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Preventative Health Care

Volume 517: debated on Tuesday 2 November 2010

We are committed to protecting and improving the nation’s health and well-being. Since the election, we have already announced our commitment to preventative action on cancer, including improved bowel cancer screening and a campaign on signs and symptoms to promote early diagnosis; investment in a programme of reablement for those leaving hospital; and £70 million of investment this year to increase access to talking therapies.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that dedicated health spending focused on the poorest areas in most need is urgently required to narrow the health inequalities that, as a recent National Audit Office and Public Accounts Committee report show, actually widened under the Labour party?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that question, because it enables us to point out that over the period of the previous Labour Government health inequalities in this country widened—life expectancy, for example, widened by 7% for men and 12.5% for women between the richest and the poorest areas of this country. We are very clear. Our public health White Paper, which will be published shortly, will focus on how we can not only deliver a more effective public health strategy, improving health outcomes for all, but improve health outcomes for the poorest fastest.

There is an area of the country where public health inequalities have not widened, and it is the borough of Slough. Will the Secretary of State come to Slough and look at the work of health advocates, who are ordinary citizens who help to engage people with their health and avoid some of the conditions that have led to early deaths in Slough?

The hon. Lady might not recall, but about five and a half years ago I visited Slough to meet the health trainers, particularly in the Asian community, who were going to help people. Their focus was on diabetes. It has been a very effective pilot and we will need to work—we will do so—with local authorities and the NHS. We should work together, using dedicated public health resources of precisely that kind, to identify the risk of diabetes and to tackle it at source.

On the Isle of Wight, the local NHS has decided that contraceptive pills may be given to girls as young as 13. Their parents and even their GPs are not involved. Nowhere else, I am told, shares that approach. Many of my constituents are horrified. What is the Secretary of State’s view?

My hon. Friend will know that these decisions were made locally. Indeed, we support local decision making. We will ensure that such decisions are taken not only in the health service but alongside local authorities as part of their public health function. It is important that one is clear that a young person is competent to make such decisions. Subject to that, however, we are always clear that patients have a right to access health care on their own cognisance if they are competent to do so.

Does the Secretary of State accept that good preventative care walks hand in hand with good social care? Does he further accept that even if all efficiencies were made and every single pound of the so-called additional £2 billion for social care was to be spent, there will, as the Local Government Association and the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services warn, nevertheless be a shortfall of at least another £2 billion before the end of the comprehensive spending review? In those circumstances, why does the Treasury’s own document say:

“In social care, the Spending Review has provided additional funding needed to maintain current levels of care”?

Who is the public to trust and what are they to make of it?

First, may I welcome the hon. Lady to her position in the shadow health team? I do not accept her proposition. We are very clear about the nature of the efficiencies that can be made in social care, and we have established an efficiency group that is advising on how that can be done. In addition, in the spending review the Chancellor was able to announce that the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government has made £1 billion extra available, and we have made £1 billion available through the NHS. On that basis, there is no need for local authorities to have to reduce eligibility to social care.