Gaza: Access to Healthcare

Oral Answers to Questions — Foreign and Commonwealth Office – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 30th October 2018.

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Photo of Philippa Whitford Philippa Whitford Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Health and Social Care) 12:00 am, 30th October 2018

What diplomatic steps the Government is taking to improve access to healthcare in Gaza.

Photo of Alistair Burt Alistair Burt Minister of State (Department for International Development) (Jointly with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office), Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) (Joint with the Department for International Development)

The Government remain deeply concerned about the humanitarian situation in Gaza. I regularly raise with the Israeli authorities the need to ease restrictions there. Our ambassador to Israel discussed Gaza with the Israeli authorities on 17 October. The UK supports healthcare in Gaza through the International Committee of the Red Cross, and is a strong supporter of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees, which provides basic healthcare in Gaza.

Photo of Philippa Whitford Philippa Whitford Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Health and Social Care)

As well as many breast cancer patients not being allowed out of Gaza for treatment, it is very difficult for doctors to get out to access training, so Medical Aid for Palestinians has recruited specialists to bring the training to them. But on our visit last month, I was formally denied permission to enter Gaza and two other doctors on our team never received theirs. This totally wrecked our teaching programme. Will the Minister make representations to the Israeli authorities to allow these medical projects in Gaza to continue unhindered?

Photo of Alistair Burt Alistair Burt Minister of State (Department for International Development) (Jointly with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office), Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) (Joint with the Department for International Development)

First, I have already done so. Secondly, although it is of course a matter for Israeli authorities to make those decisions, the value of the visits of the hon. Lady and her team cannot be overestimated. Thirdly, we are all in her debt for the work that she does to support those suffering conditions in Gaza.

Photo of Stephen Crabb Stephen Crabb Conservative, Preseli Pembrokeshire

The Save a Child’s Heart programme at the cardiology department of the Wolfson Medical Centre in Israel has now seen or treated around 6,000 Palestinian children. Does my right hon. Friend agree that these kind of projects—which bring together Palestinian and Jewish medics, and bring Israelis into contact with Palestinian families—are incredibly powerful and uplifting? Will he look at what more we can do to support such projects?

Photo of Alistair Burt Alistair Burt Minister of State (Department for International Development) (Jointly with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office), Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) (Joint with the Department for International Development)

It is an often understated fact of the complex relationship between Israel and its neighbours that there is cross-border work, and that medical treatment takes place in Israel for those from both the west bank and Gaza—some of it is very high level and done in the most important circumstances. Save a Child’s Heart is not directly supported by the United Kingdom, but we certainly support all efforts to make sure there is even more contact between the Palestinians and the Israeli authorities, particularly in healthcare matters.

Photo of Fabian Hamilton Fabian Hamilton Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs), Shadow Minister (Defence)

The United Nations says that international funding to tackle the humanitarian crisis across the Palestinian territories is at an all-time low, with the shortfall to meet this year’s needs now standing at $380 million. Although we warmly welcome the £7 million increase in September from the UK Government, the Minister of State must know that it is a drop in the ocean. Will he instead do what we have been calling for since January, convene an urgent global funding conference and treat this as the pressing emergency it is?

Photo of Alistair Burt Alistair Burt Minister of State (Department for International Development) (Jointly with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office), Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) (Joint with the Department for International Development)

The support we give to UNRWA continues to be considerable, and we have brought forward support that would have come in the next couple of years, but the hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that, compared with the loss from the United States, it is only a small amount. We lobby other states directly on this, and there has been an increase in funding that will see us through a relatively short period of time. After that, it is essential that the issues surrounding UNRWA are dealt with and that funding is found for those who are in need. Ultimately, the issues that UNRWA deals with will only be resolved when we get the final agreement for which we are all searching. In the meantime, we do encourage, and we have seen a response from, other states following the United Kingdom’s generosity.