Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:48 pm on 14th May 2019.

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Photo of Seema Kennedy Seema Kennedy The Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Health and Social Care 6:48 pm, 14th May 2019

It is a great pleasure to respond to this important debate, which has covered a wide range of issues, showing the depth of the passion shared by hon. Members across the House for public health.

I want to address some of the points made by hon. Members. I should like to begin with the shadow Secretary of State, Jonathan Ashworth, who opened the debate and began by mentioning towns such as Burnley and Blackpool. I was born in Blackburn, as Tim Farron referred to. Like him, I am a slightly disappointed Blackburn Rovers fan, and I represent a Lancashire constituency. I share his concerns about health inequalities, which I see in my constituency. That is what motivates me in this job, and it is what motivates my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, which is why she set the ageing society grand challenge. The Government share the commitment to prevention and public health that the debate has highlighted, because the costs, both to individual lives and to the NHS, are simply too great to ignore.

I want to address some of the points that hon. Members have raised. My hon. Friend Suella Braverman spoke about her local services. I am looking forward to reading the report and wish her well as she becomes a mother.

Mr Lewis spoke about local mental health provision and the experience of his young constituent. NHS England’s planned spend on mental health in the year ending 2019 was just over £12 billion. For children’s mental health services, it is nearly £7 billion—an increase of 5.6% on the previous year. I would like to reassure him that we are definitely not aiming for a one-size-fits-all service.[This section has been corrected on 16 May 2019, column 4MC — read correction]

I can reassure my right hon. Friend Theresa Villiers that we are absolutely committed to training more GPs. In September last year, we had the highest ever number of students in training. We are also committed to allied healthcare professionals and working to retain the GPs that we have as well as releasing them to give them more time for frontline care.

In response to Eleanor Smith, let me say that this Government are absolutely committed to the NHS remaining free at the point of delivery. I would like to put to bed the myth that there is any aim towards privatisation. On the specific constituency case that she raised, I remind her that almost 90% of prescriptions are dispensed free of charge.

My hon. Friend Gillian Keegan spoke with her usual passion. She paid tribute to Dame Marianne Griffiths, and I join her in paying tribute to everyone at Western Sussex Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust.

I can tell Tim Farron that we do take prevention extremely seriously. I know that he and I have a meeting scheduled to discuss healthcare in his constituency. We have published our vision for prevention, setting out how we will put that at the heart of the health and social care system, and later this year, we will launch a Green Paper on prevention.

My hon. Friend Rebecca Pow, who is an assiduous parliamentarian as well as constituency Member of Parliament, talked about screening for bowel cancer—something that has touched her family. The long-term plan will modernise the bowel cancer screening programme to detect more cancers by lowering the starting age from 60 to 50. Preet Kaur Gill touched on mental health. I would like to reiterate again that that is at the heart of the long-term plan.

I had never noticed my hon. Friend Maria Caulfield being critical, but she is definitely a candid friend to the Government. I thank her for her work as a cancer nurse and for highlighting the improvements in the diagnosis of breast cancer, stroke and other diseases.

Sarah Champion is a great champion for survivors of sexual abuse. I will take away the specific points that she raised and discuss them with the Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, my hon. Friend Jackie Doyle-Price, who is responsible for mental health, inequalities and suicide prevention.

My hon. Friend Derek Thomas, who is also a great champion for the healthcare of his constituents—as I know from the number of letters to him that I sign—spoke about podiatry and the importance of prevention in amputations.

Dr Williams is obviously, with his background in medicine, extremely passionate about public health. Like him, the Government are committed to early years provision. He mentioned the work that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House is doing on this. Yes, there are inequalities in life expectancy, but it is as high as it has ever been in this country.

I congratulate my hon. Friend Rachel Maclean on the work that she has done on highlighting the issue of menopause, which has not been raised in this Chamber nearly enough. I reiterate to Debbie Abrahams that reducing health inequalities remains central to our strategy for public health, and we continue to require councils to use their grant with a view to achieving that.

I agree with my hon. Friend Vicky Ford that we need to resolve the uncertainty about Brexit, and I thank her for highlighting the importance of research.

To Geraint Davies, all I will say is that the World Health Organisation said that our air quality strategy is an example for the world to follow. To Liz McInnes, let me say that we are in no way complacent, and I draw her attention to the targeted lung health checks in Manchester, which are producing excellent results.

To Rachael Maskell, let me say that public health funding for 2020 onwards, including the local authority public health grant, will be considered carefully in the next spending review, in the light of all available evidence. To Rushanara Ali, let me say that we are taking serious steps on obesity. I share the passion of Mrs Hodgson for improved health outcomes in the north; I represent a seat in the north-west, and she represents one in the north-east.

The most important thing to remember is that public health is about more than the health service and public health grant. It is about the whole of government. It is about more than a single pot of money. Even within local government, improving health is not all about the grant, because local authorities can use the whole range of their activity—including on transport, planning and the economy—to promote better health. Spending across the board in local government, central Government and the NHS can all be far more influential in improving and protecting health.

Equality issues remain central to our strategy for public health. Our overarching twin ambition is to raise healthy life expectancy while reducing the inequalities in life expectancies across different groups of the population. In its long-term plan, the NHS has already committed to strengthen action on prevention and health inequalities. All local health systems will be expected to set out in 2019 how they will reduce health inequalities. This Government’s commitment to improving public health, working with the NHS, local authorities and others, is rock solid. We will set out further steps in the Green Paper, and I urge all Members to oppose the motion.

Question put.