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Health Inequalities: Life Expectancy

Volume 657: debated on Tuesday 26 March 2019

3. What assessment he has made of the effect on life expectancy projections of health inequalities; and if he will make a statement. (910024)

The latest work from the Office for National Statistics shows that life expectancy is projected to increase, but none the less there are inequalities within those figures. That is why we are taking action to reduce smoking, prevent cardiovascular disease and diabetes, improve cancer outcomes and, of course, tackle childhood obesity. I can also add that reducing health inequalities is an important component of our NHS long-term plan. All local health systems will be expected to set out how they will specifically reduce health inequalities by 2023-24.

Sir Michael Marmot, the world-recognised authority on public health, has warned that the country has, since 2010, stalled in the task of improving the life expectancy of our population. There are already wide inequalities. For example, a Gateshead man can expect to have 57 years of life in good health, compared to the England average of 63.4 years; and a Gateshead woman can expect to have an average of 59.1 years in good health, compared to the England average of 64.1 years. What is the Minister doing to redress those real inequalities?

As I mentioned, the NHS long-term plan will be asking local health systems to specifically address this issue. Certainly, there are particular trends that I personally want to address. They are the real inequalities that affect people with learning disabilities, which are worse than the figures the hon. Lady mentions. We also see that the outcomes she refers to can be laid at the door of a slowdown of heart disease and stroke mortality improvements, so we really need to focus our interventions there. We are also seeing an increase in the fall in life expectancy due to alcohol misuse.

Medway has some of the highest health inequalities in the country. As the Minister rightly says, high inequalities are linked to a greater chance of a stroke. Despite that, the sustainability and transformation partnership and the clinical commissioning group decided to put an acute stroke service in Dartford, which is very close to London and is served by King’s College London. The criteria was not followed correctly. The matter is now with the Secretary of State to review. Can the Minister assure me that the criteria will be re-looked at to ensure that justice is done?

My hon. Friend will know that this has to be reviewed independently, but the Secretary of State does have duties to consider inequalities in all his work.

I, too, wish to pay tribute to the hon. Member for Winchester (Steve Brine), who I sparred with many times in Westminster Hall. We might not have agreed on how to go about it, but he was clearly passionate about improving health.

The Secretary of State’s vision for NHS England includes video links to GPs, diagnostic phone apps and healthy people undergoing gene tests for a few hundred pounds. Considering his own experience of such a gene test, does he not recognise that this just increases access for the well-off, will drive demand in the system and will actually widen health inequalities?

I do not accept that at all. Apart from anything else, we are seeing younger generations be more technologically savvy. We are taking advantage of that technological innovation to spread good health prevention and to help people look after themselves.

I beg the hon. Lady’s pardon; I thought she wanted two questions on this. Maybe I was misinformed. Very well—she can have another question later.