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Berger Acts

From protecting children from cigarette smoke to highlighting food bank use, Luciana Berger has already made an impact in the Commons....

 

Words: Paul Waugh

Photos: Paul Heartfield 

 

 

Luciana Berger is angry. From Government policy on food banks to delays on protecting children from smoking, the Shadow Public Health Minister says she has plenty to be annoyed about.

“I do get very angry and very passionate sitting in the Chamber because I often think I’m sitting in a parallel universe,” she says, adding how few women, minority ethnic, disabled and younger MPs there are.

But although a certain fiery temperament may run in her family, she has not quite yet emulated her great uncle, Manny Shinwell. The Labour MP was the last parliamentarian to actually throw a punch in the Chamber, she says. During a heated debate on Government foreign policy in 1938, Tory MP Robert Tatton Bower felt Shinwell’s ire after reportedly telling him to “go back to Poland”.

Shinwell was just 38 when he entered the Commons in the 1922 general election but Berger was even younger, 29, when she was elected to the safe seat of Liverpool Wavertree in 2010.

Since then, she’s risen rapidly through the ranks, first as Shadow Minister for Climate Change and then to her current post last autumn. Public health is a huge brief (Anna Soubry recently told The House that her MoD job was less “demanding” than her health post), taking in everything from health inequalities to smoking, drugs, diet, blood transfusions and mental health.

Her most recent policy success was the vote to ban smoking in cars carrying children, a move that prompted lots of letters from youngsters, including some in the shape of gingerbread men. “I’ve been touched by the number of children that have written to say ‘thank you, because I didn’t have a voice before’,” she explains. “In terms of the things I’m doing, my focus has been very much on protecting children: children don’t always have a choice.” As for the vote, she stresses that it was a “great example” of Labour colleagues in the Commons and Lords working closely together. “I couldn’t have done it by myself.”

Berger is cautious about claiming victory too soon, however, not least because the minister Jane Ellison has yet to commit fully to the changes. “I had a letter from Jane which was a little bit wishy-washy on whether they are actually going to follow through. It wasn’t definitive or categoric that they were definitely going to bring forward the secondary legislation on banning smoking in cars with children before 2015.”

Liverpool, she points out, is “the lung cancer capital of Europe”. The Roy Castle Lung Foundation is based in her constituency and has made progress with its ‘Fag Ends’ smoking cessation schemes.

Berger herself is a reformed smoker, having given up when elected. “I had a brief relapse because of the stress of the new job,” she says, explaining how a long-lens photographer snapped her with a cigarette in the Commons smoking area.

Her own addiction ended thanks to a Nicorette Inhalator, but she’s keen to tackle the new hot topic of e-cigarettes. “Some in the public health community are ardently against them, I don’t take that view but I do seek to ensure that they are licensed in a way that you know what’s inside them. They should be regulated in the same way as other nicotine replacement therapies are. No one knows what’s inside their e-cigarettes.” Again, she’s also worried about the impact on under-18s.

Berger’s new campaign highlighting ‘advergames’, online games that get children hooked on junk food, stemmed from research by the University of Liverpool that parents were complaining about the phenomenon.

On the wider issue of healthy eating, Andy Burnham said last month that Labour “are putting forward a very firm proposal to regulate for maximum levels of salt, fat, sugar, particularly in children’s food”. With the estimated cost of obesity to the NHS a huge £45bn by 2050, Berger says “Andy has been very resolute on that and we are committed to this area”, but is careful to point out the policy is still out for consultation. “I’m not going to tell you today what we are definitely going to do because we have to have that conversation internally, we have to work across different teams. Although it is a health lead, it impacts on different shadow departments.”

Berger says that the Coalition’s attempt to use ‘Responsibility Deals’ with the food industry “is not working”. “It’s voluntary, they are opt-in, it’s piecemeal, there’s no collation of the outcomes, we know that 41 organisations have dropped out.”

Labour managed to reduce salt levels by 15% because it got all businesses ‘round the table’, but the current policy lacks buy-in from all parties.  “Informally lots of businesses say very quietly to me, there’s no obligation on us to do anything, and unless there is a level playing field we are not going to do it.”

The Alcohol Responsibility Deal is under threat too, she says. “I was informed, again informally, by a supermarket who had gone out of its way to remove the bargain booze from its front porch last summer, now they are allowing stores to reintroduce it because their competitors didn’t follow suit”.

It doesn’t always mean a Labour government would introduce new laws, but in some cases it might. “In the example of salt, there wasn’t legislation on salt but we managed to achieve it. For some things you do have to regulate. The approach at the moment is pretty weak and pathetic.” 

On saturated fat too, the Government is failing, she says. In October, it pledged that “more than one and a half Olympic size swimming pools of saturated fat will be removed from the nation’s diet over the next year”. Yet in 2011, the nation ate 120 million more boxes, bags and bars of sweets and chocolate than in the previous year.

Has she herself become more healthy since she took up the job? “Yes. I’m exercising more now. I was pretty active before but I’m even more conscious of it as a result of the things I’ve learned.” She doesn’t use the Commons gym – “I just don’t think MPs working out together is for me” – but runs in her local park and has gone back to playing netball (she’s Goal Attack).

 

 

Berger is also keenly aware that as some of the population are getting more obese, others are actually so short of funds that they rely increasingly on food banks to eat. Back in 2012, she made a film about them, titled Breadline Britain, and held a debate in Parliament on the plight of those dependent on food aid.

She’s scathing about the DWP’s claims that benefit delays aren’t to blame for the rise in food bank use, pointing out that 16 working days is a long time for claimants to survive without support. “The fact that we have so many food banks in our country and over half a million people will this year have access to emergency food aid, that’s a national disgrace. I’m ashamed to live in the 7th richest nation on the planet which has so many people having to go to food banks.”

She stresses “I applaud those volunteers” who run them but “they shouldn’t need to exist”. “I’ve never met anyone who walks into a food bank with their head held high.” As an MP she can issue food vouchers but says “it’s always a struggle to even broach the subject because people are so proud”. It’s not just benefit claimants or those struggling with crisis loan delays who turn up, it’s also people in ‘precarious employment’, she says.

One bright spot, however, is the generosity of people in Liverpool Wavertree. Tesco holds twice-yearly food collections in conjunction with the Trussell Trust and FairShare. Berger says: “I’m proud of the fact that a store in my constituency collected the most of any in the country. Some people donated a whole trolley of food. But when you speak to them, they say ‘well, that could be me next month’.”

Mental health is another area where she draws on her local experience and again Liverpool’s ‘league table’ position features. Warning that the Coalition has failed to deliver on ‘parity of esteem’ for funding, she says: “In Liverpool we have the second highest level of prevalence of mental health illness and we are 30th in the country in terms of how much my Clinical Commissioning Group spends on it.”

Even before getting a shadow front bench post, Berger decided early on in the Parliament that she wanted to make an impact, despite being in Opposition. Like Stella Creasy, she says “I wanted to make a change, not just make speeches”. As well as being among the first to raise the issue of food banks, she has lobbied “quietly behind the scenes” for the meningitis B vaccine to be made free for all children. This week, the Department of Health is expected to confirm it will reverse a decision not to introduce the jab, a move that could save 800 children’s lives a year.

But she admits that on first arriving, it took some time to realise that she couldn’t do everything. One particular area that sparked criticism was her support for an EDM backing homeopathy on the NHS. Given her current post and her enthusiasm for evidence-based policy, does she now regret that? “I’ve had a chance to look at the evidence now and so if I was presented with those EDMs today I wouldn’t have signed them. I think I signed them within a month of getting into Parliament. I signed loads and quickly learned EDMs are put in front of your nose and colleagues ask you to sign something. Of course we are always responsible for what we sign, but you might not have been as astute as you should have been when you first enter Parliament. Having had the opportunity to look at the evidence I’m fully aware now, in terms of the impact, it’s a placebo effect, if that.” She adds: “There’s a lot of things we learn when you come to Parliament, it’s pretty daunting when you first come here.”

Effecting change was something her great uncle Manny Shinwell was similarly determined about, serving under Attlee as Minister for Fuel and then Secretary of State for War. She was only four when he died aged 101 in 1986, but his memory left a deep impression. “I’m inspired by him because I go past his bust most days – it’s just by the stairs that go down to the dining area. He was an incredible orator, massively influenced by his skills to encourage and engage with people.”

According to family legend, Shinwell had to help his father make ends meet by selling buckets and spades on the beach in South Shields, at the age of eight. It left a surprising legacy. “He hated selling, so much so that when it came to electioneering he could never canvass on the doorstep because he didn’t think that he could ask people to vote for him,” she says. “It’s not an option today not to engage on the doorstep. So I deliberately do it every week and during the election campaign knocked on over 10,000 doors.”

Given her own lineage within the party, what does she think of Liz Truss’s attack on Labour’s tradition of getting seats for children and grandchildren of MPs? If Stephen Kinnock and Will Straw are ‘Red Princes’, is she a ‘Red Princess’? Berger has a ready answer. “It’s not unusual for children to want to follow in the footsteps of their parents, or look to their family for inspiration,” she says. “I don’t see that as a problem. It’s about how we encourage all people from different backgrounds into the Houses of Parliament, not just the small group who happen to grow up in Labour families. I’ve got lots of friends who are teachers, whose parents were teachers, my mum went into the family business selling fabrics. It’s what people tend to gravitate towards. I want to see how we can open it up.

“We need a Chamber that better represents the British public. When you stumble across the Parliament channel, what do you see there in terms of gender, minority ethnic background, age, disability?”

As it happens, her favoured role model is in fact Barbara Castle, another Labour woman who improved car safety. “As well as the Equal Pay Act in 1970, she introduced breathalyser and she introduced the seatbelt law, which is particularly relevant in the discussions about smoking in cars with kids.”

And there’s one final Castle quote she most likes citing. “She famously said ‘guts is all’ – and that’s true.”   

 

 

 

Dialogue: Should taxpayers fund homeopathy?

Every issue two Parliamentarians email each other with different ideas on a particular subject. This week David Tredinnick and Lord Wi...

 

 

From: David Tredinnick
Sent: 06 March 2014 12:05

Dear Phil,

As someone who has successfully used homeopathy for a range of ailments over the years, I believe it is a safe, effective and cheap treatment that can help with many conditions that orthodox medicine finds difficult to treat. It is used by millions of people worldwide and UK homeopathic doctors are regulated by Act of Parliament.

Whilst the NHS often faces criticism about standards of patient care, the three NHS hospitals that use homeopathy, as part of an integrated, patient centred approach to healthcare, consistently receive high patient satisfaction feedback. Clinicians working at these hospitals are highly skilled, and integrate homeopathy into their practice because they see first-hand how it helps patients suffering from a range of acute and chronic conditions.

The now out of date Science and Technology Select Committee Report in 2010 had the unintentional consequence of strengthening a growing homeopathy research base, which I welcome. Opponents choose to ignore the experience of patients and clinicians, and instead focus on the mechanism behind homeopathy, saying it is implausible and with no supporting evidence.

Homeopathy has a role to play in maintaining and improving the nation’s health, and to exclude it would be to the detriment of patient choice and patient care.

Yours ever,

David

 

From: Lord Willis
Sent: 10 March 2014 23:46

Dear David

Before you can describe a treatment as effective, it’s necessary to demonstrate that it is more efficacious than just placebo. This cannot be done by mere assertion, by your own personal testimony, or by saying that millions of people use it.

You talk about conditions that “orthodox medicine [I assume you mean medicine that has, or actively seeks, good evidence of efficacy] finds it difficult to treat”. These are either self-limiting (because the immune system works) like the common cold, or are too serious for fake medicine, like homeopathy, to have any legitimate role.

You cannot base the effectiveness of medicines (or even of clinicians) on the patient satisfaction surveys. Harold Shipman’s surviving patients were very satisfied.

The conclusions of the 2010 S&T Select Committee Report remain sound – there’s still no good evidence of efficacy of homeopathy beyond as a placebo.

But on the subject of “out of date”, in the whole history of homeopathy, which treatments have, ever, been abandoned by homeopathic industry – on the basis of lack of efficacy? This happens regularly in so-called orthodox medicine.

But I do agree that homeopathic treatments are in themselves safe. Unless, of course, you’re allergic to a sugar pill.

Yours,

Phil

 

From: David Tredinnick
Sent: 13 March 2014 12:44

Dear Phil

It is all too easy to dismiss patient experiences and focus on the perceived lack of evidence, citing the placebo effect to explain something that science has yet to understand. I had a message from a lady last year saying “first I thought homeopathy was rubbish – how could a substance so dilute have any power whatsoever, but my mother has cataracts and she took a remedy for such a condition...there was definitely an improvement”.

There is also a recent study, EPI-3, which looks at the integration of homeopathy into general practice in France, which found that patients who attended homeopathic GPs had similar outcomes but were prescribed about half the number of non-steroidal drugs compared to conventional  GP practices. Good evidence is about real world evidence.

The evidence base for homeopathy needs to be strengthened, and is not conclusive, but neither is it as weak as you claim. Homeopathy is far from being alone in this respect. In its evidence check of 3,000 medical interventions the British Medical Journal found 50% to have “unknown effectiveness”.

Those without knowledge, training or experience of homeopathy dismiss it, whereas patients and doctors who have used it report positive results. I know who I prefer to listen to.

Yours ever

David

 

From: Lord Willis
Sent: 15 March 2014 19:20

Dear David

It is disappointing that you just repeated your assertion that homeopathy works “because a lady you met said so”.

In no other area of life that really matters (from school performance to nuclear safety) do we accept assertion or anecdote as sufficient to invest public resources or the welfare of patients. Please answer this question. Plenty of homeopaths recommend homeopathic remedies for vaccination. Would you?

Ironically, your report about France points up that there is over-prescribing of anti-inflammatory drugs in general practice in situations where they are no more effective than placebo, not that homeopathy works!

The suggestion that there is inadequate evidence backing up the use of “some” medicines is true. But it is “all” in homeopathy. And it spurs genuine medical science into seeking evidence or discontinuing the use of such drugs. I ask again – which remedies have ever been abandoned in homeopathy for lack of evidence of effectiveness?

The NHS is desperately cash constrained. It cannot justify spending resources on treatments that are established to be no more active and no more effective than a sugar pill. Worse still, some patients with serious conditions needing proper treatment may be duped into thinking they are being treated by homeopathy.

Yours

Phil

 

From: David Tredinnick
Sent: 18 March 2014 12:34

Dear Phil,

My assertion is that when patients gain benefit from something then that intervention should not be dismissed. Good healthcare is based on patient experience and patient empowerment. Fortunately we now live in an environment where patients are at the centre of the NHS.

Homeopathic remedies are made specifically to treat individual patients, so it reinforces the lack of understanding of homeopathy to ask about remedies being abandoned in the same way that pharmaceutical drugs may be.

Homeopathy elicits fear amongst sceptics because they seek to protect their own interests and destroy what they don’t understand. MPs have been harassed and homeopaths victimised. Homeopathy is a cheap treatment option and actually reduces the drugs bill with GPs who use it.

The Select Committee Report in the last Parliament was neither balanced nor objective. The fact that only three Members approved the final Report, I think, speaks volumes about its validity then and now. In the real world homeopathy works for patients who use it. Ultimately, that is far more important than what either you or I believe.

Yours ever,

David

 

From: Lord Willis
Sent: 18 March 2014 17:45

Dear David,

Your continued refusal to answer the most basic of questions about the efficacy of homeopathy confirms the blunt view of Professor Dame Sally Davis, the Chief Medical Officer of Health for England, that homeopathy is simply “rubbish”. A view endorsed by the former Chief Scientist Sir John Beddington and shared by virtually the whole of the medical and scientific community.

I endorse strongly the move to put ‘patients at the centre of the NHS’ but allowing some 200 GP led Clinical Commissioning Groups to decide which treatments should be funded must not be seen as a green light to abandon common sense and proven rules of efficacy.

Fortunately homeopathy appears to be on the wane with an eightfold drop in GP prescribing between 2000 and 2010. The closure of Tunbridge Wells (2008) and Royal London (2010) homeopathic hospitals now leaves just one facility in England at South Bristol Community Hospital and even here referrals have rapidly diminished over the past four years.

Homeopathy may be a cheap option for the NHS but denying patients access to proven treatments whilst feeding others water and sugar pills is hardly a vision of a modern NHS I want for my family or indeed yours!

Yours,

Phil 

 

David Tredinnick is the Conservative MP for Bosworth and a Member of the Health Select Committee

Lord Willis of Knaresborough is a Lib Dem Peer and a Member of the Lords Science Committee

 

 

 

The doctor will see you now

Health minister Dr. Dan Poulter has first hand experience of the NHS front line. He talks to Tony Grew about priorities, putting patie...

 

Words: Tony Grew

Photos: Paul Heartfield 

 

 

Dan Poulter can’t remember exactly how many babies he has delivered – “many, many” – but like every doctor he can remember the first one. “I was a fourth year medical student and it was at Sidcup hospital.”

Poulter is someone who likes to keep busy. He still manages to practice medicine – for free – fitting it round his duties as MP for North Ipswich and Central Suffolk and junior health minister. “Most weeks I get out and manage to do an ante-natal clinic. It keeps me in touch with what my colleagues are saying and with what the health service is thinking,” he says.

This is a distinct advantage – it would be seen as a political stunt if the schools minister taught in schools every week or if the armed forces minister spent a day a week in Afghanistan.

But Poulter insists he doesn’t have an advantage over other ministers.

“It’s a bit like the General Medical Council – it has a lot of laypeople on board and it is important to bring a wider perspective to the health service. We are all patients; we all have friends or relatives who have been treated by the health service.

“People bring to any job in government experience and important perceptions, and use those. It is also just as good to have somebody to come in who is less close to it as well. From my own perspective, I feel it has hugely benefited me in what I do as a minister – medicine gives you a great feel for a lot of things that happen outside the Palace of Westminster.

“As a doctor you see everything from maternity care to the impact of domestic violence to drug and alcohol misuse. It gives you a real understanding of a lot of areas of government policy, what the consequences of those can be and how to help some of the most vulnerable people.”

The Government’s NHS reforms, so controversial that the legislation was “paused” in the Lords, have now come into force. In England, more than 200 clinical commissioning groups have been established, giving GPs and other clinicians the power over commissioning decisions.

There has been a parallel change in the Department of Health. Secretary of State Jeremy Hunt emphasises he is a ‘patients’ champion’ rather than the person with political responsibility for the health service.

“The previous government sometimes lost sight of that fact and focused too much on championing the institution of the NHS and saying because it is the NHS it is always going to be right,” says Poulter.

“99% of the time it is always right, but 1% of the time in the past it has let down patients. You have to learn the lessons and make sure it is always about putting patients at the centre, and that is the big change there has been.”

Poulter sees the department’s role now as “the steward of the healthcare system”.

“We are there to make sure that patients’ interests are always first and foremost and that we set the direction of travel in delivering compassionate care, and dignity in the care of the elderly. We set the priorities on the big areas where we need to focus attention: giving every child the best start in life, providing greater support and helping people to age well and be cared for with dignity in their own homes and communities.

“We have got demographic pressure on the health service as people live longer with medical conditions such as heart disease, dementia, and diabetes. We need to transform the way we deliver services to make sure those people are better looked after at home and in the community – that is the direction of travel.

“The other key role is to make sure we help the health system to be as efficient as possible, to make sure as much money goes on frontline patient care as possible. Every year we are saving £1.5bn just through stripping out some of the bureaucratic layers that were there, that did not have much to do with patient care but were almost process layers passing paper up and down the system. £22bn a year is spent on common goods and services procured by hospitals. Clinical leadership in the NHS is going to be crucial to delivering that because we need to make sure that doctors and nurses are engaged in working out which hip replacement, for example, is the best hip replacement – not just in terms of value for money but in terms of what will serve patients the best.”

Poulter is clearly regarded as something of an asset by the Prime Minister.

He is undoubtedly a ‘new’ Tory – the ‘About Dan’ section of his website features a photo of him posing with David Cameron. It is a deeply metrosexual image, both men wearing a well-cut jacket but no tie, Poulter with several buttons undone, showing a lot more chest than his party leader.

That is not the sort of look favoured by the party’s old guard. While Poulter is coy when the term ‘heartthrob MP’ is put to him – “I am sure that’s not true” – he is aware of his physicality.

“I try to go to the parliamentary gym when I have time,” he explains. “I am not really built for running – I am about seventeen and a half stone." 

 He plays rugby but recently injured his knee running through Parliament for a media interview.

“I will be back in training again properly next season. I did a little bit of golf when I was a teenager so I am trying to get back into that. It’s a more sustainable sport. I tend to do quite a lot of charity runs in the constituency and generally most things sporty – I will give it a go.”

The Prime Minister is a Poulter fan, and the bromance is clearly reciprocated.

“David Cameron was the reason I became an MP in the first place,” he explains. “I was working on the south coast at the time and just after he became leader he came down to visit a drug and alcohol homelessness project I was involved with, giving up some of my free time outside my medical work and studies.

“I was very impressed with him and he really got it. He had a genuine compassion and understanding for some very vulnerable people that were there. That was what got me into politics in the first place, I have always been a great fan and supporter of his as Conservative Party leader and now as Prime Minister.”

In 2012 Cameron summoned the young doctor to Downing Street to offer him a job in person, a day he describes as “surreal”.

“I was asked to go and meet the Prime Minister and he sat me down and we talked a bit about sport and the Olympics, because he is very passionate about sport and it is something I am very interested in. Then after about five minutes we talked about the health service and he asked me to join the Government, which was a huge privilege and an honour.” 

  

 

Poulter had some experience of politics in his teenage years – “my mother had from time to time worked for MPs, so that cultivated a natural instinct and interest” – but at university he was “much more interested in playing rugby and studying medicine and doing the normal sort of things young people do”.

He initially read law at Bristol, but followed a different path, switching to medicine at Guys and St Thomas’.

“At school my science was not very strong,” he explains. “I went off to Bristol where I was living with a medic who is now an Army medic now and we talked a lot about medicine and I realised that was something I was more interested in than the law.”

Poulter, as a “steward” of the NHS, sees his role as getting it to listen to patients.

“NHS care is not just about good outcomes. It is about delivering good experience of care. We have what is called a friends and family test which is in place, a test that asks people routinely how they rate the quality of their care and there is a free text box for them to feed back.

“That is then fed back to hospitals. It is important to recognise that sometimes very small things can make a patient’s experience so much better. Just slightly changing the time that a drugs round is done or where certain things are placed in a ward, just to make it easier for accessing the toilet or whatever it may be. We need to recognise that sometimes we do get it wrong. There are some hospitals up and down the land that have perhaps one particular ward that does not get it right, that is what the friends and family test is all about. It is now very much about the patient and championing patients.”

The most heinous recent example of patients not being put first was the scandalous case of Mid Staffs.

“From looking at the Francis Inquiry and the report and my own experiences of working in some hospitals myself, there was an obsession, and the direction of travel was set by the previous government in Whitehall, about targets and the target culture and financial targets that were not necessarily linked with patient care.

“When targets come first, patient care is secondary. That is what happened at Mid Staffs and that tone is set in a hospital by very senior management and permeates its way down.

“Yes, we have to have financial discipline, but meeting targets does not always mean you are delivering good patient care. Targets are a crude measure to drive up standards and they can do that, but what matters is you support frontline staff in delivering high quality care and it is all about compassion and looking after patients.”

Poulter accuses Labour of being “in denial about what happened when they were in government”.

“Not just on things like Mid Staffs, but also the fact that Andy Burnham did the most, probably of any Secretary of State, to introduce the private sector into the health service, and now pretends he never did that. The Labour Party in government paid the private sector 11% more than the NHS for performing the same services. That is something that tends to be completely forgotten. What I find very strange is that he will at some point in the future have ambitions to be a Secretary of State again.

“I cannot see him being a credible Secretary of State for Health given the track record of patient care. If in politics you are going to change your mind you have to coherently explain why. That is something Labour has failed to do.”

Poulter adds that private sector providers under the previous government weren’t integrated into the NHS.

“If someone had a knee operation or another procedure done, then the NHS sees those people as part of an integrated, joined up health system, but the previous government’s approach was to see them in isolation just of that operation. That was a very fragmented approach to care. The approach would have been very good for the private sector but not for patient care.”

Poulter recently appeared in the Commons looking as if he had been scalped – had the teetotal MP fallen victim to a rugby-related prank?

“It was a local barber I went to in Suffolk – there was a slight mishap!” he explains. “And then I had to go a lot shorter in order to recover the situation but it has now recovered.”

Poulter has never touched alcohol and describes himself as “fairly boring and clean-living”.

“When I was a lot younger I was at a college party and one of my friends had a drink and drug cocktail and choked on their own vomit and ended up having to be resuscitated. Their short-term memory was affected afterwards. That is something that stayed with me ever since and really put me off.

“Then as you go through medicine and you are at King’s College Hospital on a placement and there on the liver ward you see end-stage liver failure, and also in A&E, people vomiting up their whole blood volume because of damage done to the liver through alcohol. I am quite comfortable not drinking and once you get into the habit of not drinking and you resist the peer pressure that comes from being a medical student and a rugby player then you get used to it. I am probably addicted to Diet Coke.”

The Prime Minister’s favourite obstetrician, while keen to stress he is willing to transfer his skills across government as required, has a good grasp of what the Tories need to offer in their manifesto on the NHS.

“A strong focus on the patient, recognising that if we are going to deliver better patient care there are still challenges. For example, bad things still happen to patients at weekends and in the evenings. How can we encourage the NHS to be more of a seven day service? That is something we want to see more of, encouraging patients to have more power and control over their healthcare.”

He adds: “If we love our health service and we care about it, then we need to recognise where care can be better, tackle those failings and use that to improve care.” 

 

 

 

 

 

Stephen O'Brien and Fiona O'Donnell: An end to malaria?

Global efforts to reduce malaria have saved the lives of more than three million children since 2000. But we must keep up the momentum...

 

Malaria is the oldest disease known to mankind which today needlessly claims the life of a child every minute. It is a tragedy that in the 21st Century children are dying and economies are constrained by this preventable, curable disease that costs less than a cup of coffee to treat. We can be the generation to end malaria if we continue to build strong global partnerships, and sustain UK cross party support.

The UK has shown tremendous leadership in the malaria campaign and the cause has become a top UK international development priority. Malaria is a shining example of how UK aid can make a tangible, transformational difference to the lives of millions of people. Simple, inexpensive lifesavers like mosquito nets, malaria tests, medicines and education not only prevent tragic, widespread loss of life, they also enable parents and communities to return to work and earn a living. Malaria creates a devastating cycle of poverty in Africa, limiting both household and national economic growth, and costing the continent more than an estimated £8bn each year. Conversely, as we continue to turn the tide on malaria, we help forge a path for countries to be released to fulfil their potential, becoming less dependent on international aid.

Global efforts to reduce malaria have delivered remarkable progress with child deaths halved and over three million children’s lives saved since 2000 - that’s more than the population of the entire West Midlands. The UK has played a leading role in this endeavour through both its bilateral and multilateral funding, including as a founding and leading funder of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria which brings together public and private donors and now channels over half of all international financing to fight malaria. DFID’s strategic support is currently being delivered under the 2010-2015 Malaria Framework for Results strategy, with a target of helping to at least halve deaths in at least 10 of the worst affected countries by 2015.

But malaria can surge back. We must keep up this momentum, focus and support to 2015 and beyond if we are to continue to make progress against this historic foe. Globally, the biggest threat to progress remains insufficient political and financial commitment. If international efforts are not sustained we risk rapid resurgence of the disease, which, as the graphs below show, can happen quickly when anti-malaria programmes end prematurely.

With sustained momentum, we have historic wins within our reach and the prospect of widespread country-by-country elimination of the disease. Malaria was eliminated entirely from North America and Western Europe in the 1950s and 60s and we are now on track to completely eliminate it from the rest of Europe by 2015. Countries such as Namibia, where malaria was more recently heavily prevalent are also now targeting elimination following their dramatic success in reducing cases and deaths.

We believe in this ambition, which is why we have both recently become patrons of the charity Malaria No More UK, which aims to inspire, inform and engage the UK public and policy makers about our historic humanitarian opportunity to bring an end to suffering and deaths from malaria.

To find out more you are warmly invited to pop into the “Getting Malaria?” experiential event being run by Malaria No More UK and the All Party Parliamentary Group for Malaria and NTD’s on Monday 7th April from 5.30pm in the Attlee Suite, Portcullis House. Come and see how lives are being saved and protected and have your photo taken for local and social media with a customised ‘thank you’ message, recognising UK overall and individual constituency contributions to lives saved. You can test for malaria and meet people who have come dangerously close to losing their lives to the disease. This will be particularly relevant for MP’s whose constituents travel regularly to see friends and family in Africa and Asia.  

 

Stephen O’Brien is Conservative MP for Eddisbury and a Patron of Malaria No More UK 

"As a boy growing up in Tanzania and Kenya, I was only too aware of people in our community unable to work, children too ill to make it to school, and hearing about families who had lost loved ones to Malaria. Over the years I have sought to play a part in addressing this through a number of UK malaria initiatives, from founding The All Party Parliamentary Group for Malaria and NTDs, chairing the Malaria Consortium, arguing for the UK goal of helping halve malaria deaths in ten of the worst affected countries as an International Development Minister, and now becoming a Patron of Malaria No More UK. It is inspiring to see the impact of UK aid and to know that deaths from malaria in Africa have been cut by 49% since 2000. We must build on this good evidence of success."

Fiona O’Donnell is Labour MP for East Lothian and a Patron of Malaria No More UK

"I welcomed the opportunity to become a Malaria No More UK Patron for two reasons – firstly as a mother of four I see no reason why a parent anywhere should lose their child to a disease that costs less than £5 to prevent and less than £1 to treat. Secondly, as someone who is passionate about education I want to help make sure malaria is not stopping children from fulfilling their potential. The disease is estimated to be responsible for up to half of all preventable school absenteeism in Africa and, worse still, 50% of deaths of African schoolchildren. As parliamentarians and policy makers we have an extraordinary opportunity to address this injustice and unite across parties behind the goal of ending deaths and suffering from malaria forever."

James Whiting is Malaria No More UK’s Executive Director

"At Malaria No More UK we seek to bring together politicians, companies and academic institutions pioneering new developments to fight malaria, and the public who care deeply. Since 2008 the percentage of the UK public who see malaria as a serious issue to be addressed has risen from 52% to 69%. Over the next five years, with continued UK cross party commitment and global action we could save up to two million more lives, bringing us significantly closer to our ultimate goal of ending mankind’s deadliest scourge forever, an extraordinary legacy to future generations."

 

Getting Malaria? is an experiential event being run by Malaria No More UK and the All Party Parliamentary Group for Malaria and NTD’s on Monday 7th April from 5.30pm in the Attlee Suite, Portcullis House.

 

 

 

Lord Mitchell's Diary

 

Wednesday 19 March

Here’s the truth. If someone held a gun to my head and said ‘tell me the difference in substance between the Chancellor’s Budget and the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement’ then I’m afraid I’d end up splattered all over the wall.

Apart from the red box, the two annual statements to Parliament seem to me to be the same PR stunt – they are virtually indistinguishable.

And so it was on Wednesday – the Westminster Village was in a high state of excitement. The TV networks were all there with their cameras and satellite dishes. It had been well trailed, nothing new, until the announcement about pensions. It took some time to sink in, but when I thought about it (and we still need to see the details) I liked it. Why should the Government control how we release our own pension savings? Of course many people will redeem their nest eggs much earlier than planned and will end up paying immediate tax on their withdrawals – I wonder if that was what Osborne had in mind?

 

Thursday 20 March

Thursday evening was great fun. I was the keynote speaker at the Liverpool in London reception at the magnificent Heron Tower. I’m doing quite a few of these business receptions up and down the country and to be honest I love it – there was a great turnout.

What impressed me most of all was the global outlook of the Liverpool business contingent – Liverpool has had a long association with Shanghai and I also met people from Russia, UAE, Latin America and Hong Kong.

When I address groups like this I talk about the digital revolution. I chair Labour Digital and my mission is making sure that the UK is right at the forefront of the digital economy.

We need fast broadband everywhere and we need fast mobile connectivity throughout the country. We certainly do not have it yet. We also need to make sure that all our population, especially children, are comfortable with the new technology and that there is no digital divide. 

 

Friday 21 March

Friday and off to Italy for the weekend. We have a house in Umbria and we hadn’t been there since New Year. I had it all planned, get out the bike, pump up the tyres and go for a 40km spin. I am very fortunate to own a very sexy Pinarello fast road bicycle – it’s Italy and you have to fare una bella figura – I have become MAMIL (middle aged man in Lycra).

There is nothing better than cycling through the olive groves and vineyards – it’s hilly of course, but that’s what Campagnolo gears are made for. I was so looking forward to it and then the heavens opened and the wind blew a gale – I shamefully gave up. I have to face the fact that I am a fair-weather cyclist!

All the talk in Italy is of Matteo Renzi the new Prime Minister – Renzi is 39 and, after Berlusconi and the other non-entities, he is the great hope. He describes Italy as il pantano a ‘quagmire’ and indeed it is – it is a wonderful country, but day-to-day dealings with the bureaucracy are a nightmare – that’s why people go to extreme lengths to avoid it. We live in the countryside and unemployment is rife – if you are under 30 it is ghastly. We all wish him luck.

 

Monday 24 March

Do you get the feeling that this coalition Government is running out of steam? I do. Not much is happening – Parliament is dull. I guess it will be like this until the election.

So it will be perfect timing for me to introduce a Private Member’s Bill after the Queen’s speech. My bill will move to ban TV advertising for short term and payday loans until after the watershed. Daytime TV is deluged with these ads and children are now demanding that their parents go to Wonga and the like if there’s no family money available.

This kind of pressure on already hard stretched budgets is immoral and we in Parliament must do what we can to help. Will the Government support me on this bill? I doubt it – but they should.   

 

Lord Mitchell is a Labour Peer 

 

 

 

 

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