals was classed as poor. Is the Minister aware of that and is he ensuring that action is taken?

What is the Minister doing to address those genuine concerns? I would also welcome knowing his thoughts on promoting vaping and other smoking cessation treatments for in-patients during their stay in hospital, which is championed by Professor John Britton and chimes well with the position set out in the tobacco control plan:

“Promote links to ‘stop smoking’ services across the health and care system and full implementation of all relevant NICE guidelines by 2022”—

I am sure the Minister knows the quote well, as he published the plan, which I am pleased about.

That all shows the serious concerns within the smoking cessation landscape, and the worries for its future and for our move towards a smoke-free society. It is important to include vaping as part of the landscape, but it cannot detract from the other treatments available, which we cannot allow to wither on the vine because something new and shiny has come along. That is partly because the evidence for the impact of e-cigarettes on our health is still not definitive. Public Health England’s review of vaping products showed that they were 95% less harmful than tobacco products—which is excellent—because of the lack of carbon monoxide being inhaled and the reduction in the many other health implications that come with smoking tobacco, but that does not mean there are not concerns or split opinions over the health, harm and safety of such products.

It is paramount that such views are continually looked at and that we review our positions on the products regularly. That is why it is welcome that Public Health England will publish its update on vaping research and evidence by the end of this year. Will the Minister also outline plans to evaluate heat not burn? Although not vaping, such products are something else on the market seen as a way of limiting and reducing harm from smoking. The impact of those devices needs further research.

Gareth Johnson

I did not mention the available heat-not-burn products simply because I could not find any independent information on whether they were beneficial for health or still dangerous. I would be grateful if the hon. Lady enlarged on any information that she has found out about those products, because I found it difficult to find anything.

Mrs Hodgson

I do not think that I know much more than the hon. Gentleman, which is why I mentioned heat not burn. I have asked some questions about it because some independent research is needed. The manufacturers of heat-not-burn products have done their own research and make quite strong claims that although they are still tobacco products, they are far less harmful, but we need independent research to back that up before anyone can substantiate the claims. Will the Minister update us on when research into vaping and perhaps heat not burn will be happening?

As we come to the end of the year, the Minister will be aware that if we see any delays in publishing reports or plans, I will of course be on his case. I welcome the Science and Technology Committee also looking into this matter, and I will keep a close eye on the developments of that inquiry while looking forward to its findings. It is important that we take a pragmatic approach to e-cigarettes, which is reflected in Public Health England’s 2016 statement, which had the support of 12 health charities:

“We all agree that e-cigarettes are significantly less harmful than smoking…but we must continue to study the long term effects.”

The Opposition agree, as it is clear from the evidence so far that e-cigarettes are far less harmful than tobacco smoking, but the evidence remains inconclusive. That is why monitoring must be maintained to ensure that we fully understand the impact of such products in the short and long term.

The Minister has had a lot to think about during this short debate, and I am sure that in his response he will address each and every one of the points made. I implore him in that response to remember the wider smoking-cessation landscape and how important it is to ensure that vaping is included as part of that wider package, which is sustainable and effective in reducing smoking in society and thereby improving the health of the nation.

Vaping Westminster Hall Debate 01.11.17

Sharon spoke in a Westminster Hall debate on vaping, and raised the Opposition's support for vaping products as part of the smoking cessation landscape but recognised the need for further...

On 20th October, Sharon spoke in a Private Member's Bill debate on Parental Bereavement (Leave and Pay), offering her support for the Bill and welcoming the work of the APPG on Baby Loss who have spearheaded a lot of the work around supporting parents who lose a baby. Sharon also briefly referenced her own personal story when it came to parental bereavement. 

You can read the whole debate here: Sharon Hodgson MP Parental Bereavement (Leave and Pay) Bill

Read Sharon's speech below:

1.47 pm

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

I did not plan to speak in this debate. I planned to come along and show my support for the Bill by sitting on the Front Bench, but the powerful debate has compelled me to add my voice and to pay tribute to everyone who has worked so hard to get the Bill to this stage. I will not detain the House too long other than to pay tribute to the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Kevin Hollinrake) for choosing this subject for his private Member’s Bill.

I have had a couple of opportunities to introduce a private Member’s Bill. One I was successful in enacting, and the other was sadly talked out by the hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies), who thankfully is not here today. That is probably why we are having so much consensus and success today.

It is great that the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton chose this subject. There are always thousands of possible choices, but there could have been no better one. I offer him huge congratulations and thanks from all of us who have campaigned on this issue, not least the hon. Member for Colchester (Will Quince), who I am sure is off doing something important—he is probably doing some media. He should rightly get the plaudits for first introducing this subject in a ten-minute rule Bill.

The hon. Member for Eddisbury (Antoinette Sandbach) raised the issues of bereavement and baby loss in an Adjournment debate, and when she approached Members on both sides of the House, including the hon. Members for Banbury (Victoria Prentis), for Colchester, for North Ayrshire and Arran (Patricia Gibson) and me, about setting up an all-party parliamentary group, I did not hesitate. Indeed, I had some guilt because I had been here for 10 years and had felt the importance of all these issues but had never felt brave enough to do what she and other colleagues, who were brand new to the House, were able to do with such vigour and immediacy. So, I continually take my hat off to her and those other Members for everything they have done to show leadership on this and take it forward. The great success in the short two years that that all-party group has been going is astonishing, with the bereavement care pathways, the bereavement suites and now this Bill on bereavement leave and pay. I am so thrilled and proud to be a small part of that group and to support it as much as I can.

I just want to give a small example from my journey when this happened to me, as sitting here has brought it all back and brought tears to my eyes. It was a very different time then, 19 years ago, and I was working part-time. I was not on a zero-hours contract, but I did not get pay for being off sick. My employer was good and gave me time off, but it was without pay. Of course I got time off for the funeral, but without pay. I was off for about two weeks but it was never paid. I did not have to take holiday to grieve and have the funeral, but, equally, I was not paid. My husband had a good employer and could have taken time off with pay but, like the hon. Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart) was saying about people dealing with grief in different ways, he could not wait to get back to work. That caused problems and I still have not quite forgiven him for that, because I really needed him then. However, he chose to go back to work, needing to do so as his way of coping. So it is right that this is not forced upon people, but he would have chosen to have taken that time later if the option had been available.

I want to end my comments by commending the Bill to the House. I hope it has a swift passage through; it would be amazing if we could get it on the statute book by Easter—that would be fantastic. Again, I thank all the hon. Members who have brought it this far, especially the hon. Members for Colchester and for Thirsk and Malton.

Parental Bereavement (Leave and Pay) Private Member's Bill 20.10.17

On 20th October, Sharon spoke in a Private Member's Bill debate on Parental Bereavement (Leave and Pay), offering her support for the Bill and welcoming the work of the APPG...

As Shadow Minister for Public Health, Sharon responded to a debate regarding the Valproate scandal and the cover up of the effects of this drug on pregnant women and their unborn children. In her speech, Sharon called for more to be done for the families affected through compensation, raising awareness and also conducting a public inquiry to get to the bottom of why this happened.

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You can read the full debate here: Valproate Backbench Business Debate 19.10.17

You can read Sharon's speech pasted below.

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

It really is an honour to be responding for the second time in this Chamber today on behalf of the Opposition.

First, I thank the right hon. Member for North Norfolk (Norman Lamb) for securing this very important debate. It really was much needed so that we could finally discuss in detail, and in the main Chamber, the issues around valproate and what the Government must do to address this injustice. He spoke with passion and obvious outrage on behalf of the thousands of women and children affected by this disgraceful scandal.

I, too, want to thank other hon. Members who have taken part in this debate, including the hon. Members for Congleton (Fiona Bruce) and for Eastleigh (Mims Davies), and my hon. Friends the Members for Newport West (Paul Flynn) and for Heywood and Middleton (Liz McInnes). My hon. Friend the Member for Bury North (James Frith) gave an extremely moving account of how the drug helped him as a young boy, making the point that, when used correctly, it can be a very good drug. We also heard contributions from the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon), my hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster and Fleetwood (Cat Smith) and the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire (Dr Whitford) who speaks for the Scottish National party. It has been a very good debate.

As we have heard, the issues of valproate and its effects on foetuses are not new. In fact, they span a significant number of years, going as far back as the 1970s and 1980s when the first cases of the effects of valproate were documented. Even recent scientific research has shown that valproate can have an impact on a child’s life, including a study finding that 10% of children exposed to valproate will be born with a major congenital malformation, with 29% requiring additional educational support and 6% being diagnosed with significant social communication difficulties, such as autism.

Although there has been some movement on making women aware of the risks of valproate during pregnancy through the valproate toolkit, there is still far more that should and must be done to support these women and their children who have been so seriously affected by this injustice. The scope of this issue is serious. Data from 2010 show that more than 21,500 women were prescribed valproate. Although not all those women will have become pregnant, or planned to become pregnant, it is worrying that, following the toolkit’s publication, there is still not enough awareness of the risks, with 85% of patients not receiving the booklet and 90% not receiving the pharmacist’s card. It is important that the Minister looks into this matter urgently and ensures that awareness is increased to help to address the lack of knowledge. That could save so many innocent lives from being irreparably damaged.

As part of that, will the Minister be minded to agree that the NHS should make it mandatory for every clinician prescribing sodium valproate to a woman or girl of childbearing age to have a conversation with her about risks during pregnancy, upon first prescribing the drug and at least yearly, before her prescription is renewed?​

Over the decades there have been countless opportunities for this drug to be investigated, especially when evidence from the 1980s grew. Yet the various regulatory bodies for medicines have failed to keep their eyes on it as an issue worthy of investigation, with only fleeting references in position papers and reports, and nothing substantial. This is why it is welcome that the European Medicines Agency, in one of its first public inquiries, on 26 September 2017 called together patients, carers, doctors, pharmacists and academics to look into the matter further. It will be interesting to see the outcomes of its investigation when it concludes.

We have a duty to set the mistakes or oversights of previous Governments right, which is why we are here today—to seek justice for the victims of sodium valproate in pregnancy and their families. The Opposition welcome calls for the Government to look into how they can compensate the families who have been so significantly affected.

It must be noted that, as others have said, the drug is an effective treatment. For many it may be the only drug that works for them. Nevertheless, there is a systematic failure to inform women of the dangers of taking valproate. If expectant mothers had had the risks laid out clearly for them, many children would not have been harmed, and I hazard a guess that we would not be debating this issue today.

For those reasons Labour promised, in our election manifesto earlier this year, that we would look into this further by holding a public inquiry if we won the general election. We now make a plea to the Government. The evidence collected by In-FACT shows that despite the Government, pharmaceutical companies and regulatory bodies knowing about the risks for 40 years, that knowledge was withheld from women, which meant they were unable to make informed decisions about their drug treatment during pregnancy. I must ask the Minister: why have we not got to the bottom of this injustice, and is it not about time that we did?

A lot of the issues that we must understand and investigate are historic, yet for some they are still very prominent in their present. Many families are living with the repercussions of not being given the relevant information.

Hon. Members may have watched “Victoria Derbyshire” in recent months, on which valproate has been discussed, including last month when Deborah Mann, who took valproate during her pregnancy, discussed how the drug had affected her daughter, Branwen. Deborah had been given a dose of valproate of 5,000 mg, five times higher than the recommended daily dose of 1,000 mg. Any dose above 1,000 mg is considered to have the largest level of risk. Branwen has had to wear splints every day since she was a little girl. She is in chronic pain every day. She has migraines and problems with her brain and eyes. At just 22, Branwen has been told that she could go blind, have a stroke or even die at any moment.

I recently met the inspirational Janet Williams and Emma Murphy, who a number of hon. Members on both sides of the House have paid tribute to. I now realise that they are in the Public Gallery. They set up In-FACT in November 2012 after two of Janet’s children and five of Emma’s children were diagnosed with foetal anticonvulsant syndrome. We heard in detail from the hon. Member for Congleton the extent of the appalling damage to Emma and Janet’s precious children, and all ​of it was preventable. Both Janet and Emma campaign tirelessly after being told—in the case of Emma, time after time after time—that these drugs were safe to take in pregnancy. These women did ask the obvious questions when the truth was already well known, and they were still told that these drugs were safe to take while they were pregnant. Can hon. Members imagine how that feels? As a mum, I would be absolutely furious—we all would. I would want answers. I would want justice, and so do Janet and Emma.

It is approximated that, since 1973, 7,000 children have been harmed by exposure to valproate. No doubt there will be many other families who have failed to conceive or who have had stillbirths or miscarriages—all because of this drug. That is why we must get answers, but it is also why we must look at what compensation we can give these families because of the failure of the NHS to protect and support them. The idea of compensation has been established by our neighbours across the channel, where the French Parliament has recognised the true scale of this injustice and established a fund worth €10 million to support the victims of valproate and their families.

Opposition Members believe that mistakes should be recognised, addressed and accordingly compensated for. We also believe that burying our heads in the sand and ignoring the demands of the victims goes against the nature of justice and righting the many wrongs of the past. These families must be supported and allowed to have a full investigation into the failures and damage they have had inflicted on them.

The Minister cannot ignore the scale of this tragedy and the numbers of people who have had their lives so adversely affected not through any fault of their own, but due to medication they were prescribed by the NHS. We are here today to ensure that the Government wake up to the enormity of this scandal and take immediate action.

More must be done to make women aware of the risks of taking valproate during pregnancy, and to ensure that the injustice that has gone on for far too long is righted, with answers found and support provided to these families, who have seen their lives turned upside down because of what can only be described as a cover-up. The Minister should and must listen to what has been said today. I hope he will assure the House that he has constructively listened and that he will start the process of righting this pernicious wrong by holding a full public inquiry and properly supporting these families. They need, want and deserve justice. They should, at long last, receive nothing less.

Valproate Backbench Business Debate 19.10.17

As Shadow Minister for Public Health, Sharon responded to a debate regarding the Valproate scandal and the cover up of the effects of this drug on pregnant women and their...

As Shadow Minister for Public Health, Sharon responded on behalf of the Opposition to a debate called following the publication of the Tobacco Control Plan earlier in the year. Sharon outlined Labour's support for measures in the Plan but raised concerns about how the cuts to public health budgets may hinder the Plan's goals. 

You can read the full debate here: Tobacco Control Plan Backbench Business Debate 19.10.17

You can read Sharon's speech pasted below.

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

I thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Rother Valley (Sir Kevin Barron) for securing the debate. He is a long-standing campaigner on the issue of tobacco and its effects on society, and it is good to see that he is continuing his campaign. He made an insightful and thought-provoking contribution.

I also thank other Members who have made excellent speeches on this important issue, including the hon. Member for Chippenham (Michelle Donelan), my hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich (Sandy Martin), the hon. Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman), my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton South (Dr Williams), the hon. Member for Colchester (Will Quince), my hon. Friend the Member for North Tyneside (Mary Glindon), and the hon. Members for Witney (Robert Courts), for Eastleigh (Mims Davies) and for Stirling (Stephen Kerr).

I welcome the fact that the debate is taking place during Stoptober. It is nearly a year since our last debate on the tobacco control plan, which—this may interest some Members—marked my first outing as shadow Minister for public health. While the Minister I shadow has now changed—it is now the hon. Member for Winchester (Steve Brine)—the most significant change since our last debate is that, thanks to him, we finally have a new, updated tobacco control plan, which we were all very pleased to see. It is welcome that, after a long-drawn-out 18-month delay, we now have a plan that will take us a step further towards creating a smoke-free society.

Labour Members have welcomed the plan and its ambitious and noble goals, but we remain concerned about how it will be effectively implemented and achieved, especially given the short-sighted cuts in public health budgets, which my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton South highlighted knowledgeably in his excellent speech. As we know, the previous plan was extremely successful and reduced smoking rates from 20.2% to 15.5% but, as we have heard from every speaker today, it remains the case that smoking is still a serious issue in our society in terms of both its financial and human cost. Smoking and its related health problems cost our already financially strapped NHS more than £2.5 billion each year. If we were to seriously address smoking in society, we could ​reduce that financial cost and direct the money towards improving our NHS and ensuring that we have a healthy society.

It is estimated that 200 people a day die from smoking-related illnesses. In 2015, 79,100 people aged just 35 or over died because of smoking. It is not just adults who are affected, but babies and children. In 2010, as a result of pregnant women smoking, 19,000 babies were born with a low birth weight and an increased chance of taking up smoking later in their lives. As we heard in the excellent speech made by the hon. Member for Colchester, last week was Baby Loss Awareness Week. The hon. Gentleman is co-chair of the all-party parliamentary group on baby loss, of which I am proud to be an officer. It is estimated that up to 5,000 miscarriages, 300 perinatal deaths and around 2,200 premature births each year are attributed to smoking during pregnancy. Those saddening and distressing figures show exactly why we are here today to debate this issue and to ensure that the tobacco control plan is as effective as possible so that we can achieve a smoke-free society, and, in particular, support women during pregnancy.

We also know that smoking rates remain persistently high, especially among people with mental health issues, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Rother Valley mentioned. The plan sets out various recommendations relating to mental health, including improving support for smokers with mental health conditions and training for mental health staff to help to reduce smoking among that group, but I should like to hear from the Minister exactly what measures have been taken on the basis of those recommendations.

It is equally worrying that, as a number of Members have pointed out, the level of smoking remains high among those who are unemployed or members of lower socioeconomic groups, especially given the estimate that tobacco was 27% less affordable in 2016 than it was in 2006. There are a host of reasons for that, including the tax on tobacco products. I agree with the hon. Member for Chippenham that we should never seek to reduce that tax, for all the reasons that she gave, but it is deeply worrying that those groups, for whom poverty is rife, are not being sufficiently helped to quit smoking. During last year’s debate, I quoted figures that showed that if smoking were reduced among those living in poverty and the costs of smoking to them were reinvested, we could make serious progress towards the eradication of poverty. Will the Minister give us an idea of what consideration he has given to the idea that reducing smoking could be a vehicle for ending poverty in society?

There is a clear drive in the plan for action on smoking cessation to be taken at a more local level. We do not disagree with that; in fact, we welcome it. We all agree that a “one size fits all” approach does not work, because of the geographical variations when it comes to smoking in our society. In my own region of the north-east of England, smoking rates are 25% higher than those in the south-west, and it is therefore unsurprising that the prevalence of lung cancer in the north-east is close to double that in the south-west. This is why it is important for us to do more at a local level to reduce smoking. However, I must urge the Minister—I know that he takes these matters very seriously—to bear in mind that “localising” action does not mean abdicating responsibility at a national level.​

The Prime Minister’s driving mission on the steps of Downing Street in the summer of 2016 was to call out the burning injustices of inequality in our society, but we have yet to see that come to fruition—as we know, the Prime Minister has been a bit busy with Brexit. I know that the Minister is also passionate about the burning injustice of health inequality, because we have worked together on many health issues over the years. I know that he understands the importance of improving public health as a mechanism of prevention, and reducing the burden on our NHS by addressing the issues at source. However, the Department in which he is now a Minister has overseen some of the deepest cuts in public health services in recent years. I am sure the Minister knows the figures for these significant cuts, but for the benefit of the House, I will quote statistics used by the Royal Society for Public Health, meaning that I know they are accurate. It says that the total cuts mean that there will be £800 million less in public health budgets between now and 2020-21, which must have a significant impact on smoking cessation rates.

A study conducted by Action on Smoking and Health and funded by Cancer Research UK found serious budget cuts to smoking cessation services, with a growing number of authorities admitting they no longer have a specialist stop smoking service that is accessible to all smokers. This must be paired with the damaging analysis of Department for Communities and Local Government figures on local government spending by the King’s Fund, which found that wider tobacco control faced cuts of more than 30%. If the tobacco control plan is to be truly successful, as I know the Minister wishes, it cannot be pushed for in isolation from the cuts to public health budgets. The two are inextricably linked and cannot be dealt with in silos.

The Minister must go away and look into this matter and the effect it will have on the outcome set out in the TCP. Now that we have a blueprint in front of us, which we are all grateful for, it is time to ensure it is achieved completely—not partially and not just in bits, but completely.

The Minister has been given much to think about during this excellent debate, and I hope that, in his relatively new role, he will be the champion needed to improve smoking cessation and reduce the prevalence of smoking in our society. Now is the time not for simple, warm words, but rather for concrete, defining action that drives forward this agenda.

There are many actions to take, but I know the Minister has a true passion for health improvement and prevention. He cannot allow the power he now has at his fingertips to be squandered when it comes to implementing this plan. I say again that the plan, as good as it is, cannot be seen in isolation from other Government actions and policies. Ensuring that the right funding is in place to fulfil the plan’s vision and ending the disastrous cuts to public health budgets is the only way we can truly see the plan’s vision realised.

Tobacco Control Plan Backbench Business Debate 19.10.17

As Shadow Minister for Public Health, Sharon responded on behalf of the Opposition to a debate called following the publication of the Tobacco Control Plan earlier in the year. Sharon...

As Shadow Minister for Public Health, Sharon responded on behalf of the Opposition to a debate on the impact of vaginal mesh secured by Emma Hardy MP. In the debate, Sharon called for a pause on the use of the product whilst NICE update their guidance and for a public inquiry into the issue to fully understand the scale of what has happened and the women affected. 

You can read the full debate here in Hansard: Vaginal Mesh Westminster Hall Debate 18.10.17

You can read Sharon's contribution to the debate below.

10.40 am

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

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Owen. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle (Emma Hardy) for securing this very important debate and for her excellent contribution. The Opposition fully support her four asks of the Government.

I commend all other speakers for their thoughtful and passionate contributions, and I thank their constituents who allowed their experiences to be shared with us. I especially want to thank Kath Sansom, who leads the Sling the Mesh campaign, for all her hard work in uniting the women affected by vaginal mesh implants and for raising awareness of the tragic impact that mesh implants have had on so many lives. I also thank other hon. Members who have spoken out about this issue for such a long time—in particular, my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypridd (Owen Smith), who spoke with such knowledge and passion. It was vital that he took part in this debate, and I thank him for everything he has done on the issue.

The experiences we have heard about today are incredibly distressing. I have the utmost sympathy for those suffering because of mesh implants. We are here to stand up for those women, and we seek answers and Government action on their behalf.

Let us start at the beginning, when women are told that the best course of action is to have a mesh implant. They are told that the procedure is quick and cheap, but, as we have heard, the low financial cost of the implants is far outweighed by the huge human cost to those women for the rest of their lives.

The NHS and the MHRA say that the risk of complications is low, at 1% to 3%, but a report by nine leading medics put the risk much higher, at 15%. If leading bodies and medical professionals cannot agree, how can patients be expected to make informed decisions? Health professionals are supposed to outline clearly and explicitly the risks of any operation that a patient is asked to undergo to ensure they can weigh up the risks and benefits for themselves.

As we have heard, the mesh implants are made of the same material as some drinks bottles. They can shrink, twist and curl at the edges. The material can degrade, cut through internal tissues, poke through the vaginal wall and stick to organs, causing pain, incontinence, urinary infections and a loss of sex life. Marriages have been destroyed and people have been left unable to walk, work or even to pick up their young children. Knowing those risks, how many in this Chamber would consent to a mesh implant? It is time to take women’s health and wellbeing seriously. They need to be listened to. Their voices need to be heard and their concerns believed so we can put right this injustice and prevent it from going on any longer.

Since this debate was announced, I have been inundated with emails and tweets telling harrowing stories of how women have been affected by vaginal mesh implants. I am sure everyone in the Chamber has received the same sort of emails. Just last night—very late in the day—I received an email from Sling the Mesh with an attachment containing 210 emails out of the 400 it received following the Minister’s answer to my question during Health questions last week, when she said there is not enough evidence to ban the mesh. Those emails are packed with evidence, and I am very happy to pass them on to the Minister. They all detail how the implants have been life-changing, but unfortunately not for the better.

Julie has had to give up her job as a paramedic, and is now trapped in a world of pain and medication. Kath has lost her passion for mountain biking because it is now impossible to get on the bike. Suzi says that her pain consumes her every day.

Another woman, Tina, also shared her experiences. For four years, she went to her GP and accident and emergency several times with excruciating pain, and was sent from pillar to post. She was told that the pain was due to irritable bowel syndrome, painful bladder syndrome and a slipped disc, and that the mesh implant was absolutely not the problem. After four years of searching for answers, she went private and spoke to a surgeon who finally believed her pleas about her pain and partially removed the mesh. She says that her recovery has been successful and she is no longer in pain, which is excellent, but four years is such a long time to lose. We know that many, many women are unable to go private to end their trauma, but they should not have to do so.

After this debate, there is a lobby of mesh-injured women, which I encourage the Minister to attend. We will be joined by Dr Robert Bendavid, who has flown in overnight from Canada. That shows that this really is a worldwide scandal. Many countries, including our own, are just waking up to the horrors of vaginal mesh. In Australia the Senate is holding an inquiry, and in the US vaginal mesh has been considered a high-risk device for nearly a decade. As we heard, vaginal mesh has been suspended in Scotland since 2014, yet across the border the Government have rejected a ban in England and have failed to empathise with the approximately 8,000 women who have been admitted to hospital with a mesh complication. That is not surprising, considering that just 1,000 mesh admissions have been reported to the MHRA as a mesh-related issue. Surgeons are clearly reluctant to report that mesh is the issue, which lets their patients down and distresses them further.

Our next concern is what the Government are going to do to support women who have had to leave because of the effect of vaginal mesh. Most GPs do not attribute the pain to the mesh, so it is very difficult for those women to claim personal independence payments, disability living allowance or any other benefits. They have to rely on their families’ finances, which is incredibly frustrating and distressing to the victims, especially those whose families are unable to support them. We must also consider the women who are suffering in silence and have not come forward yet because of the intimate nature of the issue. After hearing of the experiences of others, some women may be embarrassed or just too scared to come forward for fear of being dismissed as a hysterical woman.

At Health questions last week, the Minister said that a NICE update on vaginal mesh implants is expected at the beginning of next year—my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypridd also mentioned that—but that is too little, too late for the approximately 200 women who will get a vaginal mesh implant on the NHS between now and then and the thousands of women who have already been affected. One of my constituents reached out to me to say that she is worried because she is due to have that surgery soon, and she asked for my advice. Obviously, we cannot give medical advice, so I told her to watch this debate and speak to a surgeon. If there is a chance that a car or an aircraft could cause harm, it would be immediately recalled while the problem was investigated. Why does the precautionary principle not also apply when the health and wellbeing of thousands of women is in jeopardy?

Last week, the Minister said there was not enough evidence to warrant asking the MHRA to reclassify these procedures, but there was so little evidence to justify beginning them in the first place. What exactly is she waiting for? Given what we have heard today, I hope she will recognise the urgent need for action on this issue and justice for those women. I hope she will take these calls back to the Department of Health and ensure that no more women are subject to the risks of vaginal mesh implants. That is why the Opposition are calling for an urgent public inquiry into the number of women adversely affected by vaginal mesh implants and into why the safety of so many women was disregarded. We urge NHS England and NICE to act immediately to update the guidance and suspend the use of vaginal mesh today. It is our duty to ensure that the failings are understood and corrected so that they never happen again. That should be a matter of urgency for the Minister and the Government, and I trust she will respond positively to these calls.

Vaginal Mesh Westminster Hall Debate 18.10.17

As Shadow Minister for Public Health, Sharon responded on behalf of the Opposition to a debate on the impact of vaginal mesh secured by Emma Hardy MP. In the debate,...

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At the 2017 Labour Party Conference in Brighton, Sharon was invited to speak at a fringe event hosted by the Socialist Health Association to discuss Labour Party policy on public health and also the importance of addressing the social determinants of health. 

You can read Sharon's speech below. 

CHECK AGAINST DELIVERY

Thank you.

It is wonderful to be with you today to discuss an important issue: public health.

Labour has always believed in the importance of championing our public health needs, staff and services.

It is without a shadow of a doubt that health is a crucial area of policy for any government, and especially when the future of our public services are an important issue for many people.

Health, therefore, should be given the prominence it deserves, as it affects all of our lives.

It must be a top priority of any government to not only improve the health of our nation, so that we can be more productive in our working and social lives, but also ensure that our NHS is fighting fit for the future.

Labour – as a government-in-waiting – are prepared for this task.

Yet, it is safe to say, that the NHS as it stands now is not as fighting fit as it should be due to continued Tory negligence. Jeremy Hunt likes to snipe back that this is Labour talking down the NHS, but the reality of the situation is we are fighting to defend it from his attacks.

The saying remains true: you can never trust the Tories with our NHS.

That is why over the last year, Labour’s Shadow Health team – led by Jonathan Ashworth – have held the Tories feet to the fire and held them accountable for their actions, or inaction, when it comes to the NHS – we are not letting them get away with anything!

Labour founded the NHS, and it is Labour who will save the NHS. We will never allow it to be treat as second best. It is far too precious to allow that to happen.

These pressures we talk about were laid bare in NHS England’s Five Year Forward View Refresh, published in March, which showed the true scale of the challenges facing the health service.

Whilst on the face of it there were welcome measures, it was clear if you read between the lines, that the Government have failed to give the NHS the funding it needs but also deserves.

This is especially true when it comes to public health, which we saw fall from being the third top priority in the vision to being slotted into the NHS 10-point Efficiency Plan.

Whilst public health can save the NHS and other health services a lot of money and time, it should not solely be about cost-savings but should be the driver that supports us all to live healthier lives.

This means championing better public health in our country which focuses on tackling the entrenched health inequalities we see in society, with the permeation of ill-health seen in our communities and ensuring our NHS is fighting fit going into the future.

This last point is something I touched upon when I spoke to the North East’s branch of the Socialist Health Association in January of this year; where I criticised the flopped “radical upgrade in prevention and public health” promised in NHS England’s Five Year Forward View.

It was clear in January, just as it is clear now, that whilst we are seeing initiatives to improve public health, they are not going far enough – which is deeply concerning.

This is what I call the “public health crisis”. What we have is the crisis in our NHS, manufactured by the Tories, which is having a knock-on effect on public health, as it leaves little space to invest money or time.

This negligence of public health is all down to a lack of political will to step up to the plate and act on determinants of poor health, but the short-sighted cuts we are seeing too.

The scale and impact of these cuts were identified earlier this year, when the King’s Fund analysed DCLG data on local authority public health spending, following the settled landscape of all the reforms and shifting of responsibilities since 2013.

And the prognosis was not good.

The King’s Fund identified the biggest losers in percentage terms were sexual health promotion and prevention, and wider tobacco control; both of which face eye-watering cuts of more than 30 percent.

The conclusion of the analysis was damning to say the very least: “… there is little doubt that we are now entering the realm of real reductions in public health services. This is a direct result of the reduced priority that central government gives to public health.”

This is creating a perfect storm that future generations will have to weather. Irresponsibility of the highest form of this Government.

It is our moral duty not to put off dealing with public health issues until a later date. One, because it causes problems for future generations and two, it can have serious ramifications for our NHS.

It is a belief of mine – and one I know others in the room will share – that we must deal with issues at the source rather than further down-stream.

That is why it is important that Labour, working in tandem with the Socialist Health Association and others, promotes a better vision for public health.

At the snap General Election, Labour offered a visionary and forward-thinking approach to public health, which renewed our commitment as a Party to keep people fit and well.

Much of what we focused on was to do with children and our promise to make Britain’s children the healthiest in the world – an ambition I have championed ever since becoming an MP.

Though we focused on children – this does not mean what we were proposing would not have health benefits for adults, as our policies would have created healthier environments for everyone.

Our main pledge focused around clamping down on management consultancy costs in the NHS, which would recoup £250 million into the Treasury coffers and would be earmarked to fund our Child Health Fund, whilst we passed a Child Health Bill in Parliament.

Both of these initiatives would provide us with the legislative capacity to ensure all departments inputted into a cross-departmental childhood obesity strategy to ensure every action taken by Government took into consideration the health of future generations, the Child Health Fund would help: it would implement the strategy, grow our public health workforce; support local authorities with health promotion; and, administer our Index of Child Health – to measure progress on four key indicators of children’s health: obesity, dental health, mental health and early years.

Yet, we didn’t stop there, we made clear that we would go further than the Tories’ dismal Childhood Obesity Plan and implement a ban on adverts promoting unhealthy food during primetime television – such as X Factor or Britain’s Got Talent – which is estimated to reduce children’s viewing of junk food advertising by 82%.

We also set out that we would ring-fence public health budgets to protect services into the future, instead of seeing them wither on the vine as we have seen under the Tories.  

Though at present we are not in government to implement these ideas, this does not mean that we are taking child health of our radar. Far from it.

As Jonathan announced at the beginning of the summer, Labour will be establishing a Child Health Forum, so we can work with experts to design a programme we can implement in Government so we can be proud of our record on improving children’s health.

And I hope as many of you will help feed into this on-going work and contact Jon.

But it is not just children’s health we must improve, it is everyone’s health.

Improving the health of our country is a matter of social justice – one of the core principles of the Labour Party.

Health inequality is an issue which we must continually work on to get right. Complacency should never be accepted as the norm when it comes to the health of our society.

That is why we must do all that we can to address health inequality.

We all know the conclusion of the facts around health inequality: people in more deprived areas of the country do not live as long or with as good health, compared to those in more affluent areas.

This is health inequality in its most brutal form.

This was why Sir Michael Marmot was right to say in his 2010 report that there is a social gradient in health: the lower a person’s social position, the worse his or her health will be.

Sadly, this is something we have yet to see materialise in public health policy, with report after report arguing that we have not made serious inroads into health inequalities.

That is why we must have a renewed campaign to address the social injustices of ill-health. We must do more.

This is a stark realisation when only a couple of weeks ago, Sir Michael Marmot made an important, and eloquent, intervention into the discourse around health inequalities.

He said: “the UK is becoming the sick men and women of Europe.”

In his letter to the Times, Marmot identified that from 2011 to 2015, the increase in life expectancy was the slowest in Europe amongst women and the second slowest amongst men. This is worrying when from 1920 to 2010, life expectancy rose from 55 to 78 for men and 59 to 82 for women; roughly a one-year rise every four years.

Yet, in such a short period of time, we have seen the work of previous governments stalled by the current government, who as we know have not taken the health of our country seriously.

We know exactly why this is: this is down to the government’s choices around austerity.

As I previously mentioned, we have seen public health services slashed, an NHS facing unprecedented pressures, social care and education crippled and people’s living standards weakened.

Each of these have serious ramifications on our health.

Marmot may have been more reserved in his suggestions about the impact of austerity, but we all know it has been a significant factor to the increase in poor health in our society.

How can it be right in the 21st century for a child to be born into a family living on a poor council estate and grow up with completely different life chances and health outcomes than a child born to a more affluent family.

If this does not raise concern, then what will?

Social justice and equal opportunity are central to Labour values, and it is important that we reflect these in how we approach our health policies too.

This is something that I have supported in the past, and still do to this day, including championing the 1001 Critical Days initiative which works to ensure that a child’s formative months and years help set them up for the future.

Along with doggedly championing universal free school meals for the last 10 years, but also pushing on smoking and sexual health issues during my time as Shadow Minister for Public Health.

But it also means taking action for people now – who have been failed in their early lives.

A Labour Government would make social justice a driver of all government policy, but it would also ensure that the health of the nation is considered in every step we take.

Labour in opposition in Parliament and where we are in power across the country are doing just that, now.

Take for example, the excellent work of my colleague, Sue Hayman – Labour’s Shadow Environment Secretary – who has been leading the way on air quality and holding the Government to account on improving the environment we live in.

Or ensuring families have decent, affordable housing to live in, rather than squalid private accommodation, as being done by our Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan.

Or working to improve transport infrastructure that supports healthy lifestyles, such as that pledged by Andy Burnham in Manchester.

Or in Wales, where we have seen the Welsh Labour Government give powers to Public Health Wales to scrutinise new legislation’s impact on health.

Labour has, and always will be, a proud champion of improved public health and ensuring it is considered as part of everything that we do.

But it is important that we create systems where this is easier to do, and not just rely upon the values that drive us in the Labour Party, but instead embed them into the system.

This is why I am interested to work more to improve the roles of Public Health England and local Directors of Public Health to ensure the health of our nation is kept high on the agenda.

It is initiatives like those I have mentioned which will help ensure that the social determinants of health are addressed, but it also about injecting innovative thinking into our approach to public health.

By injecting innovation and utilising our political will, we can ensure the gap in health inequalities will shrink further and health outcomes improve.

We must fully realise the vision set out in the Five Year Forward View as a promise to not only ourselves, but to the generations that come after us.

It is important that we work together to create and implement health policy that brings about real change for those who live in poor health; we cannot continue to allow people’s health to be determined by factors completely out of their control.

Every one of us in this room shares that passion and drive to improve our nation’s health.

We know we will never take our nation’s health for granted.

There is still a long way to go to improve our nation’s health, but with our collective passion, we can achieve a more equal, socially just, and most importantly, healthier society.

Socialist Health Association #Lab17 Fringe Event in Brighton

At the 2017 Labour Party Conference in Brighton, Sharon was invited to speak at a fringe event hosted by the Socialist Health Association to discuss Labour Party policy on public...

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