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The National Health Service

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:19 pm on 23rd October 2019.

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Photo of Chi Onwurah Chi Onwurah Shadow Minister (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) (Industrial Strategy) 5:19 pm, 23rd October 2019

I start by thanking all the NHS workers, wherever in the world they come from, who do such fantastic work for the health and wellbeing of my constituents in Newcastle. I reiterate all that has been said about the devastating impact that any Brexit, but particularly a no-deal or a hard-right Brexit, will have on the NHS and on our European Union brothers and sisters who work in the NHS in Newcastle and across the country.

The labour movement fought for the NHS because working people understand the terrible consequences of ill health for those without means. Just as, under this Government, the gig economy is bringing back types of job insecurity that we thought the labour movement had banished from modern society, so this Government’s back-door privatisation is undermining our NHS. My hon. Friend Jonathan Ashworth emphasised how that is driven by a right-wing ideology, and I want to highlight a particular area in which it is particularly obvious: the requirement for competition in primary care, and particularly for GP surgeries in poorer areas.

There has been a rise in poverty under this Government, and with poverty comes increased health problems. GPs working in areas with higher levels of deprivation have higher workloads and patients with more complex needs. GPs are choosing to work elsewhere because of the lack of support offered by the Government, which exacerbates vicious cycles of health inequality.

There are requirements for competition on GP contracts, even when no one is willing to compete. This means contracts are returned early, after two or three years, and my constituents do not have the continuity of high-quality care they deserve. The Government are requiring competition, even where the private sector cannot make enough profit to be interested in competing.

I also highlight the growing health inequalities that mean there is less access to healthcare in more socioeconomically deprived areas. In Newcastle, for example, we have cervical screening rates of 85% in Gosforth, a wealthier area, and of only 23% in Westgate, one of the poorer areas.

The north-east has the highest level of epilepsy in the country, with poorer people more likely to die from epilepsy. As today is Sudden Unexpected Death in Epilepsy Action Day, I want to highlight the work of SUDEP Action in combating rates of epilepsy. Higher health inequalities under this Government mean that more people are dying and suffering unnecessarily.

Briefly, on the privatisation of NHS data, I understand that the Office for Life Sciences is currently assessing the value of NHS data as part of the life sciences industrial strategy. The absence of a regulatory framework to give patients control over their own data leaves it open to being sold off as part of a future trade deal, which the public are completely against. The fact that the Department of Health and Social Care did not take up the great north care record, which was an opt-in rather than an opt-out record, means these dangers are all too obvious.

I finish with two areas that, in themselves, deserve hours of debate: mental health and social care. Mental health, particularly for young people, is a rising issue in Newcastle. It is raised with me by police, schools and housing, and we have yet to see real parity of esteem.