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Health Inequalities (England)

Volume 650: debated on Tuesday 27 November 2018

We know from recent trends reported to the public health outcomes framework that health inequalities persist in this country. We already have world-leading programmes to address the root causes of poor health, including programmes to deal with childhood obesity, control tobacco and prevent diabetes and heart disease. The Prime Minister has set an ambition to ensure that people can enjoy at least five extra healthy independent years of life by 2035, while narrowing the gap between the experiences of the richest and the poorest, and next year the Secretary of State will set out further plans to achieve that in his prevention Green Paper.

We have known for decades that poverty and economic inequality drive health inequalities. The richer people are, the longer they live, and the longer they live in good health. In addition to the economic analyses of the Prime Minister’s Brexit deal, what assessment has the Minister made of the deal’s impacts on health inequalities, and on life expectancy and healthy life expectancy, which we know are already falling in some parts of the country, and among some groups of people?

The reasons for health inequalities are complex, but obviously we encourage people to make the lifestyle changes that enable everyone to live longer. I simply do not accept that the direct causality that the hon. Lady has outlined is as clear as that. We will focus on programmes that help people to lead healthier lives with better diets; that tackle tobacco control; and that prevent diabetes.

As it is the most deprived children who are most overweight, will the Minister call on Kellogg’s to follow the example of Nestlé and put traffic light colours on all its products so that people can make healthier choices?

My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. Clearly the more we can do to educate people to make informed choices to improve their diet, the better. He is absolutely right: poor health among children used to be indicated by being underweight, but now being overweight is very much an indicator. I congratulate any food manufacturer that is taking action to address the problem.

The Minister and the ministerial team know that many working class people do not have good access to GPs, and that GPs treat them differently from more middle class people, as demonstrated by the number of people from poorer backgrounds with atrial fibrillation who are wrongly diagnosed. If they are diagnosed with an irregular heartbeat or pulse, they are given the wrong drugs. That happens to many ordinary people in this country: there are still all these wonderful GPs prescribing aspirin that will do no good at all. What is going on with GPs and poorer people?

Our NHS is full of people who are doing their best to deliver the best possible care for all their patients. It is important that GPs and any health practitioners consider the holistic needs of all their patients—

Scotland has the lowest life expectancies of all parts of the United Kingdom, with the figures falling for the first time in 35 years. The average life expectancy in 2017 was 77 years for men and 81.1 for women, compared with 79.2 for men and 82.9 for women in the rest of the UK. What can my hon. Friend do to support the devolved Administration to ensure that Scotland is not left behind the rest of the United Kingdom?

My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to that. I am always very keen to work with the devolved nations to both learn from what they do well and to share our expertise and experience where we are doing better, and I hope we will all co-operate to do exactly that.

Initiating breastfeeding at birth can help reduce to health inequalities. Due to the actions of the Scottish Government, breastfeeding rates in Scotland are at a record high, whereas in England they are falling back dramatically because of local cuts. What will the Minister do to increase breastfeeding rates in England?

I commend the hon. Lady for her leadership on the issue, and she is right that this is one of the most significant public health interventions we can make at the earliest point in life. I will happily line up with her to do more to champion breastfeeding, and there is certainly a lot further to go, not least in ensuring that society is more tolerant of the practice and that women really do enjoy their right to breastfeed.