Women's Health

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 10:19 am on 10th June 1988.

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Photo of Ms Jo Richardson Ms Jo Richardson , Barking 10:19 am, 10th June 1988

I do not think that the hon. Lady has answered the point. We can all do our calculations. She says that women can come forward at any time if they wish to do so. As the Minister herself has pointed out, women do not always think about the necessity of doing so. Sometimes they do not do so until, unfortunately, it is too late. However, if they did all come forward at the same time, the entire system would snarl up. It would not be possible to cope with all those women because there are not enough laboratory resources or staff to check the smears. Unless more resources are provided, there will be women who would not be called until 1992, and many of them may die in the meantime.

Similarly, family planning services that have contributed so greatly to women's improved health, and again were fought for by women and brought into the National Health Service by a Labour Government—I am proud to say—are being cut. The hon. Lady has said that she would be concerned if the family planning service disappeared or was substantially cut. At least, 25 districts have made cuts in their family planning services already, according to reports from community health councils and family planning regional offices. All the available evidence shows that more districts are planning cuts.

Any Government who were genuinely interested and concerned about this matter would urgently intervene to prevent the inevitable increase in unplanned pregnancies that will result from such policies. Ironically, they will also create long-term increased social and economic costs. It is a short-sighted and narrow approach which plagues every aspect of the Government's policies. The obsession with cash limits, charges and market forces distorts every section of the Government's White Paper on promoting better health. They end up by addressing the wrong agenda and issues and, therefore, come to the wrong conclusions.

The Minister should be chairing an interdepartmental committee covering employment, her Department, housing, the environment and transport. The committee should cover all Departments. It should examine broadly what contributes to bad health in women and in men. The hon. Lady is the appointed Minister for women's health, and we are all glad that the Government have acknowledged that there is a problem and have appointed a Minister to deal with it. That will not be done, however, within the blinkered confines of the Minister's Department. I hope that she and the Prime Minister will recognise the necessity for having an interdepartmental link so that we can examine the problem properly and sanely.