Yesterday I spoke in the House of Commons on an issue vital to to our region – health inequalities.
Ten years on from the publication of his ground-breaking report, Professor Michael Marmot’s 2020 review of the state of public health in England provides a grim picture of health inequalities both between regions and across the North East.
Marmot’s report, published last week, measures the state of public health against the widely accepted principle that “good health is an indication that a society is thriving and that economic and social and cultural features of a society are working in the best interests of the population.”
The principle is straight forward; if health has stopped improving it is a sign that society has also stopped improving; and where a society flourishes, so health tends to flourish.
What follows in Marmot’s report, however, is evidence that health inequalities are growing across the country, and here in the North East we’re seeing the trends heading in the wrong direction. Put simply, after a decade of austerity that has disproportionately hurt the North East, we’re not flourishing, we’re failing.
Johnson’s talk of “levelling-up” the regions by the government sounds attractive, but unless talk becomes action, his words will remain meaningless.
It is quite shocking that on this Government’s watch life expectancy has stalled for first time since the turn of the twentieth century and there is particular concern that it is, in fact, decreasing for the most deprived women.
There are also marked regional differences in life expectancy, with the North East seeing the greatest decline compared to other regions. The gap in life expectancy between the most deprived and least deprived areas in Gateshead increased between 2010 and 2018. For both men and women, the largest decreases in life expectancy were seen in the most deprived 10 percent of communities in the North East and the largest increases in the least deprived 10 percent of London communities.
There has been no sign of a decrease in mortality for people under 50. In fact, mortality rates have increased for people aged 45-49. And “healthy” life expectancy is worsening, so we’re now seeing those in the most deprived communities living more of their shorter life in ill-health. Poor health not only harms individuals, families and communities, it also comes at great expensive to the public purse.
The health of a population isn’t only based on how well the NHS is funded and functions. Health is often determined by the conditions in which people are born, grow, live, work and age and access to power, money and resources. The impact of massive funding cuts to school budgets, the closure of over a thousand Sure Start centres, and cuts to Local Authorities that have seen central government funding decline by 77% over a decade, all have a negative effect on public health.
Marmot concludes that in order to reduce the gaps, policy makers must strive to give every child the best start in life and enable all children, young people and adults to maximise their capabilities and have control over their lives. The state must intervene to provide fair employment and good work for all and ensure a healthy standard of living for all. That means prioritising healthy and sustainable homes and communities.
For a decade now, the Tories have shown no real commitment to reducing health inequalities. I agree with Marmot, that the Government must take urgent action to level up health, by addressing the housing, educational, employment, childcare and environmental issues that all factor. That can only be achieved by working with our councils and other public services; providing them with the resources and powers to intervene where necessary.
The focus should be on investing early to lift the level of health in deprived areas in the North up to the level of good health enjoyed by people living in affluent areas in London and the South. Only then can Johnson truly claim to be “levelling up” the regions.
In January I chaired a breakfast roundtable organised by the Industry and Parliament Trust, bringing together industry representatives, third-sector organisations and parliamentarians to discuss the issue of suicide in the construction industry. The meeting had a profound impact on me.
As Chair of the All-Party Group on suicide and self-harm prevention, I am familiar with the number of lives lost to suicide and the statistics that show that middle-aged men are particularly at risk. However, even I was shocked to hear that two construction workers each day die by suicide and that twice as many die by suicide as those who die falling from heights.
A huge amount of work has been done on reducing the physical risks in the construction industry. I am glad that there are now moves by some employers and charities such as Mates in Mind to put the same focus on tackling mental health issues and preventing suicide in the construction workforce.
I fed those shocking shocking statistics into the Queen’s Speech debate on the area of Health and Social Care. Last year, the number of deaths by suicide in the UK rose significantly—an increase of more than 600 on the previous year. There were 6,507 deaths by suicide in 2018. The statistics show that middle-aged men remain the highest risk group, though rates among young people, too, are rising.
Suicide is a public health issue. It is startling to know, from work done by the University of Manchester in 2018, that two thirds of people who take their own lives are not in touch with mental health services in the year before they die. We need to find a way of reaching out to these people.
We know from work by the Samaritans and others, that low incomes, job insecurity, unemployment, housing problems and benefit sanctions are some of the key factors that lead to the desperation which many people feel.
Most councils have developed suicide prevention plans, but the Government must do more to make sure that those that do not, develop them as a matter of urgency, and that those that do, put them into real action. I have to say that cuts to public health funding by the Government is making life much harder for those local authorities that are translating their plans into actions.
Some £57 million has been made available for suicide prevention, but local NHS services need to make sure that the gaps in services, which too many people can fall through, are filled in. For example, there must be a way for people who are considered “too suicidal” for talking therapies to be able to access secondary mental healthcare swiftly, and more non-clinical services need to be available, too.
We need to keep campaigning for improved mental health provision in our region, but many of us can do more to prioritise our own self-care, to make sure we are looking out for ourselves, our friends and family.
Blue Monday is known to many of us as the day in January which has been identified as one of the toughest days of the year for a lot of people. This year it landed on Monday 20 January. With many of us still strapped for cash after Christmas, the cold weather and dark mornings and evenings can impact on our well-being.
The Samaritans “Brew Monday” campaign is a positive response that encourages people to make time to get together with friends and family, pop the kettle on and have a chat over a cup of tea. It makes the simple point that we need to avoid isolation and keep talking about how we are getting on, seek support when we need It and offer it to others in their time of need.
So, I was pleased to join volunteers once again at Newcastle Central Station, to raise awareness and offer a listening ear to commuters on their way to work. And this week I hosted Parliament’s own “Brew Monday” to highlight the issues with MPs from across the House. I’m glad to say it was very well attended – let’s hope it helps get the message out.
“People before privilege” was the theme of last week’s Labour Party Conference in Brighton.
We announced bold new policies including putting the final say on Brexit back to the people, rolling out a new national living wage that extends to young people aged 16 plus, and a radical green new deal for Britain, so we can lead the way in tackling climate change.
Our annual conference is a bit like a big family get together. We come together once a year to celebrate everything we share in common, we argue passionately for our deeply held beliefs and rows do, at times, break out.
Of all the parties, Labour’s conference has always been the most dramatic, but that drama flows from democratic debate as we thrash out ideas of how we can take our country forward in the years ahead. We are, after all, a “broach church”, with over half a million members from all walks of life.
One of the areas our whole family agrees on is the urgent need for a social care service fit for 2019 and beyond. The Government’s complete failure to publish their white paper on social care, promised over the last three years, demonstrates that they are not up to the job of delivery.
While the Tories are set to cut taxes for the wealthiest in society, Labour announced last week that our next government will create a National Care Service, with record investment in free personal care to support older people to live independently with dignity and security. We will ensure more people can access help with daily tasks such as getting in and out of bed, bathing and washing, and preparing meals in their own homes and residential care.
With nearly £8 billion taken from council budgets for social care since 2010, we now have one million people not getting the care they need. 87 people die each day waiting for care and more than five million unpaid carers are looking after family and friends.
So, we’ll address the funding gap in social care and support local authorities to directly provide, rather than outsource adult social care. That means more accountability and a better use of public money, rather than the private sector model that has failed to provide decent care for many of our vulnerable people in favour of profits for shareholders.
Currently, only people with low levels of savings receive publicly-funded personal care. People with dementia face the highest costs for care. Labour’s plans will more than double the number of people receiving state-funded care and reduce the number of people facing catastrophic costs for their care.
Free personal care will ensure people with dementia receive the same care as those with other conditions, reduce the burden on unpaid carers and benefit the NHS by reducing delayed transfers of care from hospital and admissions to care homes and hospitals.
As part of the National Care Service, We will raise standards of care by ending the use of zero-hour contracts, ensuring that carers are paid a real living wage, including for travel time; end 15-minute care visits; and improve access to training and development for care staff.
We will put an end to the culture of overworked, underpaid care workers who are only allowed ten minute visits to those they care for. The current system simply isn’t fit for purpose, and is sucking money out of the system and into offshore tax havens. It simply can’t go on.
Nothing is more important than dignity in retirement for those who have built our country and given younger generations the world we live in today. Tackling the crisis in social care is a priority for Labour.
Our plans for social care will address the immediate crisis in care, double the number of people receiving publicly-funded care, and stop people with dementia being treated unfairly by the care system. Our National Care Service will be universally available for all who need it.
This morning I visited the Maternity Unit at Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Gateshead (QE), along with Gill Walton, Chief Executive of the Royal College of Midwives (RCM).
I was very keen to see first-hand the excellent work done by Midwives at the QE. A recent CQC report rated the Maternity Services at the QE as “Outstanding”; with the Hospital being rated as “Good” overall.
I’ve been delighted today to have seen the tremendous work done by staff at the QE Maternity Unit. It’s made me very proud.
It is important that we now maintain this level of outstanding service. At a time when so many Maternity Units across the country are struggling, it’s essential that we don’t let that happen at the QE. All Maternity Units deserve the high level of service that we have here.
Yesterday Liz was delighted to Chair an All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) aiming to raise the profile of the rare disease, Phenylketonuria (PKU).
PKU is a rare genetic metabolic disorder affecting around 1:10,000 people in the UK. People with PKU cannot metabolise phenylalanine, an amino acid found within protein foods. This disease can cause irreversible brain damage or impaired cognitive or neurological function if not correctly treated.
Currently, the only treatment funded in the UK is an extremely restricted dietary therapy in which almost all natural protein is removed from the diet. The majority of PKU patients in other European nations have access to the drug BH4 (Kuvan), which can increase a PKU person’s protein tolerance. The NHS does not currently commission Kuvan treatment.
We am hopeful the APPG will raise awareness of PKU and consider the need for improvements to access to treatment. The picture shows Liz with members of the NSPKU (National Society for Phenylketonuria).
Column – January 2018
So here we are in another New Year – 2018 already. I hope you had a good break over Christmas and the New Year. On Monday I’ll be returning to Westminster, but this week is a good chance for me to catch up on local issues and get a feel for what’s important to my constituents here locally as well as nationally, and to have a look forward to the coming year.
Labour has a positive message for the coming year. Jeremy’s new year message set out again our vision of a Britain offering opportunities for all, one where a Labour Government would implement the policies which so many people here in the north east welcomed in our election manifesto and which work for the many, not the few. Key to that message will be our concern for the NHS. Coming in the week that NHS chiefs announced that most pre-planned operations will be put on hold until the end of January, I think all of us would welcome the increased investment which Labour has promised for the NHS and Labour’s commitment to keeping the NHS public.
We have some excellent NHS services here in the north east and I know that, as we look forward to celebrating the 70th birthday of the NHS this year, my constituents are determined that our hospitals and other NHS services are delivered for the public good and not for private profit. We’ll be making sure that the Tories aren’t allowed to slip through massive changes to the NHS while Brexit dominates the agenda.
Tuesday of this week saw Shadow Rail Minister Rachel Maskell in Newcastle highlighting the Government’s shockingly poor rail policies for the north, services which sell our region short but which would unbelievably let Virgin East Coast off the hook of paying the payments they promised for running the franchise under the cloak of a reorganisation of rail services. All this at the same time we see passengers paying the price through a 3.4% hike in rail fares. We have experience up here of how a rail service can run successfully and make a profit under public ownership – which is exactly what East Coast mainline did! No wonder there’s a lot of support from my constituents for our policy of having directly run, modern and efficient train services.
So back in Westminster we’ll be challenging this shambolic Tory Government on their plans for the NHS, transport, funding for local government, and fire and rescue services; we know these and other issues are what make a difference to folk here in the North East.
Last month I had the chance to meet representatives of organ donor groups and NHS Blood and Transport to hear about how many more lives could be saved if more of us became organ donors. I was shocked to hear how many people are waiting for organ donation, many of them dying needlessly for lack of donors. Just before the Christmas break and following all-party support, the Government launched a consultation exercise on increasing the number of donors and asking whether we should look at an “opt out” donation system as they have in Wales.
Whatever your views on donation, please take part in the consultation and most of all, have the discussion about your own wishes with your family and friends. My friend Jon was fortunate to find a donor and have a successful heart transplant at our own Freeman Heart and Lung transplant unit and it has made an incredible difference to his life.
You can find the consultation online at https://engage.dh.gov.uk/organdonation.