Prevention of Ill Health: Government Vision

Part of Universal Credit – in the House of Commons at 5:25 pm on 5th November 2018.

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Photo of Jon Ashworth Jon Ashworth Shadow Secretary of State for Health 5:25 pm, 5th November 2018

I apologise if I missed it. Could the Secretary of State tell us when he plans to outlaw or ban the advertising of junk food on family television and when the consultation will end?

Immunisation rates for children have fallen for the fourth year in a row, so a big part of prevention should surely be a focus on investment in children’s and early years health services, yet Government cuts to those budgets and, indeed, the privatisation of many of those services in our communities have seen health visitor numbers fall by more than 2,000, school nurse numbers go down by 700 and 11% of babies miss out on mandated health checks. What is the Secretary of State’s plan to reverse those cuts to health visitors and school nurses?

All in all, alongside wider Department of Health and Social Care budgets, there will be £1 billion-worth of cuts to health services next year, with public health budgets taking considerable strain. Those £1 billion-worth of cuts should have been abandoned today, and it is a missed opportunity that the Secretary of State has not abandoned them. When he was asked about this in the Budget debate, he said it was a matter for the spending review. Well, today the Association of Directors of Public Health has said that the spending review should allocate an extra £3.2 billion for the public health grant next year. Does he accept that figure?

Of course prevention is about more than just public health; it is also about primary care. But GP numbers are down by 1,000 since 2015, and since 2010 district nurses have been cut by more than 3,000, so can the Secretary of State tell us what his plan is to increase the primary care workforce to support his wider ambitions on prevention? We know he wants a higher proportion of NHS spending to go to general practice, so does he agree with GPs that general practice should again receive around 11% of the overall NHS budget? If not, why not?

Of course, prevention is also about mental health services, but 30% of patients referred to IAPT—improving access to psychological therapies—services never receive treatment. What is his plan to ensure that everyone who needs IAPT services next year gets them?

Finally, on the wider social determinants of ill health, the shameful reality is that people in poorer areas die earlier and get sick quicker. Life expectancy has begun to stall, and has actually gone backwards in some of the poorest parts of the country. Rates of premature mortality are twice as high in the most deprived areas of England compared with the most affluent, and mortality rates for the very sickest of babies are increasing. As laudable as many of the aims that the Secretary of State has announced today are, this document does not even mention poverty or deprivation. It does not even recognise that some of the deepest cuts to public health grants have been in the areas of highest need and highest deprivation.

Yes, we welcome a focus on prevention—we have long called for such a focus—but a genuine commitment to prevention would go hand in hand with a genuine commitment to ending austerity. That must start with reversing the public health cuts and blocking the £1 billion of further cuts to health services to come next year. On that test, the Secretary of State has failed today.