National Health Service — Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 1:33 pm on 14th January 2016.

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Photo of Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe Labour 1:33 pm, 14th January 2016

My Lords, I, too, am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Turnberg, for promoting this debate. I am also grateful to the NHS for keeping me alive when I had cancer, and for the maiden speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Watkins. I look forward to hearing more from her in future.

I shall quickly say something on personal responsibility, public health policy and corporate social responsibility, which I do not think has been touched on so far. On personal responsibility, as leaders, we have to be much more courageous, honest and open about the need for individuals to understand and accept that they are ultimately personally responsible for the state of their health. We need stronger campaigning. As was proved by the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, when he dealt with AIDS, if people are willing to be honest, open and courageous, we can carry all levels of the country, be they poor or rich. People need to be given many more facts about their lifestyles and the damage that arises from some of what they are eating and drinking. Those of us who use the health service should learn the cost of the services that are being provided. Each time I go to the health service, I should be told the cost of the medicines. If there is a combination of all that, we will start to raise awareness and knowledge and to create a different approach to personal responsibility. I will say no more on that because the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans more than fully covered it.

Linked to that is progress on policy on Public Health England. It is an outrage that £200 million has been chopped from its budget when we face so many problems with the increasing number of people going to the health service for treatment. Fortunately, it was one of the successes of the 2012 reorganisation, with its evidence-based recommendations on sugar taxes and alcohol abuse, for example. We need to co-ordinate policies at different levels to avoid the clash of one organisation trying to reduce alcohol, and the Chancellor then cutting taxes on alcohol last year, meaning that we now have more people drinking than before. We need to get the co-ordination of policy right. This is being addressed by Public Health England.

Deep down, most politicians believe that what they are saying is correct and that they need to take action, but regrettably, we too frequently run away from putting such things into practice. We have too many knee-jerk reactions, such as we had from the Prime Minister on the question of a sugar tax.

In the light of our experience with the responsibility deal, there needs to be a radical review of people’s relationship with the private sector. Retailers, especially supermarkets, food and drink manufacturers, producers and distributors need to accept that they have greater social responsibility than they have been prepared to accept so far for some of the health-related problems in this country. They have to face up to the fact that they need to embrace that change in culture and accept more responsibility for those problems. The Government have failed to achieve real progress with them on a voluntary basis. They should be faced with legislation if they will not move.