Government Vision on Prevention - Statement

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 12:57 pm on 6th November 2018.

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Photo of Lord O'Shaughnessy Lord O'Shaughnessy The Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Health and Social Care 12:57 pm, 6th November 2018

I am very grateful to the noble Baronesses, Lady Walmsley and Lady Thornton, for their questions. I concur completely with their point that the NHS is not sustainable if it is a national hospital service, which the Secretary of State was trying to get across yesterday. He used the stark figures of £97 billion being spent each year on treating illness and only £8 billion on preventing it. Clearly, we need a shift there. Investing more money makes that shift easier; I am glad that the House recognises that we are doing that.

Before I get on to the specifics of responsibility for health, I concur with the idea that this is a whole-government challenge. It is also a societal challenge; it is not just for government to make this happen. It is about people as well, as the Secretary of State said in his point about personal and family responsibilities. We all have a role to play in making it easier for people to do the right thing. That is quite different from a finger-wagging approach; it is about making sure that it is easy to make healthy rather than difficult choices. When you talk to people about that, they feel it is a sensible approach.

On the funding question that both noble Baronesses asked about, it is worth pointing out that local authorities received £16 billion over this SR period. That obviously involves a reduction, as they pointed out. The recent Budget did not change the funding. It has been suggested that it reduced it, which it did not. Clearly, any new budget for public health specifically and for the role of local authorities will be decided at the spending review next year. I hope the noble Baronesses will forgive me if cannot say more about that, other than that I absolutely concur that local authorities have a critical role working with the third sector, industry and others. So does technology. Noble Lords will know that we have a real technophile in the Secretary of State. He is absolutely right that, while technology will not necessarily change everything, it gives us the possibility to change behaviours much more cheaply and more cost-effectively than in the past, which I hope means that we can do more with our money. That is the promise of new technology if we get it right.

On the specific questions on the prevention strategy, the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, asked about junk food advertising. The consultation on that is due to be published before Christmas. We are trying to train more staff on children’s health. We are working with Health Education England on a health and care workforce plan as part of the long-term plan. She also mentioned health inequalities. The Prime Minister had been very clear that she wants people to enjoy five more years of healthy life. At the moment, on average, children being born today will live to the age of 81 but might have 18 years of unhealthy life and there is a great discrepancy in that depending on one’s demographic. The greatest gains from that will therefore be for the least advantaged. That is something we are focused on. It is part of the NHS mandate today and it will be part of the plan.

We have debated GP numbers in this House. There are record numbers of GPs in training and that flow will continue over the coming years. We are also determined to make sure that there is much better treatment for mental health, not only because people with mental illness die earlier—sometimes dramatically earlier—but because, as we have discussed and as is being discussed now in the other place, there is too much unacceptable use of in-patient facilities for people with mental illness, learning disabilities and autism. I am glad that the Secretary of State’s strong words on this have been well received. He is absolutely determined, as we all are, to ensure that we deal with this. We have made some progress but we have not got as far as we needed.

As to whether such facilities will be needed in the future, I think that they will. I visited Springfield University Hospital in south London recently. It is being redeveloped from a classic Victorian institution to something being designed with patients to be much more suitable for their needs, with better access to light and to communal areas where appropriate. These facilities have a role to play when properly modernised, but they ought to be used for only a short time. They ought to be close to home and there ought to be a discharge plan in place before they are used. Clearly, in some cases none of those things is happening and unacceptable care takes place, which we need to stop.

On the various Green Papers and so on, the Secretary of State has set out vision documents in areas he has identified as early priorities. A lot of this stuff will be wrapped up in the long-term plan that we will publish before Christmas. As we move ahead there will be Green Papers on key areas. Social care will be one, for not just older adults but working-age adults; there will be a prevention Green Paper on that in the new year. There will be many more for us to discuss, to the great delight of the House, I am sure.

The noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, asked about cannabis medicine. We are treading a fine line in difficult territory. We know the great benefits that these medicines can bring and are bringing, particularly to children with some horrendous epilepsies and other illnesses. At the same time, we know that there are risks associated with the active ingredient THC. It is about trying to move forward in a way that is compassionate to patients but does not put them at undue risk while evidence is still being gathered.

I will say three things. First, we are trying to fund more research so we understand the real world impact of these kinds of medicines. Secondly, by rescheduling them to Schedule 2, THC-based medicines can be procured through an unlicensed medicines route, which was not something that was there before. That goes beyond the Sativex and Epidiolex question, in terms of licensed drugs at the moment, although again that will be done with care and caution by specialist doctors. NICE is working on a clinical guideline to supersede those currently in place, which are temporary guidelines. It will be gathering evidence as broadly as possible internationally from patient groups, clinicians, families, industry and elsewhere. I am confident that, while we have clearly not perfected the system yet, there is a genuine attempt to get a much better, more compassionate system that ensures that drugs such as this can get to people who will benefit from them when they need them. I am confident that we will get to the right position eventually.