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Respiratory Health — [Nadine Dorries in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:04 pm on 3rd February 2015.

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Photo of Andrew Gwynne Andrew Gwynne Shadow Minister (Health) 3:04 pm, 3rd February 2015

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Dorries. I congratulate Stephen McPartland on securing the debate. I commend the work that he and the all-party group on respiratory health do to raise awareness of these important issues in Parliament.

It cannot be denied that care for respiratory health conditions demands far more attention than it currently receives. Asthma, after all, is one of the most widespread and pernicious conditions around, and takes up a huge amount of resources in our health service. I share the hon. Gentleman’s concerns. We need to ensure the proper use of inhalers. My eldest son is asthmatic. He certainly has regular asthma reviews, and my wife and I, like the hon. Gentleman, try to ensure that such reviews are never missed, because they are so important.

The amount of research time that asthma gets is not proportionate to the scale of the problem, and routine asthma care simply is not up to scratch. The hon. Gentleman made that point well; the fact that he has been receiving pretty much the same treatment for the past 15 years speaks volumes. Respiratory disease is the third biggest killer in the UK, but the risk of conditions such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and asthma is perennially underestimated. The rate of deaths from respiratory disease in the UK is around three times that in Estonia and Finland.

Like Sir Oliver Heald, I get wheezy at sport. That has nothing to do with being asthmatic; it is more to do with my fitness levels. However, he made an important point that awareness of asthma, in the medical community in particular, is crucial. In 2010, I was very ill. My GP diagnosed asthma and prescribed me inhalers, which made me much worse because I was not asthmatic; I had pneumonia. That highlights the real need for the GP community to understand the specific needs of patients and whether asthma is prevalent, because some medication, as I found out to my detriment, can make people much sicker.

We have not touched on smoking to any degree, but we need to reduce its impact on respiratory health. That is a key factor. Patients need to be supported by clearer links being made between smoking and the start of respiratory disease, and there needs to be easier access to effective smoking cessation services and implementation of appropriate tobacco control measures.

There is, of course, a general awareness of the dangers of smoking. Needless to say, many have accepted the associated risks, but many have not. Two thirds of adult smokers took up smoking as children, so alongside measures to help people to quit smoking, we need to support those who have quit so that they do not relapse. We need to reduce exposure to second-hand smoke, and we should focus on protecting children and helping them not to take up smoking in the first place.

Around 10 million adults in Britain—about 20% of the population—smoke. Every year, smoking causes around 100,000 deaths. It is a major driver of health inequalities. Smoking rates are markedly higher among low income groups. I was pleased to see that the APPG report recommended the urgent implementation of standardised packaging for cigarettes, which Labour wholeheartedly agrees with. An independent report by King’s college London found that it was

“highly likely that standardised packaging would serve to reduce the rate of children taking up smoking”.

I commend the Under-Secretary of State for Health, Jane Ellison, on her commitment to introducing plain packaging; I hope that the Minister present today will join her in the Lobby and encourage his colleagues in the Cabinet and on the Back Benches to support the measure. Christopher Hope of The Daily Telegraph only last week suggested that as many as 100 Conservative MPs planned to vote against the measure. Will the Minister support the measure and, if so, will he encourage his colleagues to do the same?

There are other measures that the Government could implement to reduce rates of smoking. Tackling the problem of toxic second-hand smoke, for instance, is crucial. It can pose terrible challenges to children’s health because of their smaller lungs and faster breathing, and the risks are increased in the confines of a car, for example. It is staggering that every year, second-hand smoke results in about 300,000 GP visits and nearly 10,000 hospital admissions among children.

That is why I was proud of the sterling efforts of my hon. Friend Luciana Bergerin getting a ban on smoking in cars through Parliament. More than 430,000 children every week are exposed to second-hand smoke in the family car, so when the House of Commons voted overwhelmingly for a ban, it was a great moment. However, the onus is now on the Government to act according to the wishes of the House, and to make the measure law at the earliest opportunity. I call on the Minister to commit to taking that step.

I was pleased by the proposals in the all-party group’s report for more joined-up asthma care. As part of Labour’s 10-year plan for the national health service, we have proposed a joined-up approach to long-term care, with patients being given more say in their care plans and more control over their data, so that that they can make more informed choices. That would be particularly pertinent to conditions such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, where a bad flare-up can prove life-threatening. Patients with such conditions should have more say in their care pathways. COPD exacerbations are the second most common cause of emergency hospital admissions, so it is clear how important it is to ensure that people can prevent complications where possible.

Clearly, there is some way to go on cutting rates of smoking and giving people support to stop smoking. However, it is also our responsibility to give people the option to influence their own health care. Hospitals provide advanced care, which often cannot be provided anywhere else, but swift developments have meant that lots of care that could previously be provided only in hospital can now be provided in the community. That is a huge leap forward. On the whole, the most deprived are admitted to hospital more often, not because of a higher propensity to fall ill, but because of the inadequacy of community services.

For example, with forms of COPD, most medical professionals firmly believe that good self-care can provide an incalculable benefit to patients. Those who know exactly how to administer their own long-term care tend to live longer and experience less pain, anxiety and depression. They also enjoy a better quality of life because they are more active and independent.