Asthma Outcomes — [Steve McCabe in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 10:00 am on 7th December 2021.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Jane Hunt Jane Hunt Conservative, Loughborough 10:00 am, 7th December 2021

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr McCabe. I am delighted to follow Jim Shannon, and I congratulate him on securing this excellent debate. I thank him very much for what he has said. My speech will be less wide-ranging than his, but I want to deal with two particular aspects. First, I should declare an interest, in that my brother works in this industry. Having said that, we never talk about work, so that is literally as much as I can say about what he does. However, I have had several meetings with representatives of Kindeva, a company that deals in the asthma industry, and visited its site. It is based in my constituency, so I will refer to the company in some detail. I will first discuss the change in drug delivery that is proposed by DHSC, before talking about prescription charges.

Asthma can be an incredibly dangerous condition. As Asthma UK data show, there are around 75,000 asthma-related emergency admissions to hospital every year in the UK and, sadly, asthma causes the death of around 1,200 people every year. Thankfully, however, although there is no cure, there are simple and, importantly, accessible treatments that can help keep the symptoms under control, including inhalers. That being said, the fact that people are still dying from this condition shows that more work needs to be done, and I was encouraged by the response from the Minister for Care and Mental Health to the debate on access to salbutamol inhalers last week, during which she set out the steps that the Government and NHS are taking to improve asthma outcomes. I was particularly encouraged to learn that the NHS long-term plan includes respiratory disease as a national clinical priority and sets out a number of respiratory interventions, including plans for early and accurate diagnosis of respiratory conditions. I would welcome reassurance from the Minister that the Government will work with the NHS to achieve the aims set out in the long-term plan.

I want to take the opportunity to mention an issue that has been raised with me by Kindeva, a pharmaceutical contract development and manufacturing organisation, when I visited its state-of-the-art research, development and manufacturing facilities at Charnwood Campus in my constituency, which is the very first life sciences opportunity zone that is based in the UK. During my visit, I saw the production of pressurised metred-dose inhalers, or PMDIs, and I heard about Kindeva’s work to transition to green propellants. I am delighted that as part of this, Kindeva and Loughborough University formed a knowledge transfer partnership to proactively address the inhalation drug delivery industry’s move to develop PMDI propellants with lower global warming potential, or GWP, than exists currently in marketed propellants. That is a fantastic example of universities and businesses working together to turn a cutting-edge idea into a marketable product, and it reflects the success of Charnwood Campus.

That being said, I understand that the NHS’s current target to reduce the carbon impact of inhalers by 50% by 2028—by switching patients from PMDIs to dry powder inhalers—coupled with the Government’s review on the use of fluorinated gases, is creating uncertainty for the industry. Specifically, I have been informed that the NHS switchover policy is shrinking the size of the UK PMDI market, and that Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs’ proposals to remove the essential medical use exemption of F gases in PMDIs would put considerable pressure on the market before green propellant alternatives are widely available.

Although I fully support the Government’s net zero strategy and their commitment to build back greener from the pandemic and level up all areas of the country in the process, if we are to achieve these aims, we must work with industry to ensure that we do not unintentionally drive innovation out of the country, along with opportunities for inward investment and long-term, highly skilled jobs, particularly in the east midlands and, from my point of view, most particularly in Loughborough. We have a fantastic opportunity to be a world leader on green propellants, and we have the willingness of industry to make the necessary changes. I therefore ask the Minister and the NHS to work with the industry and, most importantly, afford it the time needed to transition to greener propellants, by delivering the current NHS emissions reduction targets over a longer timeframe, and maintaining the current medical use exemption for F-gases until 2030.

Consider the situation, imagine the scene, of struggling for breath. Constituents have that problem across the country every day. They need consistency of treatment to enable them to trust the medication and have it delivered quickly and accurately. When they need the medication, it is very often an emergency. They need the drug delivery to be accurate and timely. Let us take that into consideration when looking for net zero outcomes in medications and treatment.

Asthma UK called for a suspension of prescription charges for asthma medications and for them to be added to the medical exemptions list. I think we would all agree, particularly in the case of the son of the hon. Member for Strangford, who was born with the condition, that this is not something that can be avoided. Therefore, why should patients pay for those prescriptions?