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Health Inequalities

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:52 pm on 4th March 2020.

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Photo of Nadine Dorries Nadine Dorries The Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Health and Social Care 6:52 pm, 4th March 2020

I thank all Members who have taken the time to attend this debate and to speak about their experiences and their concerns.

As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said in January:

“Every single person deserves to lead a long and healthy life, no matter who they are, where they live or their social circumstances.”

As someone who spent the first 20 years of my life in a council house in the 10th most deprived area in the country, I know more than most how important that is, and no one can concur with his sentiments more than I.

Before Professor Marmot published his report, this Government had already made clear our bold commitment to level up left-behind areas. This Government have been clear that they will address the needs of the communities that are being left behind, where too many people lose their independence through ill-health and disability. Differences in health outcomes are not new. Health inequalities have existed under successive Governments. In fact, it is worth mentioning that Marmot’s report in 2010 was equally damning of the record of the previous Administration. Jonathan Ashworth is shaking his head, but I am afraid it was. These reports are important, inasmuch as they push and inform Government policy going forward.

It is also worth mentioning, to add balance to the debate, that the ONS has published new life expectancy data, and the good news is that the latest figures show a bump up, as noted by Professor Marmot yesterday. We must, of course, take care with such information—those are provisional quarterly statistics and are subject to change—but it is good news that life expectancy figures are going up.

Differences in health outcomes are not new. Our manifesto pledged to increase years lived in good health and tackle specific problems—for example, by eradicating rough sleeping by the end of this Parliament. Those commitments came on top of an unprecedented level of investment in our NHS, with an unprecedented £2.3 billion in my area of mental health. There has also been substantial funding for our hospitals, primary care and workforce. Reducing inequalities requires action in the NHS and across Government, and prevention is a priority for this Government to support long, independent lives lived in good health.

Due to the time constraints, I will move on to answer some of the points raised by Members in no fewer than 24 speeches. I would like to commend and congratulate the Members who made their maiden speeches today. They were accomplished and excellent. I am sure that they will be a huge addition to the House, particularly in the area of health.

I would like to address the points made by my hon. Friend Dr Poulter. We will develop and publish a new UK-wide cross-Government addiction strategy, which I am sure will be good news to him. The strategy will set clear goals to reduce drug deaths and dependency on drugs and will include problem gambling for the first time.

My hon. Friends the Members for Mole Valley (Sir Paul Beresford) and for St Ives (Derek Thomas) and Judith Cummins raised dentistry as an example of inequality. We are committed to increasing access to NHS dentistry. Some 21.8 million adults were seen by dentists in the 24-month period ending on 31 December last year, and 7 million children were seen by dentists in the 12-month period ending in June of the same year. The issue of water fluoridation is mentioned frequently by dentists, and the Government will be looking into that.

My hon. Friend Lee Anderson mentioned loneliness and the importance of socialisation and social prescribing, which can have a significant impact on physical and mental health. Our loneliness strategy acknowledges that tackling loneliness is a complex and long-term challenge, requiring action on many fronts.

My hon. Friend Anne Marie Morris raised the issue of inequalities in rural villages and towns. She made her point clearly, and I am sure that it has been heard. My hon. Friend Angela Richardson spoke about prevention, and I thank her for her recognition of the Government’s investment in the NHS and our commitment to deliver on the long-term plan.

Siobhain McDonagh spoke about St Helier Hospital. I am not qualified to give her a response, but her points will have been noted, and I will ensure that they go back to the Department. We will get a response to her, and I thank her for her comments.

I can tell my hon. Friend Miriam Cates that the NHS is setting up a national academy for social prescribing to champion social prescribing, which I am sure many Members will be pleased to know. Social prescribing can make a huge difference for people who are suffering from loneliness or other issues, so that they come together in the community.

I would like to conclude by thanking Members on both sides of the House. I would also like to thank Professor Sir Michael Marmot for his report on health inequalities. His dedicated work has shone a light on this important issue, not just now but back in 2010. This debate has demonstrated that this Government are facing up to the challenges and taking bold action to meet those challenges. We have invested over £16 million in public health over a five-year period, in addition to NHS spending on our world-leading NHS. We are making sure that—