Health Inequalities

Oral Answers to Questions — Health – in the House of Commons at 2:30 pm on 4th November 2008.

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Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Leader of the House of Commons, Party Chair, Liberal Democrats 2:30 pm, 4th November 2008

What objectives he has set for reducing health inequalities in (a) England and (b) Greater London.

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Photo of Dawn Primarolo Dawn Primarolo Minister of State (Department of Health) (Public Health)

For England, the health inequalities national public service agreement target is to reduce inequalities in health by at least 10 per cent. by 2010, as measured by infant mortality and life expectancy at birth. There are additional health inequalities public service agreements to narrow the gaps in cancer and cardiovascular disease mortality and to reduce the prevalence of smoking in routine and manual groups.

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Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Leader of the House of Commons, Party Chair, Liberal Democrats

Is mental health and mental illness taken into account in the assessment of health inequality? The Minister will know that south London, for example, has the highest rate of psychosis in the United Kingdom, which clearly has a huge knock-on effect in any family affected. Can she tell us that mental illness is taken into account and that it is in the Government's sights as a major issue that we need to tackle in order to reduce people's chances of experiencing mental health problems and increase their chances of being well?

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Photo of Dawn Primarolo Dawn Primarolo Minister of State (Department of Health) (Public Health)

I can assure the hon. Gentleman of that, yes. The issue is crucial to the investments that we are making in mental health and to improve the health of the nation as well. He will know that huge strides have been made in his area of Southwark in increasing life expectancy and reducing the low levels of infant mortality. In fact, progress is so good in Southwark that women now live on average for 82 years, which is higher than the English average—only just, but definitely higher.

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A

This does not relate in particuar to mental health.
How many elderly are suffering from dementia or Alzheimers?

Submitted by Alix Cull

Photo of Paddy Tipping Paddy Tipping Labour, Sherwood

One of the ways of reducing health inequalities is to ensure that resources follow need. When will the Minister and her colleagues be in a position to increase funding to primary care trusts that are currently below target?

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Photo of Dawn Primarolo Dawn Primarolo Minister of State (Department of Health) (Public Health)

As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said earlier, the announcements regarding PCTs' funding and the operational framework are expected to be made later this year. That will include the allocations arising from the working party considerations.

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Photo of Gary Streeter Gary Streeter Conservative, South West Devon

As poor access to GPs perpetuates health inequalities, will the Minister agree to do nothing to undermine the excellent work of dispensing surgeries in rural parts of England? As she well knows, some of the proposals set out in the pharmacy White Paper threaten the very existence of some of those surgeries.

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Photo of Dawn Primarolo Dawn Primarolo Minister of State (Department of Health) (Public Health)

There are no proposals to curtail or reduce the provision of services in rural areas, and the Government have made no proposals to abolish dispensing GPs. I have said that repeatedly at the Dispatch Box in this House.

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Photo of Fiona Mactaggart Fiona Mactaggart Labour, Slough

In Slough, we have seen two quite contrasting attitudes to health inequalities, as our local primary care trust was merged with those serving the much more prosperous areas of Windsor, Maidenhead and Bracknell, where people live longer. We have narrowed the age gap between Slough and elsewhere by targeting public health in Slough but, in the consultation about the new PCT, the residents of Windsor, Maidenhead and Bracknell said, "Will Slough take all the money?" Will the Minister ensure that areas of extreme need in PCTs get the resources that they need?

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Photo of Dawn Primarolo Dawn Primarolo Minister of State (Department of Health) (Public Health)

My hon. Friend raises a good question. I can assure her that, where there are small pockets of deprivation in an otherwise reasonably affluent area, resources will be directed to those areas of high health inequality within PCTs. Regardless of comments made by other residents, the Government are determined to continue to keep health inequalities at the top of the agenda so that we can narrow the gap.

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Photo of Mike Penning Mike Penning Shadow Minister (Health)

Londoners will have heard the complacent comments of the Minister today, but a more frank assessment comes from her ministerial colleague, Lord Darzi. In his report, he states that:

"healthcare in London is not equitable, either in terms of mental or physical health outcomes, or in terms of the funding and quality of services offered."

Is that something that the Minister is proud of, after 11 years of a Labour Government?

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Photo of Dawn Primarolo Dawn Primarolo Minister of State (Department of Health) (Public Health)

I am proud that all the spearhead groups in London in the areas of highest inequality are narrowing the gap. I am also proud of Lord Darzi's report, particularly in relation to London and to identifying polyclinics as the way forward to ensure that services are made available on an equitable basis to the population. That is a policy that the Conservatives have opposed.

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