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Regional Health Inequalities

Volume 712: debated on Tuesday 19 April 2022

I am determined to tackle unfair disparities in health outcomes. That is why I launched the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities. OHID’s regional directors of public health will work with local government and the wider health system to empower local partners with the tools they need to respond to disparities in their regional and local areas. We will also publish a health disparities White Paper later this year, with a strong focus on prevention, to improve health for the whole population.

I thank the Secretary of State for his answer, but a decade of under-investment and mismanagement have left 4.5 million people on waiting lists and staff shortages of more than 100,000 people even before we entered the pandemic, which exacerbated health inequalities. I welcome the work his Department is doing, but the reality is that people who live in a constituency such as mine are twice as likely to end up on a waiting list for treatment for more than a year as those in better-off areas. While I welcome what he has announced today, may I ask that he puts in appropriate investment to go along with tackling those appalling health inequalities?

The hon. Lady is right to talk about the importance of tackling health inequalities; on that we absolutely agree, and I hope she will contribute to the health disparities White Paper that I mentioned a moment ago. However, it is wrong of her to suggest that some of the current challenges we face are because of under-investment or because of a smaller workforce than otherwise. We have the largest investment ever going into the NHS. Its budget this year is bigger than the GDP of Greece. It is the highest amount ever, rising by billions each year. We also have more going to social care than ever before, and the highest level of workforce that the NHS has ever seen in its history.

Surely one of the cruellest health inequalities is in fertility treatment. Of the 106 CCGs in the country, only six limit the age at which women can have in vitro fertilisation treatment to 35, and two of those are in Hampshire. Will the Secretary of State meet me to discuss how we can end that most devastating of postcode lotteries?

My hon. Friend is right, and of course I will be happy to meet her and discuss this further, but I can also tell her that that is one of the key things we will be covering in our upcoming women’s health strategy.

Warm words from the Secretary of State, but people in the most deprived parts of England are almost three times as likely to lose their lives from an avoidable cause as those in the least deprived areas. With the cost of living soaring and the Resolution Foundation estimating that 1.3 million people will be pushed into poverty as a result of the Chancellor’s spring statement, those inequalities will worsen. Why will the Secretary of State not just admit that his Government have failed the poorest communities, and start doing something about it?

The hon. Gentleman acts as though health inequalities are something that has just emerged under this Government. There have been long-running health inequalities in this country over decades under successive Governments, and this Government are putting in record investment and coming up with the ideas to deal with them. As ever, the Labour party has no idea how to deal with the challenges this country faces.

Mental health is a serious challenge of our time. It is totally unacceptable that waiting times, average number of sessions and minimum number of sessions differ according to which part of the country someone lives in. Sadly, recent statistics show that in Stoke-on-Trent people are taking their own lives at double the national average. That is why I am proud to support the cross-party “No Time to Wait” campaign, led by James Starkie with the backing of The Daily Telegraph and the Royal College of Nursing, for the provision of mental health nurses in GP surgeries, which could make a real difference to those who bravely come forward asking for help. Will my right hon. Friend meet me, hon. Members of this House who are supportive, and James to discuss how we can make that possible?

Yes, of course; I would be delighted to meet my hon. Friend and others to discuss the campaign. He speaks with passion and I know this is something he has long campaigned on. I have had time to look at some of the content of the campaign, but I would certainly be happy to discuss it further.