Genetic Haemochromatosis

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 5:02 pm on 3rd July 2019.

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Photo of Martin Docherty Martin Docherty Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Industries of the Future and Blockchain Technologies) 5:02 pm, 3rd July 2019

It is good to see you in the Chair, Mr Sharma. I congratulate Mark Pawsey on all the work he does through the all-party parliamentary group and on securing this debate. It is a delight to follow Liz McInnes and hear about the experiences of their constituent. It is said that the Celtic peoples have a tendency for fair skin, freckles and being ginger. I do have fair skin on the odd occasion, I do have freckles and I am ginger, although Members might not believe it without a head of hair on me.

Having a name that in the ancient is Máirtín Ó Dochartaigh-Ó hAodha—I will send Hansard the spelling—it should come as no surprise that the Celtic curse, as the hon. Member for Rugby pointed out it is commonly known, looms large in my constituency. It has one of the highest proportions of the Irish diaspora anywhere in these islands. There is also the Celtic connection, in that Dunbreton was the capital of the Britons. I believe they moved to Wales around the year 600. We have a huge idea of what this means in terms of haemochromatosis. Let me clear though, that just because someone is a Scot does not mean they are a Celt. We need to be clear on that, but the ethnic link with western Ireland—I am sometimes known as not only the Member for West Dunbartonshire, but the Member for Donegal—gives an idea of the genetic links of the condition.

I want to highlight my constituent, David McAleer, who is a well-known member of my constituency through Clydebank FC. David has given me permission to talk about him today. He wants to pay his respects to Dr Fitzsimons and his team for everything they do at the University of Glasgow. David got the condition diagnosed because his mum got diagnosed—this is not only about men—and after that, his younger brother got the diagnosis. His father on the other side of the family is a carrier, as are his two other brothers. Indeed, my own late father-in-law heard he had the condition later in his life, before he passed away. My brother-in-law went on to get tested, and he also has haemochromatosis. He lives a very lively life indeed.

It is important to state that we need some clear facts about the condition. In my constituency, on the basis of statistics and population—I am grateful to Haemochromatosis UK for the numbers—350 people would have haemochromatosis, but given the genetic make-up of my community, which is not that diverse in its Celtic make-up, I would assume that to be far higher. Early diagnosis is key in treating the condition and its long-term impact in other areas of healthcare provision, whether that is liver transplant—the costs of that vary across the UK—hip problems, bone issues and a whole range of other issues. There is a call to arms—it might not go down too well with some people—of offering automatic testing from birth to identify haemochromatosis in young people as quickly as possible, to deal with the reality of haemochromatosis and its broader impact on society across the whole UK.

It is notable that other major issues include alcohol consumption. In Scotland, we have for many years been confounded by high levels of alcohol consumption. Those are now reducing, and I congratulate the Scottish Government on pushing forward minimum pricing, but that is only part of a healthier lifestyle. We have to think about the type of food we consume, and how much of it, and, more importantly, about taking iron supplements. People should not take an iron supplement because they read in a magazine that it will help them feel better; they should go along to their doctor.

My clarion call to those watching today, especially in my constituency, is to go and talk to the medical profession about how they are feeling. They should try to get the test. It might not only save them a lot of time, but they will most probably save the NHS a lot of money and ensure that those in the medical profession in my constituency know more about the condition. I finish by congratulating the hon. Member for Rugby, the members of the Haemochromatosis UK who are here and the members of the APPG for the hard work they are doing on this issue.