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Health: Global Health

Volume 765: debated on Monday 26 October 2015

Question

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their assessment of the report The UK’s Contribution to Health Globally, published by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Global Health in June.

My Lords, I congratulate the all-party parliamentary group on producing its report. The Government are determined to maintain Britain’s strong global role and welcome the report’s suggestions as to where we can continue to play a leading role in health globally. The United Nation’s sustainable development goals provide added incentive to look critically at where we can add maximum value in improving health systems overseas.

I thank the Minister for that very encouraging reply. The UK is a world leader in health. This report, produced by researchers from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, shows that we have extraordinary strength in research, education, commerce, development, the NHS and the NGO sector. Given that, does the Minister agree that it is time for the UK to develop a new global health strategy to use that all-round strength to help to improve health globally—but, at the same time, to strengthen the UK’s health, science and technology base? More specifically, does the Minister agree that the UK’s medical, nursing and healthcare schools could be supported to play an even larger role in training health workers in low and middle-income countries?

My Lords, I agree with all the sentiments that the noble Lord mentioned—and, perhaps, one other, which is that in a number of other pioneering areas, such as genomics, dementia and antimicrobial resistance, the UK is very much at the forefront. The Government are following up the “Health is global” strategy that was initiated back in 2008 and will be reporting back in detail in 2016. I assure the noble Lord that we will take fully into account the findings of the all-party parliamentary group.

My Lords, does the Minister think it would be wise for us still to be learning from other countries, instead of learning only globally? For example, we have an appalling record on pancreatic cancer compared with many other countries. Is it not time for us to improve those things, and then we will be better able again to help others?

I agree with the noble Baroness that there is always plenty that we can learn from other countries. She cited one example, and I am sure there are many others. There is never any room for complacency. Other parts of the world are also making huge advances. One of the findings of the all-party parliamentary group’s report is that we face increasing competition not just from countries such as America, but from South Korea and Singapore, for example. The noble Baroness is right: we must always learn from others.

My Lords, the report is abundantly clear that the UK gains enormously from its work in other countries but it is also clear that, taking the point of the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, many of our universities are very inhibited in recruiting the overseas talent that reinforces the UK as a global leader because of Home Office policies restricting entry to work in our universities and other institutions. One of the report’s recommendations is that the Home Office review immigration policy in this area. Can the Minister confirm that his department is urging the Home Office to get on with it?

I understand that the Home Office is in the middle of this review and is due to report back later this year or early in 2016. It is also worth noting that this important report said we are No. 2 in attracting overseas students to come to England to train as doctors. I think America is No. 1.

My Lords, the life sciences are indeed an area in which the United Kingdom leads, as we have just heard. Will this Government be continuing the previous Government’s work in underpinning that lead through long-term investment? In particular, can the Minister assure me that the Newton Fund, which links research scientists in the United Kingdom with those in developing countries, will not be scaled back?

I can assure the noble Baroness that this Government are fully committed to supporting our life sciences industry. I will look into her specific question on the Newton Fund and write to her directly.

Following on from the Question from the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, does the Minister agree that, given the predicted growth of about 15% in the healthcare needs of countries such as India and China, we have a great opportunity not only to promote education but to develop health expertise? Does he agree that we need to have a stronger relationship with these countries in health?

I completely agree with the noble Lord. According to the report, health spending is likely to increase by 8% per annum in Asia for the foreseeable future and by some 5% in the rest of the world. This is a huge opportunity. The NHS is arguably the best-value healthcare system in the world, and the many lessons we have learnt since 1948 will be valuable when we go overseas.

Does the noble Lord agree that as part of carrying forward the excellent report to which the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, has referred, it is essential to take into account the lessons learnt from the Ebola episode in Sierra Leone, and to ensure that the World Health Organization has adequate resources to give muscle to its work, and to co-ordinate the work of other departments and aspects of government that are essential in preparing for such epidemics?

The Ebola crisis was indeed a wake-up call. There is no doubt that the leading role we play in the WHO is hugely important, so I agree fully with the noble Lord. The work we are doing on antimicrobial resistance is another example of the very important role the WHO can play, as does our Chief Medical Officer, Sally Davies.

My Lords, I declare my interest as chair of University College London Partners and an officer of the all-party group. This report identifies that our country is No. 1 among the G7 nations in terms of the impact of its medical research, as judged by citation impact. How do Her Majesty’s Government propose to ensure that the NHS continues to develop the foundation for that medical research impact?

The noble Lord raises an interesting point. Not only are there more citations of research conducted in Britain, but we co-operate with other countries far more than any other country. We also have in the BMJ, the Lancet and Nature the three leading medical and science magazines. The Government are determined to maintain Britain’s position as one of the leading medical research and life sciences nations in the world, and will carry on supporting that industry.