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Health Inequalities

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 4:30 pm on 20th March 2019.

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Photo of Lucy Allan Lucy Allan Conservative, Telford 4:30 pm, 20th March 2019

I thank the hon. Lady for her comment. There was an interesting debate on that issue on Monday night in the Chamber. It is an important issue, and I have a lot of sympathy with what she says.

On the injustice of unequal health outcomes, I said at the outset that it is of course not about spending more, and that poor health is not only about healthcare but is a much wider issue. However, if the NHS overlooks its statutory, constitutional and moral duty to properly consider health inequalities when making major spending decisions, the Secretary of State has a legal duty to act; he cannot just sit on his hands and say it is down to local clinicians. That response is all the more frustrating in my case because all six voting members of the Telford CCG voted against the transfer of resource from an area of deprivation and to an area of relative affluence, whereas all six voting members of the CCG in the more affluent Shrewsbury naturally voted for the funding resource to be transferred to their area.

In our case, Telford CCG was made to vote again until it came up with the right answer and allowed that transfer of funding. [Interruption.] That is very topical, yes. This whole issue reminds me exactly of Brexit. I wish I had not come on to that point; this should be a Brexit-free zone, for a change, so that we can all maintain our sanity. However, it is similar in the way that those in power have not been listening to the people. It is extremely important to note that, if we give that sort of funding to relatively affluent areas and take resource away from the most disadvantaged, we are doing something wrong. No Government could think that that is a good idea. I am grateful to the new Health Secretary, who came to Telford to visit our Princess Royal Hospital earlier this month and took the time to see for himself the fantastic work being done in the very areas that the management is seeking to close and to transfer 19 miles away to Shrewsbury hospital.

I would like to get something else off my chest, to further illustrate the problem of unequal health spending. Six months ago the Government gave the Shrewsbury and Telford Hospital Trust £3 million for winter pressures. The trust decided to spend all of it in Shrewsbury—all of it—despite there being no evidence that the decision reduced health inequalities between the areas that it serves and not even an indication that it had considered health inequalities when making that decision.

No Government could possibly condone transferring resources from an area of need to an area of greater affluence and better health outcomes. The Government have a legal responsibility to ensure that that does not happen. Everyone in this room will agree that NHS funding decisions must focus on the areas of greatest need, and where that is not happening, we cannot ignore it. The trust has been able to forge ahead with a plan that has never made sense to local people, that was roundly opposed by a consultation that took place, bizarrely, two years after the original decision was made, and despite MPs and councillors vocally pointing out the plan’s shortcomings and its failure to address health inequalities. The hospital trust and CCGs carried on regardless. It cannot be down to local people to enforce the Act. I can only conclude that decision-makers perhaps do not understand their duty to narrow health inequalities or—of more concern—that they do not understand the extent of the need, disadvantage and health inequality in the area they serve.

The flat-out refusal to even discuss the reconfiguration’s impact on health benefits and outcomes for the most disadvantaged has been extraordinary. I have written letter after letter for a considerably longer period than the consultation lasted and I have not received any answers. My trust treats the issue as if it was entirely irrelevant to its reconfiguration plan. If it is not able to show how its plans narrow health inequalities, it must think again.

I know that once the Secretary of State receives the relevant documentation from my local council, he will carefully consider whether to call in the Telford proposal for review by an independent reconfiguration panel. For that, I am most grateful. I hope the panel will look closely at the failure to address need and disadvantage and, on those grounds alone—there are many others—throw out the scheme. If the Government are committed to reducing health inequalities and not only focusing on better health for all, they need more than just warm words. I ask the Minister to remind hospital trusts and commissioners generally, and the Shrewsbury and Telford Hospital Trust and its commissioners specifically, to give due regard to their duty to demonstrate how their spending decisions narrow health inequalities.

In conclusion, I ask the Minister to keep focusing on this issue. It is so easy to lose sight of the reason we all came to this place, and it is too easy for the Department or the Minister to believe that health spending is allocated and targeted towards need, and that we do not have to look any further beyond the spreadsheet. We have to ensure that it is happening in practice on the ground. We cannot simply say that we have done our bit and that there is no need to look any further. Health inequalities are a shameful injustice of unequal lives and unequal life chances. I know that the Secretary State wants to ensure that no NHS decision-maker allocates funding in a way that exacerbates this injustice, whether in Telford or any other area.