There have been 8 exchanges between Seema Kennedy and Mrs Sharon Hodgson
|1||Tue 23rd July 2019||
Oral Answers to Questions
Department of Health and Social Care
|3 interactions (257 words)|
|2||Mon 22nd July 2019||Batten Disease||3 interactions (918 words)|
|3||Wed 3rd July 2019||Genetic Haemochromatosis||2 interactions (1,251 words)|
|4||Tue 25th June 2019||Electromagnetic Fields: Health Effects||2 interactions (687 words)|
|5||Tue 18th June 2019||
Oral Answers to Questions
Department of Health and Social Care
|2 interactions (135 words)|
|6||Wed 12th June 2019||Public Health: County Durham||7 interactions (967 words)|
|7||Mon 10th June 2019||Cystic Fibrosis Drugs: Orkambi||8 interactions (1,154 words)|
|8||Tue 14th May 2019||
Department of Health and Social Care
|2 interactions (2,843 words)|
Over the past three years, all of us in this House have heard the numerous calls for Orkambi to be made available to cystic fibrosis patients. The Minister could go down in history if she takes the all-important step this week, while still in her job—I hope she will still be in the job tomorrow—of announcing an alternative route to access cystic fibrosis drugs, such as Crown use licence or clinical trials. Today, before we break for recess, will she commit to that so that families can have Orkambi now?
Thank you, Mr Speaker, for granting this urgent question. I thank and congratulate the hon. Member for North East Somerset (Mr Rees-Mogg) for securing it following his Adjournment debate last week. I do not doubt that he would have preferred the Minister to have come before the House voluntarily, rather than being forced to come here today for his urgent question.
Time and again, we come to this place to talk about a drug and its benefits to patients, only to be told that no matter how good it is, people cannot access it on the NHS. Among all the politics, there are people, including children like Max, who are suffering. No parent wants to hear a critical diagnosis for their child who has not yet really experienced childhood, let alone reached adulthood.
As we have heard, Brineura, a drug made available by BioMarin, could stop the progression of Batten disease. An assessment by NICE has found that Brineura could provide 30 extra years of good-quality life to patients. But, as has become expected when we discuss drugs for rare diseases in this place, Brineura is not available for patients on the NHS. NICE confirmed earlier this year that it was unable to recommend the use of Brineura on the NHS because of cost-effectiveness. The drug costs over £500,000 per person for each year’s treatment. BioMarin has another drug for rare diseases—Kuvan, for patients with phenylketonuria, or PKU. PKU patients do not have access to Kuvan, because it is also deemed not to be cost-effective. Does the Minister agree that the NICE appraisal process is just not fit for purpose when it comes to assessing the suitability of drugs and treatments for rare diseases?
Access to Brineura would help to give patients and families their child back, and it would allow them to enjoy time with their child and treasure special moments with them. As time ticks on without access to the drug, parents will witness their child’s condition deteriorate. No parent wants to see that, so we really need an appraisal process that captures rare diseases effectively.
Will the Minister step in and personally urge BioMarin, NHS England and NICE to meet and come to an agreement? Families do not just want warm words from the Minister; they want and need access to medicines now. I hope that this urgent question will result in real change in how we address rare diseases.
Excellent. If something is worth saying, it is worth saying more than once.
With early diagnosis in mind, I have a number of questions for the Minister; I will rattle through them quickly. What assessment has she made of the diagnosis pathway for patients suspected of having GH? How early are patients diagnosed after presenting with symptoms, and which diagnosis route is the most successful and least painful and invasive for patients? Is that diagnosis route available across NHS trusts and clinical commissioning groups? When someone is diagnosed, is it routine for their family to be tested and treated?
GH can be aggravated by environmental and lifestyle factors, so can the Minister assure the House that patients with GH are clearly advised on how to care for themselves if they have the disorder? Are patients given direct advice on their diet and on alcohol and tobacco consumption? As we have heard, that can make the condition easier to manage, if the advice is taken on board, of course—often people do not want to hear what is good for them, myself included. Where necessary, is support available to help patients reduce their alcohol consumption and to quit smoking?
As we know, diet, alcohol and tobacco consumption have huge health implications for all society and cost the NHS millions in treatment. It is therefore crucial that public health services are available to everyone to allow them to live heathier lives, especially patients with GH, who are more susceptible to health problems relating to the heart and liver.
I never miss an opportunity to call on the Minister once again—if she can; it might be above her pay grade—to reverse the public health budget cuts that have decimated our vital public health services. I also urge her to ensure that when the prevention Green Paper is published—I have heard rumours that it could be as early as Monday—patients with any existing conditions are also taken into consideration for prevention, so that their symptoms can be controlled, too. I look forward to her response.
I was not aware of that, but my hon. Friend has put it out there on the record. I had heard, though, that 5G can go through us, where other things go around us, so it cannot go through trees but it can go through humans. There is a lot more we need to know about the technology.
As I was saying, anything that looks at this must be cross-departmental because of the impact on health, business, digital and the environment. Each of the Departments responsible for those areas should consider the health implications of electromagnetic fields, whether it is for a small minority of the population or the majority. Is that something the Minister has considered?
As we roll out digital technology, particularly in rural areas, the protection of white zones should be considered. We can be world leaders in digital, but that must not be at the expense of health and wellbeing. I therefore urge the Minister to ensure that all the information about the health and wellbeing impacts of electromagnetic fields is made available to the public, and kept under constant review as we find out more. I also urge her to work with her colleagues, across several Departments, to ensure that health and wellbeing is prioritised throughout the digital roll-out.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. The Government’s second childhood obesity plan will celebrate its first birthday a week today, but we will not be celebrating. The Government have ducked and dived on their responsibility to the children in this country and have failed to produce any policies as a result of the six consultations the plan has promised, but the rate of childhood obesity is still at a record high. Instead of waiting for the chief medical officer to report on obesity, will the Government act now to tackle the childhood obesity crisis, and introduce and implement the policies they have consulted on already?
Yes, I will. I ask the Minister: when will the Government agree a future funding settlement for public health? I am under the impression that this has been postponed now until after the leadership contest. Local authorities and public health services need to know where they stand. As my right hon. Friend the Member for North Durham said when he opened the debate, we cannot have County Durham or other local authorities being left behind any longer.
Break in Debate
I was going to come on to that, but if a point is worth making once, it is worth making twice. I will make it to the Minister as well, so she will have plenty of time to think about it.
As we all agree, patients and their families should not be put in the position—as some are—of having to pay thousands of pounds for their treatment. Family income should not determine who lives and who dies. That is why the NHS was founded—so that all could have access to the same excellent treatment, regardless of means. That was true 70 years ago when the NHS was formed, and it is still true today.
As the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam pointed out, our NHS is there for us all and should not be held to ransom by a pharmaceutical company, but neither should access be denied because of unfit processes and systems in the NHS. Over the years, as a shadow public health Minister, I have met many patient groups, including those with cystic fibrosis, who are missing out on life-changing medicines because their condition is not rare enough and is therefore not deemed by NICE to be cost-effective. We need an appraisal process that is fit for purpose and that will capture rare diseases such as cystic fibrosis effectively.
Without drugs such as Orkambi, patients and their families are being harmed physically and psychologically. Every day without the drugs that patients need makes their condition worse and threatens their lives. What steps will the Minister take to ensure that patients with rare diseases have access to the medicines that they need and deserve? It is about access not just to Orkambi, but to other precision medications such as Symkevi and the next generation of cystic fibrosis drugs that could help patients who are suffering.
Vertex recently announced the headline results for its fourth cystic fibrosis medicine, a triple combination therapy that could radically transform the lives of nine in 10 people who live with cystic fibrosis in the UK, delivering unprecedented improvements in acute lung health. That is amazing news, but patients fear that they will never be able to access this ground-breaking drug. I urge Vertex to put patients first and consider the real-life impact of this cost dispute on patients and their families.
Vertex and NHS England must come to an agreement urgently, because patients have already waited far too long. If an arrangement cannot be made soon, will the Minister personally step in and pursue the alternatives that my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol East mentioned, such as a Crown use licence or a clinical trial? Cystic fibrosis patients need urgent access now to the drug that they have been denied for three years. It is time the Government considered all alternatives.
Break in Debate
At this point I should clarify, for the benefit of the campaigners who I have spoken to about the Crown use licensing option, that it is not an immediate solution from their point of view; I understand that it would take at least a couple of years. If an agreement can be reached, there would be an immediate outcome. That is why the campaign is called Orkambi Now; it is about trying to get the drug now. Although the Crown use licensing option would be an option to consider if nothing else can be found, it would not give the sufferers and their families the drugs as quickly as we would like.
I am happy to be closing an excellent debate on public health in what is, as we have heard, Mental Health Awareness Week. I thank those who have contributed to the debate: the hon. Members for Fareham (Suella Braverman) and for Bury South (Mr Lewis); the right hon. Member for Chipping Barnet (Theresa Villiers); my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton South West (Eleanor Smith); the hon. Members for Chichester (Gillian Keegan), for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Tim Farron) and for Taunton Deane (Rebecca Pow); my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Preet Kaur Gill); the hon. Member for Lewes (Maria Caulfield); my hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Sarah Champion); the hon. Member for St Ives (Derek Thomas); and my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton South (Dr Williams), whose speech was absolutely excellent and is the only one I am going to highlight—[Interruption.] Yes, there is a little bit of favouritism. I also thank the hon. Member for Redditch (Rachel Maclean), my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham West and Royton (Jim McMahon), the hon. Member for Chelmsford (Vicky Ford), and my hon. Friends the Members for Swansea West (Geraint Davies), for Heywood and Middleton (Liz McInnes), for York Central (Rachael Maskell) and for Bethnal Green and Bow (Rushanara Ali). There were a lot of excellent speeches in among all those.
It has been a passionate debate—with good reason—and I am pleased to see so many Members who are as passionate about public health as I am. Let us be clear: it is not talking down the fabulous work that our NHS does day in, day out, or the amazing doctors, nurses, radiographers, clinicians, porters, catering staff, cleaners—indeed all NHS workers—to say that the health of our nation is at risk because of this Government’s callous and careless cuts to public health services. The public health grant is expected to see a £700 million real-terms reduction from its 2014-15 level. That includes £85 million in the current financial year, at a time when the Government are peddling the phrase “prevention is better than cure”. That phrase means nothing without adequate funding for our public health services.
I therefore ask the Minister, since prevention is a priority for this Government, whether she will commit today to reversing years of public health budget cuts. Public health spending is just a tiny proportion of the overall spend on health in England. It was just 2.8% in 2018-19, and that figure is falling year on year. Because of that, the Association of Directors of Public Health says that reductions in services are now “inevitable”— and that is a direct quote. This is at a time when services are needed more than ever, as we have heard.
Gonorrhoea and syphilis rates are on the rise, rates of smoking among pregnant women have risen the first time on record, Victorian diseases—scarlet fever, whooping cough, malnutrition and gout—have seen a 52% upturn since 2010, and there has been an increase of more than 3,000 hospital admissions per year: that is all on this Government’s watch. This Government are making our country ill. Local authorities were given the responsibility for public health in 2013, rightly so in my opinion, but without sustainable funding they have buckled under the pressure of austerity. Their ability to maintain and improve the health outcomes of local residents has been jeopardised. Last year, for the first time in over a century, increases in life expectancy stalled, and in some parts of the UK they have even decreased, as we have heard.
The life expectancy gap between women in the most deprived and least deprived areas is 7.4 years. The healthy life expectancy gap between men in the most deprived and least deprived areas is almost two decades. Yes, you heard me right, Mr Speaker—I said two decades. That is 20 years of difference in healthy life. There is a persistent north-south divide in life expectancy and healthy life expectancy, with people residing in southern regions of England on average living longer and with fewer years in poor health than those living further north. As someone from the north, as Members can probably tell, that particularly concerns me.
The Northern Health Science Alliance, or NHSA, set out why that is so important in its “Health for Wealth” report, published last year. I recommend that every Member reads it. Productivity is worse in the north, because health is worse in the north. Improving health in the north of England would therefore lead to substantial economic gains. What will the Minister do to address these regional health inequalities? Obviously, I agree with the notion that prevention is better than cure, but I do not share the Government’s belief that prevention is possible without sustainable funding. If we are to reduce the ever-growing pressure on our NHS, we should therefore be investing in our public health services to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to live a healthy life—[Interruption.] I am pleased that we have been joined by the Secretary of State, and I shall have to try to repeat some of my best lines for him.
Analysis by the British Medical Association shows a continued trend of decreased funding, despite hospital admissions in which obesity, smoking, and alcohol was a factor increasing over a similar time period.
We have an obesity crisis in this country. The UK has one of the worst childhood obesity rates in Europe, but the Government’s childhood obesity plans have failed to seriously tackle this crisis, and with consultations still ongoing we have yet to see any material action by the Government. The UK spends about £6 billion a year on the medical costs of conditions related to being overweight or obese, and a further £10 billion on diabetes, but less than £638 million on obesity prevention programmes. Will the Minister commit to correcting that funding imbalance today?
Smoking remains the No. 1 cause of death in England, yet Action on Smoking and Health, ASH, found that in England from 2014-15 to 2017-18 local authority spending on tobacco control, including stop smoking services, fell by 30%. Furthermore, an annual survey conducted by ASH, commissioned by Cancer Research UK, found that, in 2018, 30 local authorities had no budget for tobacco control activity outside of stop smoking services. Although smoking costs the NHS an estimated £2.5 billion, NICE estimates that for every £1 invested in stop smoking services, £2.37 will be saved on treating smoking-related disease and lost productivity. Will the Minister therefore justify the Government’s reasoning for not investing in stop smoking services?
Alcohol is the leading risk factor for ill health, early mortality and disability among people aged 15 to 49. Even though hospital admissions associated with alcohol have nearly doubled since 2006-07, and have risen tenfold when obesity is also a factor, the budgets for alcohol and obesity services have been cut by more than 10% over the past three years. Does the Minister agree that if there is a need funding should follow? Will she ensure that public health services are funded sufficiently?
Demands on sexual health services have also increased. At a time when sexually transmitted infections such as gonorrhoea and syphilis are on the rise, the Government have cut funding for sexual health services by £55.7 million since 2013-14. I welcome the Government’s commitment to end HIV infections in England by 2030, but that progress risks being undone by those cuts. Sexual health services are essential if we are to end new HIV transmissions in the UK, but clinics report that they have to turn people away because of cuts to services. Does the Minister agree with the assessment by the Terrence Higgins Trust? [Interruption.] If the Minister’s two colleagues will allow her to listen to what I am saying, the trust said that
“sexual health services are at crisis point”.
The Secretary of State may shake his head as much as he likes, but that is not me saying that—it is the Terrence Higgins Trust.
Finally, I would like to state my disappointment and frustration at the fact that there is no future funding settlement for the local authority public health grant after 2019-20. The Minister will know all too well that time is ticking by, so will she set out the Government’s plans for a funding settlement post 2020? We need a settlement that will ensure that people can access the public health services they need so that they can live healthier and longer lives. I hope that after this debate the Minister will see how important that is to our constituencies and local authorities, which are responsible for this area of work. That is why the Opposition are calling on the Government to publish impact assessments on public health spending cuts and stalling life expectancy. I look forward to the Minister’s response. This is only her second or third time at the Dispatch Box—it is the first time we have faced each other across the Dispatch Box—and she is still finding her feet, but she will be keen to make her mark. Now is her chance. I urge her to publish those impact assessments, then do the right thing: properly fund public health now, because people’s lives really do depend on it.