Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:48 pm on 14th May 2019.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Lisa Cameron Lisa Cameron Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Mental Health) 4:48 pm, 14th May 2019

It is an absolute pleasure to speak on behalf of the Scottish National party and to see you in your place, Madam Deputy Speaker.

As we know, public health campaigns can be extremely successful. They make health improvements in a widespread manner; individual interventions do not have the same effect. However, the work of public health campaigns and departments is not always visible. It tends to take place behind the scenes. Constituents do not often speak to their MPs about these issues. Very infrequently has anyone come to my door to ask about a cervical screening appointment, or about our campaigns and work on obesity. Public health is not the most visible area of our NHS, unlike the frontline issues of access to treatments, accident and emergency waiting lists and access to GP appointments. It does not have the profile that it ought to have, and it certainly does not feature the sensationalism on which the media often want to report. However, it is important to say that public health is fundamental to the health of the nation. Therefore, public health should not be underestimated and should certainly never be underfunded.

Since 2006-07, the annual health resource budget has increased in Scotland by £4.8 billion, and the Scottish Government have passed all consequentials on to health and care. Funding for NHS boards will increase again by £430 million—an increase of 4.2%—and the package of investments in health and social care in Scotland for integration programmes will be £700 million to the better. Health spending per head in Scotland is almost 9% higher than in England, according to Treasury analysis in 2018.

Investment in primary care is essential; our GPs are at the frontline and it is important that we increase funding for that. The Scottish Government have invested over £930 million in primary care, and £30 million will be invested to extend the free personal care individuals have in Scotland to the under-65s. Some £11.1 million will be provided to increase nursing and midwifery bursaries from £8,100 to £10,000 the following year. Again, midwives and nursing staff are on the frontline of our public health achievements.

Young families across Scotland receive the opportunity to have a baby box as soon as their baby is delivered, which is fundamentally to the good; it is about saying, “We know your baby is born; it is the most valuable thing in your life and we want every baby in Scotland to have the same start and to reduce the inequality we know impacts on people’s lives and families.”

We also need to increase our sportscotland funding, and there has been a pledge of 3%. We have discussed obesity today. I was a member of the Health and Social Care Committee when it was looking at the issue, and again this underlines the importance we must place on public health investment. Advertising and marketing campaigns overshadow the work we are able to do because of the huge investment the industry puts into encouraging people to eat and feed their children the wrong types of food and to give ourselves treats many more times than we should. I have fallen foul of that, particularly since arriving in the House of Commons; our Tea Room has far too many little treats at the counter. These are all things we grapple with as families and individuals, and that is why it is so important that public health and public health campaigns are supported.

I am pleased to learn more about the Government’s nudge unit. The UK Government has put some investment into psychological approaches to public health and to health, and I was pleased to meet a member of the nudge unit a few months ago at the all-party group on psychology, which I chair, because we must try to help people shape their behaviours and make it as easy as possible to make the right decisions moving forward. Making the right decisions is difficult anyway, but things such as having the opportunity to have a piece of chocolate at the till when we are making purchases makes it that little bit more difficult for people to make the choices we know they need to make. Public health and taking responsibility for our health is all about shaping behaviour: making those choices ourselves through our motivation, but also the Government helping to shape the society we live in and make sure that the easy choices are the healthy choices.

It is important that we raise as much awareness as possible of mental health, particularly in this week, mental health awareness week. This has often been about communities plugging gaps, however. Progress has been made across the UK, but community mental health service waiting times are still far too long, particularly for young people and adolescents awaiting access to child and adolescent mental health services. That is why there has to be a partnership between public health, health services, voluntary agencies and others in the community.

An example is the Trust Jack Foundation in my constituency, which was formed following the tragic suicide of a young person in my constituency, Jack. His mother came through that terrible trauma and created the foundation, which enables young people in Stonehouse and elsewhere in Lanarkshire to have access to mental health services while they are on the waiting list for CAMHS, and it is really making a difference by giving them the support they need and the earliest possible intervention.

On disability, we must pay cognisance to the fact that those who are disabled are much more likely to be living in poverty than those who do not have disabilities. It is important to take account of that, because people who have disability have less access to the workplace, to transport, to adapted housing and even to shops, because in some cases, Changing Places toilets are not available in our shops. They also have less access to getting about, because Changing Places toilets and facilities and accessible transport are often not available. All those factors contribute to the impact of poverty on people with disability, and we need a joined-up approach across Departments if we are to make a difference.

I want to speak briefly about homelessness. I cannot help but notice that every time I arrive here in Westminster each day, there are people sleeping at the underground station just outside the entrance to Westminster. I have also noticed that, a number of times, there have been flowers left for those who have died there. It is incumbent on us all, as MPs and as a Government, to notice what is right in front of our eyes and to act to ensure that those homeless people have opportunities and that their health and wellbeing are cared for.

I want to touch briefly on the subject of older adults. Public health campaigns will have to focus on and target older adults in the years to come. We are living longer by virtue of the good health we enjoy as a result of the interventions, treatments and technologies that are now available, but chronic illnesses will be with people for longer and affect many more people.