Health Inequalities: Office for Health Improvement and Disparities — [Derek Twigg in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:15 pm on 26th January 2022.

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Photo of Taiwo Owatemi Taiwo Owatemi Shadow Minister (Equalities Office) 3:15 pm, 26th January 2022

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Twigg. I congratulate my hon. Friend Peter Dowd on his excellent speech and on securing this important debate. As we know, the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities was officially launched in October as part of a wider Government restructuring of public health bodies in England. Back in September, the Health Secretary announced his vision for what the OHID would prioritise. He listed three goals: preventing poor mental and physical health; addressing health inequalities and improving access to health services; and working with partners within and outside of Government to respond to wider health determinates.

It is welcome that the Government have set out to alleviate health inequality. However, in order to truly tackle the disparities in health outcomes, the Government must change course and more closely consider the health outcomes for illnesses associated with stigma, misunderstanding or insufficient public awareness. I am speaking specifically about those living with HIV in this country. Despite accounting for less than 2% of the British population, people of black African heritage accounted for 13% of new HIV diagnoses among heterosexuals in 2020, and 64% of these diagnoses were of women. People of black African heritage are also significantly impacted by late HIV diagnosis, which is particularly frustrating, considering that those who are diagnosed late are much more likely to die from the disease.

I am increasingly concerned by the state of HIV testing in this country, given that the proportion of people who are eligible for a test but are not offered one more than doubled in 2020. That is completely unacceptable, and it is a systemic problem that falls under the remit of the OHID. I want to use this debate to urge the OHID to monitor the provision of commissioned services for people who are disproportionately likely to be diagnosed with HIV, and to consider how they could be improved. In particular, I want it to look closely at the availability of testing, both at home and in A&E departments, especially in areas of high HIV prevalence, and to consider the extent to which that might be acting as a barrier to achieving its aim of ending HIV transmission by 2030.

If the Government truly want the OHID to tackle health inequalities, then its work needs to have a laser-like focus on improving health outcomes for those living with stigmatised illnesses, such as HIV. It goes without saying that the Government cannot fulfil their pledge to end HIV transmission by 2030 without taking the measures that I have outlined today.