Mary Kelly Foy debates with Department of Health and Social Care

There have been 13 exchanges between Mary Kelly Foy and Department of Health and Social Care

Mon 14th December 2020 Covid-19 3 interactions (642 words)
Tue 8th December 2020 Covid-19 Vaccine Roll-out 3 interactions (94 words)
Thu 12th November 2020 Smokefree England: Covid-19 and PHE Abolition 5 interactions (2,699 words)
Tue 10th November 2020 Covid-19 Update 3 interactions (83 words)
Mon 2nd November 2020 Covid-19 3 interactions (642 words)
Tue 6th October 2020 Oral Answers to Questions 7 interactions (109 words)
Mon 28th September 2020 Covid-19 3 interactions (519 words)
Mon 21st September 2020 Covid-19 Update 3 interactions (21 words)
Tue 14th July 2020 Coronavirus Update 3 interactions (69 words)
Mon 8th June 2020 Covid-19: R Rate and Lockdown Measures 3 interactions (84 words)
Tue 2nd June 2020 Covid-19 Response 3 interactions (81 words)
Mon 18th May 2020 Covid-19 Response 3 interactions (116 words)
Wed 4th March 2020 Health Inequalities 3 interactions (1,073 words)

Covid-19

Mary Kelly Foy Excerpts
Monday 14th December 2020

(1 month, 1 week ago)

Commons Chamber

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Department of Health and Social Care
Mark Fletcher Portrait Mark Fletcher (Bolsover) (Con)
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I am one of a number of colleagues speaking from the Government Benches this evening who was elected for the first time a year ago. On that joyous night, I do not think any of us foresaw quite what we were about to face over the past year. I hope that we have done our best and served our constituencies to the best of our abilities, but it has been a sharp learning curve, and I certainly did not expect to have to start a speech a year on saying that I send my sincerest condolences to those who have lost their lives in my constituency and elsewhere over the past year. It has been a time of tremendous challenge and one that I hope I never have to live through again.

There have been a number of covid debates over the past few months and I have not always been able to get on to the call list, so Members should forgive me as I add my general thank yous to so many people who have stepped up and done amazing things over the past few months. I include, of course, our NHS workers. My constituency is blessed to be served by three fantastic hospitals: Chesterfield Royal Hospital; King’s Mill Hospital; and Bassetlaw Hospital. The overwhelming consensus is that those three hospitals have been absolutely superb and have served my constituents and others with tremendous distinction. The care home staff, many of whom I have spoken to, have done such wonderful things. Let me mention in particular the care home managers who were so forthright and so determined to keep their homes safe. Some of the most emotional phone calls that I have had over the past few months have been with those care home managers who have taken on this project so passionately and so personally.

I pay tribute to the community groups and volunteers who have stepped up and served so selflessly. They have made sure that people have had food to eat and people to talk to and have done such amazing work. I also pay tribute to all those who have shielded and who have sacrificed themselves to keep safe. Then, of course, there are all those who have kept working as well. We so often forget those who have kept going, so I pay tribute to those in manufacturing jobs; to the shopkeepers who have served their communities; to the supermarket staff; to our rubbish collectors; to our council staff; to our postal workers; and to so many others. There are too many to mention and to list, but it has been a profoundly moving experience to hear so many wonderful stories.

This has been a challenge for our nation, the like of which I have not known in my lifetime. It was back in February and March when what was happening with this virus really dawned on us. The news was filled with so many stories about having to start testing, and then having to secure PPE. It is quite amazing how far we have come in that time. The fact is that we now have national producers and manufacturers of PPE, which effectively means that we can be self-sufficient. We have warehouses full of the stuff to protect our NHS workers and it all happened in such a short space of time. Then there is the fact that we can now carry out more than 500,000 tests every single day. I remember when we were carrying out about 1,000 tests and when 100,000 tests seemed a mile away. There are so many people who have been involved in making that happen. Again, the list is too long to mention, but we must not lose sight of how far we have come.

Then, of course, we have the vaccine: to think that we have so many vaccines ready to come down the track, as long as we get the approval; to think that we were the first country in the world to approve a vaccine; and to think that, last week, we started getting that vaccine out to people across this country. What a moment of hope and pride that was for this country.

So much nonsense has been written on social media and allowed to circulate about this vaccine and about its so-called evil effects. I am sure that Bill Gates is over the moon that he controls us all, day in, day out, but we must not let that nonsense put people off from having this vaccine, because it will save lives. Everybody who can have it, should have it. It is incumbent on every Member of this House and every right-minded person to say, “That is absolute nonsense. This vaccine is safe.” It has been tested to the highest possible standards, and we should not circulate anything other than that—sorry, Mr Gates.

We should also remember our economic support and quite how much has been pumped into our economy. The level of Government action and support that we have seen over the past few months is unprecedented. I appreciate that there are Members in every part of this House who will say, “What about x sector, what about y sector?” I have tremendous sympathy with some of those arguments, but we must not lose sight of that bigger picture.

I share many of the concerns raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Gravesham (Adam Holloway), because there are two particular sectors that need highlighting. One is the events industry and the other is pubs and hospitality. I agreed with the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle (Emma Hardy) when she said that pubs are at the heart of northern and midlands communities, and that they play a special role. We are asking certain industries that are reliant on people coming together to suspend that for the moment, which is a tremendous challenge. We need to look at those particular industries again and question whether we are doing all that we can for them.

We had a wonderful moment in Derbyshire on Saturday, when the Government announced the local authorities that will begin community testing. I am incredibly grateful to the Minister. I have spoken to her and several of her colleagues at the Department of Health and Social Care to ensure that we get community testing in Derbyshire. The plan at the moment is that Derbyshire County Council will roll out five testing sites across Bolsover. This is a vital step in making sure that we eradicate the virus locally. Lateral flow tests have an important role in that.

I cannot thank the Department enough for its proactive engagement. I place on the record my thanks to Derbyshire County Council and my fellow Conservative Derbyshire MPs, who worked together consistently and for very many hours over the past few weeks to ensure that our bid was as tight as it could be. The fact that testing is being rolled out in the next couple of weeks says an awful lot about the quality of the bid that was put together. It is a hugely important step for my constituency.

It is hard to overstate how difficult this period has been or the sacrifices my constituents have made to help us get the numbers back down and to help us in our bid to get into tier 2. I doubt there is an MP in the House who does not want to get out of tier 3 if they are in it. I understand that the Government will look at a wide range of data. I spoke to the Minister last week about my hope that the data will be made publicly available and that the decision will be made as transparently as possible. I also understand that the Department is rightly filled with a cautious bias: it understands that Christmas is coming and that that might have a certain impact, so it wants to take the safest possible course of action. However, I am sure I speak for all Derbyshire MPs when I say that we are desperate to get out of tier 3. I imagine that will be heard from other Members.

Finally, I want to touch on the impact this period has had on people’s mental health. It is hard to overstate the impact that taking away people’s daily routine and normal social contact has had. Those intimate moments that people have with their friends and family have been replaced with a climate of fear and uncertainty—fear of catching the disease and becoming ill; fear of what might happen if one of their relatives or friends catches the disease.

It is striking to find how many people I have talked to seem to have been impacted by this period. We are very lucky in that we get to come to this place of work. Many people have not had that and have spent many months being incredibly scared. I spoke to one young lady in my surgery on Friday called Cara, who spoke passionately about her love of ice skating. Not having ice skating in her life had taken away her entire routine, her social group and the structure that she is used to and loves. That is just one example of many conversations of that nature.

Yes, the Government have done remarkably well given all the circumstances; yes, I would like pubs to get more support; yes, the vaccine offers a source of hope that we all need, but I think we will be living with the mental after-effects of this disease for some time to come.

Mary Kelly Foy Portrait Mary Kelly Foy (City of Durham) (Lab)
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With the Health Secretary’s announcement today, there will rightly be a lot of focus on the spread of covid-19 in the UK and the questions it raises about the effectiveness of the Government’s tier system, as my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle (Emma Hardy) pointed out powerfully. However, I want to use the debate to raise the impact of covid-19 across the world. Last week, the People’s Vaccine Alliance—a collection of organisations including Oxfam, Global Justice Now and Amnesty International—called for the pharmaceutical companies that are developing covid-19 vaccines to share their information and to waive their intellectual property rights to all vaccines, tests and treatments until the threat of the virus has abated. To do so would massively increase the global supply of vaccine doses and save countless lives. Now is not the time to put profit before people, and I would like to make clear my support for this proposal.

Through an analysis of data collected by Airfinity, the People’s Vaccine Alliance has highlighted the dangers that an unequitable distribution of coronavirus vaccine poses. Its work has revealed that 67 of the world’s poorest countries will be able to vaccinate only one in 10 of their population. In contrast, wealthier countries have acquired enough doses to vaccinate their population three times over, while Canada could potentially vaccinate its population of five times over. All in all, the most well-off states that make up just 14% of the world’s population have bought 53% of the doses of vaccines most likely to be successful. It is so disheartening, and arguably dangerous, that 96% of Pfizer’s doses have been acquired by wealthy nations. While it is welcome that 64% of the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine has been made available to developing nations, it will still only be enough for 18% of the world’s population. This is clearly not right.

Covid-19 has, sadly, shone a spotlight on the susceptibility to ill health of those in the most deprived communities, as well as the disproportionate impact of coronavirus on the world’s poorest. In the UK, those in our most deprived communities have been about twice as likely to die as those in the least deprived. With this in mind, it cannot be right that the wealthiest countries have enough doses to vaccinate more than their entire population while the most impoverished nations are unable even to vaccinate their healthcare workers and their most vulnerable. In times of crisis, it is easy to panic and to look after our own, but the reactionary response is rarely the best one. In the UK, we are no more deserving of the lifeline that a vaccine offers than any other nation. In order to uphold our human rights obligations, we must ensure that there is equal access to vaccines across the world. However, an equal sharing of vaccine resources is not just morally correct, it is also beneficial to the UK. As the director of Frontline AIDS said:

“This pandemic is a global problem that requires a global solution. The global economy will continue to suffer so long as much of the world does not have access to a vaccine.”

As a country, we cannot look to end this crisis simply by eliminating the virus within our own borders, because for as long as it exists, public health will be at risk and economies will be weakened.

I remind this House of our obligation, as a wealthy country, to the rest of the world. I urge nations from around the world to reject the pull of vaccine nationalism and to consider the world’s most vulnerable. To those who say, “We must put British interests first”, I say that beating this virus and reducing global poverty is a British interest. We must remember that when it comes to covid-19, none of us are safe until all of us are safe.

Jack Brereton Portrait Jack Brereton (Stoke-on-Trent South) (Con)
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When I spoke in the general debate on covid last month, I accepted that the worsening statistics made it inevitable that England would face national restrictions, but in doing so I had hoped that Stoke-on-Trent would avoid tier 3. Sadly, that was not to be, given the rapid rise in cases and the pressures that our health system faced, and the new tier 3 that we are currently in is still more restrictive than what we had hoped to see.

Despite considerable progress locally, thanks to everyone’s efforts in getting rates down in Stoke-on-Trent, daily case numbers still remain relatively high, and the seven-day rate threatens once more to rise to in excess of 300 per 100,000. It would be a huge shame if the city slipped back, given the great progress we have already made. We must keep our focus on what matters most to each and every one of us, whether our families, our jobs, our mental health, our children, our grandparents or whatever it might be, and that relies on us getting out of tier 3 and defeating covid as soon as possible.

We have achieved so much working together—we have gone from being one of the worst 10 hotspots to being not even in the worst 30—yet as we approach Christmas and community testing and vaccines are being rolled out, a minority of people might be on the verge of throwing away the hard-won advances from the whole city’s efforts. Many families will be relieved that they can see loved ones over the Christmas period—many will not have seen one another for months—and many will want to see one another over this important period, but I urge people to be sensible and not take unnecessary risks.

The clear case we had hoped to see, and which we were close to seeing, for Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire leaving tier 3 now looks unlikely. As a number of hon. Members have already said, we are absolutely desperate to get out of tier 3, but the sad reality is that it looks like we will have to ask for further sacrifices and resolution to control the spread of this awful virus. Our NHS has taken the brunt locally—especially the Royal Stoke—and we will never be able to thank the staff enough for all they have done. We must continue to get the virus under control and help our hospitals, NHS and care workers who have faced unimaginable pressures—often at great risk to themselves—to care for others. The only way we can do that is by keeping covid rates down, reducing the numbers needing hospital treatment and saving lives. We can all play our part in that.

What is especially needed now is to get the last leg of testing systems right and ensure we identify the one in three cases thought to be asymptomatic. I am pleased to see an expansion in lateral flow community testing across Stoke-on-Trent and thank the city council and public health officials who made that possible for their work. They have done an incredible job. However, it is vital that the Government commit to expanding capacity further in Stoke-on-Trent over the Christmas and new year periods.

Alongside that, we are given hope, with the vaccination programme well under way, focused now on those most at risk and frontline health and care workers. It was hugely welcome to hear the deputy chief medical officer, Jonathan Van-Tam, suggest that through phase 1 of the vaccine roll-out up to 99% of covid deaths might be avoided. I know the vaccine roll-out in Stoke-on-Trent is progressing extremely well through the Royal Stoke, and it is starting in primary care facilities in our communities tomorrow. I am pleased to say that includes my own grandfather, Graham Brereton, who tells me he should receive a vaccine later this week.

There is much-needed light at the end of the tunnel, but it is vital to remember that we are still in that tunnel. We must continue to be vigilant and remember hands, face, space and avoid mixing households. Locally, in the weeks ahead we must focus absolutely on community testing and tracing and enforcing the restrictions to give us breathing space until the vaccine is more fully rolled out.

Thanks to the incredible advances of science, we are perhaps just a few months from returning to something resembling normality. I look to the Minister to tell us whether relative normality might be as little as 100 days away. Such a figure, if it is possible to give it, would really focus minds on how much longer the greatest sacrifices will last. We should not be restricting liberty, enterprise, socialising and leisure for a minute more than is necessary, but unfortunately right now—for a relatively short period of time—restrictions remain necessary. We see from Wales the risks of lifting restrictions too quickly, and with restrictions still in place—especially in tier 3—we must do everything possible to support our local businesses and protect jobs and livelihoods. I sympathise incredibly with all businesses forced to close and those that have had their livelihoods put on hold.

Covid has hit so many very hard. The extension of furlough to the end of March was hugely welcome, as was the extension of the self-employment income support scheme. For many businesses in Stoke-on-Trent, there has also been welcome grant support administered through the city council and loans for businesses that need them. Signposting support continues to be a top priority. The hospitality industry has been particularly hard hit, as has the events industry, which my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mark Fletcher) mentioned, and retailers are losing out on what is usually the busiest time of their year.

I was pleased to see the Prime Minister announce an additional £1,000 for wet pubs recently. It will be vital to ensure that businesses indirectly impacted by the closure of hospitality, events and leisure are supported. My right hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire Moorlands (Karen Bradley) and I will be meeting local businesses tomorrow to discuss their needs in the months ahead. I will continue to push for additional support where it is needed, to get our economy back on track.

It is at the local, everyday level that we will control the spread while we wait for the extraordinary science of vaccination, and improving treatment and testing will enable us to erase restrictions. We must be willing to enforce all measures in an even-handed and proportionate way, which I know has been the case across Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire, with Staffordshire police doing an excellent job. In Stoke-on-Trent, successful enforcement action, from iteration of advice to closure and fining of those who have repeatedly broken restrictions, strikes exactly the right balance. That action is necessary and, importantly, is seen to be necessary, with the end goal of mass vaccination clearly now in sight. Regular reviews of which areas belong in which tiers are essential, giving us hope that we can drop down those tiers in the future. I cannot begin to emphasise enough the urgency of opening up again as soon as it is safe to do so, not least for our pubs, restaurants and the leisure industry, and all in our hospitality and those linked to it.

There is huge hope for the future, with the progress of vaccination and more rapid testing. In the meantime, it is vital that we stick with these measures and face short-term sacrifices to give time for them to be rolled out. I will continue to encourage people to get tested and to hold the line in this final leg of our efforts to overcome covid-19.

Covid-19 Vaccine Roll-out

Mary Kelly Foy Excerpts
Tuesday 8th December 2020

(1 month, 1 week ago)

Commons Chamber

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Department of Health and Social Care
Matt Hancock Portrait Matt Hancock
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The UK has put more money into the international search for a vaccine, and the distribution of a vaccine to the countries that otherwise would not be able to afford it, than any other state of any size, and we should be very proud of that. The way that we have managed the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine is to ensure that it is available on a not-for-profit basis, essentially, worldwide. We have taken this approach because, to put it exactly as my hon. Friend did, nobody is safe until everybody is safe. This is a global pandemic and we need to address it globally. That is the only fundamental way to solve this for the long term. In the short term, what we all need to do is keep following the rules.

Mary Kelly Foy Portrait Mary Kelly Foy (City of Durham) (Lab)
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The vaccine is indeed welcome news, but until it is fully rolled out, the north-east will continue to be harmed by the lack of economic support that accompanies tier 3 restrictions. The Health Secretary stated that the restrictions were based on

“cases among the over-60s; the rate at which cases are rising or falling; the positivity rate; and the pressures on the local NHS.”—[Official Report, 26 November 2020; Vol. 684, c. 1000.]

Can he therefore tell me precisely what level these figures will have to be at for the north-east to be moved into tier 2?

Matt Hancock Portrait Matt Hancock
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We consider all those figures, and because we consider them alongside special factors such as whether there is an outbreak, we do not put a specific figure on that, as the hon. Lady well knows. But what we have done is put in more economic support than almost any other country in the world, as the International Monetary Fund has recognised. We have tried as best we possibly can to support people through what has been an incredibly difficult year. We have not been able to save every job, but with the economic measures of support for business and the furlough scheme in place, we have put in very significant support. But the best support that people in the north-east, and elsewhere in the country, can have until this vaccine is rolled out is to continue to follow the restrictions that are necessary and then, if they get the call from the NHS, take that vaccine.

Smokefree England: Covid-19 and PHE Abolition

Mary Kelly Foy Excerpts
Thursday 12th November 2020

(2 months, 1 week ago)

Commons Chamber

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Department of Health and Social Care
Mary Kelly Foy Portrait Mary Kelly Foy (City of Durham) (Lab)
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12 Nov 2020, 3:25 p.m.

I beg to move,

That this House welcomes the Government’s ambition for England to be smokefree by 2030; notes the increasing disparities in smoking rates between the richest and poorest in society; further notes the effect of the covid-19 outbreak and the opportunities and risks provided by the reorganisation of public health on the UK’s ability to achieve this ambition; and calls on the Government to set out the further steps it plans to take to deliver a smokefree England by 2030.

I thank the Backbench Business Committee for granting this debate. I am also grateful to every Member who has given up their time to speak, especially the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon), who I believe has already had two questions and a speech today—and I suspect that he still has an Adjournment debate ahead of him.

This debate is on an issue that is close to my heart. I must declare an interest as a former chair of the Gateshead tobacco control alliance. As the prevention Green Paper acknowledged, achieving the smokefree 2030 ambition will be challenging, especially in deprived communities where smoking rates are higher. On current progress, Cancer Research UK estimates that these communities will not reach the 5% ambition until the mid-2040s. This is simply not acceptable. Indeed, in County Durham, adult smoking prevalence is 17% compared with 13.9% nationally. This rises to 27% among people in routine and manual occupations. On top of that, 16.8% of mothers smoked during pregnancy compared with 10.4% in England.

Smokers in the north-east lose around £600 million because of unemployment and reduced income due to smoking. For working smokers, weekly earnings are on average 6.8% lower than for non-smokers, equivalent to £1,424 less per smoker annually—and this, of course, was prior to covid-19, which is disproportionately harming the health of local economies of already disadvantaged areas. Helping smokers to quit will benefit not just their health and wellbeing but their incomes, helping to level up disadvantaged communities. Smoking is also responsible for half the difference in life expectancy between the rich and the poor. For every person who dies from smoking, another 30 are suffering from serious smoking-related diseases. Disturbingly, every week in England, almost 2,000 children take up smoking, two thirds of whom will go on to become regular smokers.

With 1,500 people dying from smoking-related diseases every week, there is no time to waste. The tobacco control plan published in 2017 was for five years, which comes to an end in 2022. It has already been overtaken by events and is no longer fit for purpose in the light of the ambition for England to be smokefree by 2030, the decision to abolish Public Health England, and the Government’s manifesto commitments to increase healthy life expectancy by five years by 2035 while narrowing inequalities. If a new tobacco control plan is to be put in place in a timely manner, it needs to be in development now. The Minister may remember that the last plan was published two years after its predecessor ran out of time. We need bold announcements from the Government on tough new measures, along the lines set out in the “Roadmap to a smokefree 2030”, which has been endorsed by the all-party group on smoking and health, if we are to achieve a smokefree 2030. Will the Minister confirm whether the Government are developing a new tobacco control plan, and if not consider doing so urgently? Will he further commit to publishing a new tobacco control plan in 2021, setting out concrete measures for delivering on the smokefree 2030 ambition?

Britain is a world leader in tobacco control, having driven down smoking rates by 60% since the start of this century. However, the Government’s decision to abolish Public Health England without a clear plan for the future risks undermining this hard-won progress. The success in tobacco control has been driven by combining national population level interventions with comprehensive actions at regional and local levels.

The national function is currently provided by a combination of the Department of Health and Social Care and Public Health England; what is crucial is not where the function sits, but that it has protected funding and continues to exist. Furthermore, while inequalities in smoking rates remain, where regional tobacco control programmes have been in place there has been a significantly higher rate of decline. Regional programmes, such as those led by Fresh in the north-east, provide an effective bridge between national and local activity and between local authorities and the NHS. The Government must publish a clear plan setting out the future of Public Health England’s health improvement and wider functions; that is crucial if we are to achieve the Government’s interlocking pledges not just to achieve a smokefree 2030, but to increase disability-free life years, reduce inequalities, improve mental health and reduce obesity and alcohol harm.

The covid-19 pandemic makes action to reduce smoking prevalence all the more urgent. Chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease, respiratory diseases and diabetes account for about 89% of all deaths in the UK and are also linked to higher rates of mortality from covid-19. A robust and sustainable approach to health improvement is vital if we are to tackle the leading causes of chronic diseases, namely smoking, obesity and alcohol and drug abuse.

However, the impact of smoking is not limited to the UK. It is estimated that at least 8 million deaths around the world every year are linked to tobacco, more than for AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria combined. Over 80% of the more than 1 billion smokers in the world live in low and middle-income countries. In addition to the human cost, the impact on already overstretched health care systems puts a heavy economic burden on those countries, adding to the difficulties LMICs face in recovering from the global pandemic.

That is why we can all be proud that the UK, as a global leader in tobacco control, is providing funding via Official Development Assistance to support implementation of the framework convention on tobacco control in low and middle-income countries. The funding was £15 million over five years for the World Health Organisation’s FCTC 2030 project to support low and middle-income countries to implement tobacco control measures. The FCTC 2030 project has been very well regarded; however, funding is due to come to an end. Extending this funding will accelerate progress in ending the global tobacco epidemic, support FCTC 2030 beneficiary countries to recover from covid-19 domestically, and as the UK leaves the EU maintain our position and as a global leader on tobacco control.

This is a matter of development funding so it requires broader support than just from the Department of Health and Social Care, but the Minister’s support for the proposal would greatly facilitate the likelihood of success. Will the Minister therefore commit to supporting extending the UK’s funding for the FCTC 2030 project beyond 2021?

Aside from our international commitments, it is important that there is a focus within the UK at regional and local authority level. Smokers from deprived communities with higher smoking rates tend to be more heavily addicted than those from more affluent communities. Deprived smokers are just as motivated to quit as other smokers, but it is harder to succeed when people are more addicted, when smoking is more commonplace and when cheap, illicit tobacco is widely available.

Regional tobacco control programmes have been effective in tackling these disparities, as shown most clearly by the example of Fresh in the north-east, which is the longest-running and only surviving regional office for tobacco control. When Fresh was founded in 2005, smoking prevalence in the north-east was much higher than the average for England, at 29% compared with 24%, and the disparity was growing. Since then, the north-east has seen the greatest decline in smoking prevalence of any region, and smoking prevalence is now only a little higher than the England average. Smoking rates have also fallen faster among routine and manual workers in the north-east compared with in England as a whole. As a result, although the differential between routine and manual and professional workers declined in the north-east between 2012 and 2017, it has increased in England as a whole. The success and value of Fresh’s work is clear, and I commend it for its vital work in the region.

After the public health grant to local authorities was cut in 2015-16, the funding provided by local authorities for regional offices in the north-west and south-west was cut completely. Even in the north-east, funding has been significantly reduced. New funding streams are therefore needed. In addition, there are stop smoking services that act as a highly effective and cost-effective way of supporting smokers to quit. However, there is a stark inequity in the local authority offer to smokers across England. In some areas, stop smoking services have been scaled down or decommissioned altogether, whereas elsewhere local authorities have sustained or developed their services.

An Action on Smoking and Health and Cancer Research UK report published in January looked at the state of local stop smoking support and found that among the local authorities that still had a budget for stop smoking services, 35% had cut that budget between 2018-19 and 2019-20. That was the fifth successive year in which more than a third of local authorities had cut their stop smoking service budgets. Financial pressures caused by the cuts to public health funding and the wider pressures on local government finances are the major reason for that. The public health grant, which funds local authority tobacco control, has been cut by around a fifth in real terms since 2015-16, falling from £4 billion in ’15-16 to £3.2 billion now.

Analysis by the King’s Fund in 2018 found that wider tobacco control and stop smoking services were among the biggest losers in planned budget cuts and that these cuts have been accompanied by a 38% decline in the number of smokers setting quit dates at stop smoking services since 2015. Among pregnant women, the number setting quit dates has fallen by a fifth. This is one of the many failures of austerity, so will the Minister confirm that the Government will reverse the cuts made to local public health budgets to ensure that local authorities can play their part in delivering a smokefree 2030?

We must also recognise the value of social marketing campaigns, which have immediate impact, can be targeted with precision at disadvantaged smokers and can be highly cost-effective if carried out at a regional and national level. Such campaigns play a particularly important role in motivating smokers to try to quit. In 2016, Fresh worked with Smoke Free Yorkshire and the Humber to implement a hard-hitting quit smoking campaign aimed at raising smokers’ awareness of the links between smoking and 16 types of cancer and to trigger quit attempts, reaching millions of people. It is now thought to have been among the most successful quit campaigns to have ever been run in England in terms of awareness, attitudes and actions taken, with around 10% of people who saw it making a quit attempt—that is around 72,000 smokers. However, this regional activity is threatened by local authority budget cuts, which led to the decommissioning of the regional offices in the north-west and south-west. A smokefree 2030 fund imposed on the tobacco industry, as proposed in the Green Paper consultation, would provide vital funding for national and regional anti-smoking mass media campaigns.

Another important regional issue is the impact of illicit tobacco, which is concentrated in poorer communities. Cheap and illicit tobacco provides easier access to tobacco for children and reduces the incentive for adults to quit. In 2009, Fresh, along with colleagues in the north-west and Yorkshire and the Humber, established the North of England Tackling Illicit Tobacco for Better Health programme, originally with pump priming from a Department of Health grant. The aim was to increase the health of the population by reducing smoking prevalence; reducing the availability of illicit tobacco, therefore keeping real tobacco prices high; developing infrastructure to aid information sharing, identification of illicit markets and enforcement action; reducing the demand for illicit tobacco through campaigns raising awareness of the issue; engaging with relevant health and community workers; and finally, regularly monitoring smokers’ attitudes and behaviour to measure the effectiveness of the programme.

Between 2009 and 2019, the illicit market share declined by a third in the north-east from 15% to 10%, and enforcement was enhanced. That compares with the national market share of illicit tobacco in 2018-19 and of manufactured cigarettes, with a share of 34% for hand-rolled tobacco. Elements of the original north of England programme have been sustained by Fresh in the north-east, including insight-led demand reduction programmes. Fresh now leads the national Illicit Tobacco Partnership, supported by ASH and other partners. However, the 2013 National Audit Office recommendation that this approach be rolled out nationally has not yet been adopted, while essential regional activity to tackle illicit tobacco and reduce smoking among children and young people has been put at risk by cuts to public health grants since 2015-16. Does the Minister agree that regional activity to get illicit tobacco off our streets should be sustainably funded?

Finally, I would like to raise the regulation review. While we await the Government’s response to the prevention Green Paper consultation, I hope the Minister can tell us what has happened to the Government’s response to the consultation on the Nicotine Inhaling Products (Age of Sale and Proxy Purchasing) Regulations 2015, which closed in September last year. A response to that consultation was due last December, and almost a year on, there has been no word from the Government about when it will be published. The Government are also required to review the Tobacco and Related Products Regulations 2016 and the Standardised Packaging of Tobacco Products Regulations 2015 by May 2021. They should set out the timetable for the consultation process for both sets of regulations as soon as possible. We are therefore awaiting the Government’s response to two consultations and the launch of two more, which need to be reported by the end of the financial year. Can the Minister confirm when the Government will deliver on all four of those?

I recognise that I have posed a lot of questions, and I thank the Minister and the House for their time. However, those are questions that need to be asked and answered if we are to achieve the smokefree 2030 ambition that is shared right across the House.

Liz Twist Portrait Liz Twist (Blaydon) (Lab)
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12 Nov 2020, 3:45 p.m.

May I start by congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for City of Durham (Mary Kelly Foy) on securing this debate and on her introductory speech? I am going to start in time-honoured speaking fashion by telling you, Minister, what I am going to ask you, and then elucidating on that—

Break in Debate

Edward Argar Portrait Edward Argar
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12 Nov 2020, midnight

I will not seek to outdo my hon. Friend in his knowledge of music or, possibly, his expertise in this area, but I will certainly convey that point to my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St Edmunds.

Alongside tackling smoking in pregnancy, a big challenge is to reduce smoking rates in those with mental health problems, as the hon. Member for Blaydon said, which remain significantly higher than the general population at 42%. The NHS long-term plan will also offer a new universal smoking cessation offer, available as part of specialist mental health services for long-term users of those services and in learning disability services. The Minister for Patient Safety, Mental Health and Suicide Prevention, my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Bedfordshire (Ms Dorries) will be looking into that, working in close partnership with my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St Edmunds, because it is important that we have a joined-up approach. The hon. Member for Blaydon highlighted in her speech the excellent practice in some parts of the country and in some parts of the NHS and the fact that that is not replicated everywhere, which goes to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Winchester. It is important that we level up, to coin a phrase, across the country in using and sharing that best practice.

The Government are committed to a smokefree 2030, and we are developing the plans to ensure that is a reality. The plans will build on the good work already under way in the tobacco control plan and the commitments being delivered in the NHS long-term plan, to which, while the pandemic has obviously impacted on the NHS, we remain committed.

I said in my introduction that the UK is a world leader in tobacco control. That is demonstrated by how seriously the Government take our obligations as a signatory and party to the World Health Organisation’s framework convention on tobacco control, the FCTC. Tackling the harms caused by smoking is a global effort, with 8 million deaths a year worldwide linked to tobacco, 80% of which are low and middle-income country deaths.

The Government have invested up to £15 million in official development assistance funding to support the WHO’s FCTC 2030 five-year project, supporting up to 24 countries to improve their tobacco control and improve their population’s health. The project has received considerable praise from global public health and development communities and helped to raise the UK’s profile and strengthen our global reach. I am proud to say that the Department recently received a UN Inter-Agency Task Force on the Prevention and Control of Noncommunicable Diseases award for 2020 for the project. The project is in its final year and we are considering plans to extend it, depending on the Department’s spending review settlement for official development assistance. In a second, I shall address the point about the spending review raised by the hon. Member for City of Durham—I shall be very brief, as I am conscious that I need to leave a couple of minutes for her to reply at the end.

We continue to review the evidence on e-cigarettes, including their harms and usefulness in aiding smoking cessation. Although they are not risk-free, there is growing evidence that they can help people stop smoking, and they are particularly effective when combined with expert support from a local stop smoking service. The Government’s approach to the regulation of e-cigarettes has been and will remain pragmatic and evidence-based. The current regulatory framework aims to reduce the risk of harm to children, protect against the re-normalisation of tobacco use, provide assurance on relative safety for users and provide legal certainty for businesses. We will continue our work to appraise the evidence on new products, including e-cigarettes, and their role in helping smokers quit.

I note comments about proposals for future regulatory changes to help smokers quit smoking. Post transition period, this country will no longer have to comply with the EU’s tobacco products directive, and there will be opportunities to consider in the future regulatory changes that can help people quit smoking and address the harms from tobacco. Although there are no current plans for divergence, I would reassure the House that any future changes will be based on robust evidence in the interests of public health and will maintain this country’s ambitious and world-leading approach in this area.

The Department will be carrying out a post-implementation review of the Tobacco and Related Products Regulations 2016 and the standardised packaging of tobacco products by 20 May 2021 to see whether the regulations have met their objectives. Part of this review process will involve a public consultation to start before the end of the year for people to submit their views and evidence, and I hope that gives some greater clarity about timescales.

The Department has already conducted another post-implementation review and public consultation on various tobacco legislation, as the hon. Member for City of Durham mentioned, and we will publish a Government response shortly. I understand that the aim is to do so before the end of this year, although obviously a lot of work is being put into tackling the pandemic.

I hear what Members have said about the importance of public health grants and local authorities. Like the shadow Minister, I am a former cabinet member for public health. He would not, I suspect, like me to be tempted to try to fulfil the role of the Chancellor of the Exchequer by pre-empting the spending review. As for Public Health England and the future, we are engaging with stakeholders and will consider the best future arrangements for the wide range of non-health protection functions that currently sit in PHE. Our commitment to smokefree 2030 and to working collaboratively to maintain our ambitious agenda and our high standards in this area is undiminished; indeed, it is enhanced.

Mary Kelly Foy Portrait Mary Kelly Foy
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12 Nov 2020, 3:49 p.m.

I thank every Member for their contribution to this important debate: my hon. Friend the Member for Blaydon (Liz Twist), the hon. Members for Winchester (Steve Brine) and for Strangford (Jim Shannon), my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham North (Alex Norris) and the Minister. I am glad that there is consensus across the House on the need to reach the target of a smokefree England by 2030. If I may, Madam Deputy Speaker, I would like to thank Deborah Arnott from ASH and Ailsa Rutter from Fresh who have been a continued source of support and knowledge in all things smoking-harm related.

I am aware that, at the minute, a significant amount of public health focus is directed at tackling the coronavirus pandemic, and rightly so. However, I hope that this debate serves as a reminder that there remain significant health inequalities in society. In our most deprived communities, these inequalities pose a grave risk to the health of countless people. While this has been exacerbated by the pandemic, without action the threat to our most vulnerable communities will only become more grave. It is vital, therefore, that the issues raised today are addressed. As the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) highlighted, tackling and addressing health inequalities is a matter of urgency.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

That this House welcomes the Government’s ambition for England to be smokefree by 2030; notes the increasing disparities in smoking rates between the richest and poorest in society; further notes the effect of the covid-19 outbreak and the opportunities and risks provided by the reorganisation of public health on the UK’s ability to achieve this ambition; and calls on the Government to set out the further steps it plans to take to deliver a smokefree England by 2030.

Covid-19 Update

Mary Kelly Foy Excerpts
Tuesday 10th November 2020

(2 months, 1 week ago)

Commons Chamber

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Department of Health and Social Care
Matt Hancock Portrait Matt Hancock
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10 Nov 2020, 12:04 a.m.

I understand the yearning for certainty. All I can say to my hon. Friend, in honesty, is that I want us to get back to normal as quickly as possible, and yesterday’s news is a big step forward, but it is not the only step. There are more steps that are needed. The scientists are now offering views on that sort of timetable, but the Government’s view is that we must make this happen as quickly as possible and be ready to roll out as fast as any safe vaccine can be manufactured, but we will not put safety at risk. That is a lodestar of the programme and therefore we have to await the clinical safety sign-off before we can take this to the next stage.

Mary Kelly Foy Portrait Mary Kelly Foy (City of Durham) (Lab)
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10 Nov 2020, 12:04 a.m.

We know that those in the most deprived areas are around twice as likely to die from covid-19 as those in the least deprived areas. We also know that the most deprived people in society are less likely to take up the vaccine and health services, so will the Secretary of State tell me what plans he has made to ensure a high take-up of any covid-19 vaccine among the most deprived and if he will consider setting an inequalities target for this?

Matt Hancock Portrait Matt Hancock
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10 Nov 2020, 12:04 a.m.

We are of course concerned about that and will put in enormous efforts to try to ensure that the take-up of the vaccine is as equal as possible. The starting principle is that we will roll out the vaccine according to clinical need across the whole UK, across all four nations, working of course through the devolved NHSs, which are going to be critical to actually delivering the vaccine in the devolved nations. But the procurement of this vaccine is a UK programme—we have been working very closely together—and in terms of the roll-out among deprived communities and harder-to-reach communities, we have a particular emphasis on trying to make sure that we get as equal a roll-out as possible. The starting point must be clinical need.

Covid-19

Mary Kelly Foy Excerpts
Monday 2nd November 2020

(2 months, 2 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber

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Department of Health and Social Care
William Wragg Portrait Mr William Wragg (Hazel Grove) (Con)
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I understand that I am quickly building a reputation in this House for being somewhat grumpy and contrarian—[Hon. Members: “Building?”] Or indeed cementing the pinnacle of it. I can understand why those on the Front Bench may regard me as one of the characters from “The Muppet Show”; perhaps Statler and Waldorf—some cantankerous muppet perched high up in the gallery.

My brief remarks this evening, believe it or not, are meant to act as an encouragement to the Government in the work that they are doing, but I must begin by quoting the phrase, “We’re all in this together.” I have never found that phrase particularly convincing, not least because it is often expressed by those who tend to be all right regardless of the circumstances. During this pandemic, I fear that it is ringing hollow, despite the many valiant efforts of intervention made by the Government. I am afraid there is a great divide in the country—I say this with the best humour possible—between well-paid white-collar public sector workers such as us, who make the decisions and on whom there will be no economic effect, and those of our constituents who are suffering great financial hardship. There is considerable and understandable resentment from those who have, as a result of whatever technicality, been left behind.

Regrettably, the Government’s invidious policy choice in tackling this covid pandemic will inevitably impoverish society for a generation. The only means we have of limiting that impoverishment is finding a way out of a cycle of lockdowns. I think of those who are worse off than ourselves—those who are poorly housed; those who are insecurely employed; those who are victims of abuse; those with long-term mental health conditions; and indeed a younger generation entering a job market where they have little prospect of finding a job worthy of their qualifications and abilities.

There is understandable talk about and need for the Government to be positive and to boost morale—that is not something that one of my speeches could ever be accused of; I have never sought to boost morale particularly—but I gently suggest that “adequate” is a level of expectation that the country could understand and appreciate. My greatest concern of all is that there is a level of over-promising, and the greatest over-promise risks being the promise of a vaccine. We need to inculcate personal responsibility again in the population. It is an interesting observation that the more measures, rules and laws we pass, the less the sense of compliance, as things appear to be done to rather than with others.

There is much talk of this four-week semi-lockdown, if I can call it that. It is a four-week period that must be used wisely; as has been said, it is a time to sort out test and trace, but frankly I think it is also a time for the Government to reboot themselves—both their policy and their operation—and I dare say for us all to take that attitude too.

Mary Kelly Foy Portrait Mary Kelly Foy (City of Durham) (Lab)
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The situation we are facing is farcical, quite frankly. Before recess, the Prime Minister stood at the Dispatch Box and mocked the Leader of the Opposition for calling for a two-week circuit-break lockdown over half term, yet, because of the Prime Minister’s usual dither and delay, we now face a lockdown that will last at least a month. It is not good enough. Although every community must do their bit, the blame for this lockdown must lie squarely at the feet of the Government.

I want to raise a number of crucial points that my constituents have contacted me about. The first is the way the Government have approached this pandemic geographically. When the tier system was introduced to try to slow the spread of the virus, the north was hit the hardest. In Durham and the wider north-east, communities responded to the threat of greater restrictions by working together and following the rules, which resulted in a steady drop in cases, yet now that the infection rate is rising in the south, the Prime Minister has announced a national lockdown. It betrays the Government’s attitude to those in the north that a regionalised approach was taken only when it did not impact the south.

On top of that, when large parts of the north were placed in tier 3, we were told that furloughed workers deserved only 67% of their wage, yet now that the south is in lockdown, that has risen to 80%. Although, obviously, I support that rise, it certainly reveals a lot about this Government’s attitude to the north: out of sight, out of mind.

Secondly, given the concerns of education unions, it would be wrong if I did not touch on the issue of schools. Today, a constituent contacted me to say that her child is 16 and lives with heart failure. If she were an adult, she would be able to work from home, as someone who is extremely vulnerable. Instead, she must go to school, where coronavirus infections are common. Countless pupils and educational staff will be in similar positions. Every teacher, child and parent wants schools to remain open if possible, yet the National Education Union and the University and College Union tell us that schools and colleges are not fully safe right now. The Government must urgently make the necessary changes to fix that. Schools need to stay open, but only if they are safe. No one should have to go into a workplace that is not safe.

Finally, I feel it necessary to mention the impact of gym closures, especially for women. Gyms act as relatively safe spaces for women to exercise, and many simply cannot do so outdoors in the dark with the same confidence or security. As we all know, exercise plays a vital role in people’s mental and physical wellbeing. While people will accept the closure of gyms, sports facilities and grassroots sport in the short term, the Government must urgently detail how such environments can be covid-secure, and must support them in their efforts to operate safely and stay open.

It frustrates me to have to give this speech today. This Government have had seven months to respond to the pandemic. They have failed on testing, failed on track and trace, and failed to support workers and businesses properly. Because of the Government’s incompetence, we are virtually back to where we were in March. No one has demanded perfection, and I understand the complications, but it is not unrealistic to call for competence and to expect the Government to learn from their mistakes. I urge the Government to use this month to get a grip on the virus. It is time to stop handing out jobs and contracts to their pals, and focus instead on their actual duty—protecting public health and reviving the economy—because the public and this House are fast losing patience.

Angela Richardson Portrait Angela Richardson (Guildford) (Con)
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It has been a rather sombre debate this evening, and the subject matter is very serious, but I hope the House does not mind if I inject a bit of positivity for the next four minutes. I will start by highlighting the enormous financial package that has supported businesses, organisations, charities, arts and culture—a package that has sustained services run by our local councils, and has helped our health providers continue to care for us. In my constituency, over £92.5 million of bounce back and business interruption loans have been taken up so far. The ability to furlough staff and take advantage of the self-employed grants has been lauded by everyone I have spoken to, and I am pleased that the Chancellor has extended furlough and announced the doubling of the self-employed income support scheme today, as we look to implement national restrictions to help support our NHS and save lives.

The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government has been generous in its support for my two local councils, with funding so far of over £1.8 million for Guildford Borough Council and over £1.5 million for Waverley Borough Council. These figures sit within the generous support there has been at county level to deliver councils’ statutory services. Rough sleeping is an issue that I have been focused on locally, and the several tranches of funding to address it, including the recent £770,000 for long-term accommodation as the days get colder, are hugely welcome. The Royal Surrey County Hospital has received £500,000 to prepare for winter, and well prepared they are under the excellent direction of chief executive Louise Stead, with a new 20-bed ward specifically for a second wave of the virus and medical professionals who have learned much during the first wave that will benefit patients in this autumn wave of cases.

I could go on and on, because the support has gone on and on, but it is important to recognise the fact that we in Guildford, Cranleigh and our villages were already well prepared for the impact of lockdown earlier this year, because we had in place a thriving voluntary network. These volunteers, including Voluntary Action South West Surrey and Cranleigh’s Street Champions—put together by Liz Townsend, the chairman of Cranleigh Parish Council, with support from many who continually volunteer in Cranleigh—must be recognised. The response to my Unsung Hero campaign was heart-warming: Debbie Foster in Fairlands received over 25 nominations for mobilising volunteers, and Adrian Whitehead delivered 100 medical prescriptions a week in Fairlands from his mobility scooter.

Special recognition must be given to Nick Wyschna and his wife Charlotte, who run the Guildford Fringe, for their drive to pull together excellent online comedy shows and live performances to bring the community together in fundraising efforts for the Royal Surrey County Hospital Charity and the Wysch Foundation, which works to make arts accessible to everyone. These Facebook live events were very successful and well supported, and I see that the Guildford Fringe has already adapted quickly and moved a performance online for the end of this week. Siobhan Fox and Scott Kerr, both pilots anxiously waiting to hear what would become of their jobs, put their own worries aside to serve refreshments as volunteers at the Royal Surrey County Hospital.

During lockdown, there was fantastic and incredibly helpful cross-party engagement. We work well when we work together, and that was my experience; it is the best way to deliver quickly for residents. Hope is so important right now. There is fatigue and anxiety, and we are concerned for those we know and love, for their jobs and their mental health. We cannot ignore any of these issues and we do not. This Government and all of us in our communities are defined not by the easy times, but by the times when we have to dig into those extra pockets of reserves that we never knew we had, to keep going, and to keep fighting and not giving up. I pay tribute to the incredible energy and courage of everyone involved in tackling this pandemic, including my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health, all the Health Ministers, our chief medical officer, his deputies, the chief scientific advisers and those working at all levels of our NHS for the work that they have done and continue to do for us all. It truly is a national health service, which is why it is right—right now—to introduce national restrictions to ensure that all health needs can be cared for.

Oral Answers to Questions

Mary Kelly Foy Excerpts
Tuesday 6th October 2020

(3 months, 2 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber

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Department of Health and Social Care
Helen Hayes Portrait Helen Hayes (Dulwich and West Norwood) (Lab)
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What recent assessment he has made of the effectiveness of the NHS Test and Trace service. [907103]

Mary Kelly Foy Portrait Mary Kelly Foy (City of Durham) (Lab)
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What recent assessment he has made of the effectiveness of the NHS Test and Trace service. [907105]

Karl Turner Portrait Karl Turner (Kingston upon Hull East) (Lab)
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What recent assessment he has made of the effectiveness of the NHS Test and Trace service. [907110]

Break in Debate

Helen Whately Portrait Helen Whately
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I thank the hon. Member for her question and for the work that she does with the APPG, which I joined recently for a very valuable conversation. Supporting care homes through the pandemic and in the months ahead is absolutely our, and my, priority. One part of that is ensuring that they have the testing that they need. We are getting regular repeat testing to care homes. I acknowledge that the turnaround times have not been what we would have liked them to be, but those turnaround times are coming down and we are seeing a rapid improvement in performance.

Mary Kelly Foy Portrait Mary Kelly Foy
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This week, the president of the Association of Directors of Public Health said that the funding is just not there for local authorities to effectively run local contact tracing. Where it has been done, at a cost to the local authority, evidence shows that local teams were more likely to be successful in contacting people compared with the national tiers 2 and 3. Can the Minister tell me why the Government keep insisting that the current track and trace system is working when public health professionals are telling them the opposite?

Helen Whately Portrait Helen Whately
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6 Oct 2020, 11:49 a.m.

I thank the hon. Member for her question. I am sure she will know that local authorities received £400 million to support them with local outbreak management. It is really important to have this coming together of the national system and the local system, where local authorities are indeed playing an important part, using their local knowledge to follow up with contact tracing, particularly for some of the contacts that are proving harder to reach.

Covid-19

Mary Kelly Foy Excerpts
Monday 28th September 2020

(3 months, 3 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber

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Department of Health and Social Care
Pauline Latham Portrait Mrs Pauline Latham (Mid Derbyshire) (Con)
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28 Sep 2020, 6:21 p.m.

We have heard a lot about testing. I have been talking to the Secretary of State about testing for some months now, because I have a company in my constituency—SureScreen —that has developed an antigen test and an antibody test, but for some reason Public Health England will not speak to it. It can do 1 million tests a week, ramping up to 2 million a week. These are 15-minute tests. I have written to and talked to the Secretary of State about it, but nothing has come back—nothing at all. I do think that there is something wrong when a company can do this at a very reasonable cost and we are struggling with testing. We should be using every company that we possibly can.

I have supported the Government on the new measures that we have put in place as a country, but I feel that this Parliament should be sovereign and we should make some decisions. It is no good the Government, the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State just saying out there, “We’re going to do this.” We need to ratify it and we need to agree with it. I probably would agree with it, but I would like to have a say in what we are doing. I have had dozens of constituents say, “Enough is enough. We want to be able to go and see our grandchildren.” We are now talking about Christmas being cancelled for students and for people who cannot go into groups of more than six. That means that I will not see my grandchildren because it will be a group bigger than six—but I want to. There are many pensioners who wish to see their family rather than live a long life. They would like to be able to make that choice. This Government have a responsibility to listen to those people, some of whom feel passionate because they fought in the war, or their parents fought in the war, for the freedoms that we want.

We are not, in this Parliament, given the opportunity to decide whether we think that these decisions have been made correctly. They may well have been, but I would like to see the evidence. I have not seen any evidence other than on the broadcasts—no more than any other member of the public. It is important that we do see and hear the evidence so that we can make a well-judged decision. After all, when we go to war we make a decision, but this is a war against a pandemic.

The Government really do need to think again and to accept the Brady amendment. They need to work with all the people who signed it—I am one of them—to be able to go forward so that the public feel that their representatives are representing them. I am trying to represent my constituents in many different ways, and this would be one of them when I could say to the Prime Minister, to the Secretary of State and to the Minister what I believe and what I feel. I feel passionately that we should be having a say. I urge the Government to accept the Brady amendment now, and in the future to look forward and say, “Actually, Parliament can make a decision.” Although we are told we have to make these decisions quickly—I accept it has to be relatively quick—we can change the business in this House so that we can all take part.

We have previously been recalled back for debates. It may be that we would not want to be called back every Saturday to make a decision, but we could be when there are big changes such as those of the last couple of weeks. This big change is affecting millions and millions of people, not least students. I feel passionately about those students who have left home for the first time and gone to college. They want to party and do all those things, and I accept that, but to be told they probably cannot go home at Christmas to see own family is outrageous. I would say to those students, “Probably defy what the Government say. Go home and see your family.”

Mary Kelly Foy Portrait Mary Kelly Foy (City of Durham) (Lab)
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I welcome the debate as it allows me to raise a number of issues of concern relating to the City of Durham, although I suspect that they are shared by constituencies across the country. County Durham, like many areas, has been subject to greater coronavirus restrictions to reduce the spread of the virus. While I support measures that protect public health, it is important to remember that it is the incompetence of Government that has made them necessary.

We have all witnessed the testing shambles and the shortcomings of the privatised track and trace system. We have a dodgy app and testing delays while important Government contracts are being handed out to private companies like confetti, yet the calls from public health for localised test and trace systems fall on deaf ears. How on earth do the Government plan to stop the virus if they do not know where it is?

As I said in my maiden speech, the policies of Government greatly affect the lives of ordinary people. We can see that illustrated during the pandemic. The continued failure to sort out test, track and trace has made the coronavirus crisis worse; that is undeniable. To add to that, many of my constituents are concerned about how the Government’s botched approach to the reopening of universities will affect them in Durham. Currently, thousands of students are returning to Durham, an area in local lockdown. People are worried about the impact that will have on the infection rate in the region as a whole, while students fear that once again they are being forgotten by Government. Given that the Government failed on exam results and failed on reopening schools safely, it is incredible yet unsurprising that the return of students was not properly planned for in order to protect them and the communities in which they study. What on earth has the Education Secretary been doing for the last six months? Clearly, not his job.

Finally, we have the economic impact on Durham. Businesses have closed and shops shut while jobs have been lost and hours cut for many who rely on that income just to get by. The measures put in place have been welcome, and I thank Durham County Council for its speedy and efficient response to businesses in need, but it is a fact that for millions there has been no support at all. Sectors that need specific intervention have been largely ignored and job losses that could have been avoided are now almost inevitable. Protections for renters have been withdrawn, while our welfare system, after years of Government cuts, can no longer be described as a safety net. Incredibly, extra support has had to be dragged from the Government by the Labour party and trade unions, although those concessions have repeatedly been too little too late.

It is time for the Government to stop ruling by U-turn and get a grip. They need to sort out testing, fix care, address the education crisis and stop our economy falling apart. A second wave is not inevitable, but the incompetence of this Government is making it more likely by the day.

Andrew Lewer Portrait Andrew Lewer (Northampton South) (Con)
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I supported the Government in the decisions they took in March, at the start of the covid-19 outbreak, when scientific understanding of this virus was not at the point that it is today. Tough decisions had to be made as to how to protect human life, because we were still learning how the virus could be transmitted and who was most vulnerable to becoming critically ill if they were infected. I commend Ministers for acting as they did and when they did, as well as everyone who has gone the extra mile during this terrible time, in Northampton and elsewhere.

The steps the Government took in the spring stopped the NHS being overwhelmed and saved lives. However, no Member of this House could be in any doubt that they also had a significant impact on our country in terms of the economy, society, the policing of our civil liberties and the devastating effect on people’s mental health. As data published by NHS England on a daily basis outlines, the number of people testing positive for covid-19 is rising, yet the death rate is staying low. “Yes, at the moment,” will be the response, and I acknowledge that, but I urge that that remain the key statistic either for further steps or for reeling back.

It is therefore imperative at this time that all areas of our lives affected by current restrictions be taken into account. Changing the Government’s response in line with the rates of infections if there are significantly lower death rates should not be viewed, as some might like to shout from the rooftops, as a U-turn. Changing tack in response to the statistics is rather a response to the reality of the situation we currently find ourselves in or may come to find ourselves in. That is not a humiliation or a repudiation, but adapting to circumstances.

I am concerned about the impact on the economy, not only in terms of people’s livelihoods—I thank the Chancellor for the unprecedented support he has given there—but in terms of the economy being able to provide for public services, particularly in non-covid health, notably cancer and mental health services. In addition, I am concerned about the impact there has already been on people attending vital appointments at their local hospitals and receiving urgent medical treatment. Earlier today, a constituent sent me an interesting link to an open letter by 394 medical doctors and over 1,300 healthcare professionals in Belgium, touching on this exact point: a cure must not be worse than the disease.

In essence, the dystopian nature of some of these restrictions has already caused a considerable deal of damage in society. I recognise the difficult balance and approach the Government had to take, but if we look at some other countries—Sweden, yes, but others too—it becomes evident that there are alternative approaches to controlling the virus without as significant an impact on civil liberties or as damaging an effect on the economy, with shielding the elderly and vulnerable more specifically than via general lockdowns being the approach.

I turn from the current challenges and dilemmas, the current agonising choices, blizzard of statistics and analysis of infection rates versus death rates, to a time—we hope and pray it will be soon—when we emerge from this, hopefully with a vaccine, I want to be very clear that any temptation on the part of the Government to attempt to keep any aspect of the restrictions, even if they have been determined to have been beneficial in some way, must be totally rejected. Any restrictive measure that has been implemented to fight coronavirus must go when a vaccine has been developed and distributed among much of the population.

At that point, a bonfire of restrictions must be metaphorically set alight. My inbox has seen a huge increase in people who now share that position with me. That goes back to my point on the damage—necessary though it may have been felt to be, and not to denigrate that—that these restrictions have done to society as a whole. This has been a national trauma, and it has eroded our nation’s civil liberties to a level that we have not seen in this country during peacetime. It is therefore crucial that every opportunity for public and parliamentary scrutiny is availed of.

Covid-19 Update

Mary Kelly Foy Excerpts
Monday 21st September 2020

(4 months ago)

Commons Chamber

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Department of Health and Social Care
Matt Hancock Portrait Matt Hancock
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The incubation period before which the virus can present itself is still estimated to require 14 days of self-isolation. If we could bring that figure down, I would be the first to be pleased to do so. As with our decision to take to 10 days the period for which somebody who has tested positive must self-isolate, this is a critical point, and we must rely on the scientific evidence. If my right hon. Friend has further scientific evidence, I would be happy to look at it.

Mary Kelly Foy Portrait Mary Kelly Foy (City of Durham) (Lab)
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Does the Secretary of State think that a £10,000 fine will act as a disincentive to poorer people getting a test?

Matt Hancock Portrait Matt Hancock
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We have put in place the extra £500, in addition to other income that people are getting, to support people on low incomes to self-isolate. If someone who is on a low income has symptoms and wants to know whether they have the virus, the result of having a positive test is that they will get the extra £500, and then of course they have to self-isolate. I am confident that people will come forward and do not only the right thing for society but the right thing for them, to find out the cause of their illness if they have symptoms.

Coronavirus Update

Mary Kelly Foy Excerpts
Tuesday 14th July 2020

(6 months, 1 week ago)

Commons Chamber

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Department of Health and Social Care
Matt Hancock Portrait Matt Hancock
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Yes. I want to reassure people in Dudley and beyond that the NHS is open. If people need NHS treatment, they should go to the NHS. In the first instance, they should go to their GP by phone or telemedicine, or call 111 or go to NHS 111 online. If people are asked to go to hospital or into a surgery, they absolutely should, and it is safe for them to do so.

Mary Kelly Foy Portrait Mary Kelly Foy (City of Durham) (Lab)
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The only way that directors of public health can properly tackle covid-19 is through an integrated approach to testing, tracing and outbreak management. Currently, the Government are treating each of those separately, with little regard to how they are interconnected. Does the Secretary of State accept the limitations of this system, and will he reallocate resources so that regions can develop integrated approaches for coronavirus test, trace and management?

Matt Hancock Portrait Matt Hancock
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It is vital that all those things are brought together at both a national and local level, and they are. The actions that have been taken under the NHS test and trace programme, whether national or local, and the interaction of the two, are testament to the fact that we are increasingly integrating national and local work and ensuring that the best high-quality data available is shared.

Covid-19: R Rate and Lockdown Measures

Mary Kelly Foy Excerpts
Monday 8th June 2020

(7 months, 2 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber

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Department of Health and Social Care
Matt Hancock Portrait Matt Hancock
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Of course it is important to ensure that people are fully informed about the reasons why we may need to take action in a particular local area, and that is an important part of the consideration. Ensuring that local bodies—for instance local directors of public health—are fully engaged, is an important way of doing that. In Wales, where my right hon. Friend has his constituency, that is done through the devolved nations, with their responsibilities locally for public health.

Mary Kelly Foy Portrait Mary Kelly Foy (City of Durham) (Lab)
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The R number is one indicator of infection, but it is only reliable at regional level. Currently, directors of public health tell me that they receive only high-level reports, and that they need more localised information, with data that relate to the number and location of cases, and state when infection occurred. That information is vital to stopping transmission, especially as restrictions are lifted. By what date will that information be made available to local authorities, so as to inform their local outbreak plans?

Matt Hancock Portrait Matt Hancock
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As soon as is practical.

Covid-19 Response

Mary Kelly Foy Excerpts
Tuesday 2nd June 2020

(7 months, 3 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber

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Department of Health and Social Care
Matt Hancock Portrait Matt Hancock
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That is an incredibly important point, because there has been a disproportionate impact on transport workers, particularly those who, by the nature of their work, have to be in close contact with others, for example taxi drivers. That factor was not taken into account in the Public Health England analysis. It is exactly what we mean when we say that we must understand the different causes of the disparities in the data on the impacts according to people’s ethnic background. Disentangling how much is due to occupation and how much is due to other factors is an important part of the analysis that we need to undertake to be able to take action such as protecting those who work in the transport sector.

Mary Kelly Foy Portrait Mary Kelly Foy (City of Durham) (Lab)
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Public health professionals I have spoken to tell me that the success of the Government’s track and trace system is limited by the turnaround of up to five days for coronavirus test results. That delay severely impacts the ability of public health teams to prevent onward transmission and protect the population from the virus. Does the Secretary of State recognise that problem? If so, how does he plan to achieve a 24-hour turnaround for every test? When will that be achieved?

Matt Hancock Portrait Matt Hancock
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The hon. Lady is quite right to report the views of local public health staff, who are right to raise the question. I am pleased to say that the turnaround speed has significantly improved in the past couple of weeks, and now 83% of tests are returned from the drive-through centres within 24 hours. There is continued work to speed that up and get the proportion even higher, and the Prime Minister has very kindly set me a goal of ensuring that all tests from the drive-through centres are returned within 24 hours.

Covid-19 Response

Mary Kelly Foy Excerpts
Monday 18th May 2020

(8 months, 1 week ago)

Commons Chamber

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Department of Health and Social Care
Matt Hancock Portrait Matt Hancock
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Yes, I will. The NHS restart is incredibly important in Lincolnshire and across the country. I know Lincolnshire well, and it is very important that we restart other services that have had to be paused for understandable reasons. Not only is Lincolnshire the home to many dedicated health and social care staff—I pay tribute to all those who work in the NHS in Lincolnshire—but my grandmother was a nurse at the Pilgrim Hospital in Boston and our great deputy chief medical officer, Professor Jonathan Van-Tam, is himself a resident of Lincolnshire. Lincolnshire has many great things to offer in the sphere of health, and we must ensure that that is about not just covid but health services across the board.

Mary Kelly Foy Portrait Mary Kelly Foy (City of Durham) (Lab) [V]
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The Office for National Statistics has reported that covid-19 mortality rates in the most deprived areas of England are twice those in the least deprived. Once again, this virus has reminded us of the extreme health and social inequalities in our society; although it can affect anyone, from any background, those from the poorest communities have the highest risk of severe illness and death. Here in the north-east, we have some of the highest levels of deprivation in the country, as well as the highest rates of infection. What do the Government intend to do to reduce health inequalities, both during the covid-19 lockdown and as part of our recovery from the impact of the virus?

Matt Hancock Portrait Matt Hancock
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The hon. Lady is absolutely right; this is an incredibly important subject, both, as she says, during the crisis and thereafter. We have a study under way, which Public Health England is conducting, on the impact of all sorts of different conditions on the likelihood that covid-19 will hit someone hard. It is true that there is a link to levels of deprivation, in the same way as one of the strongest factors, other than age, is obesity—that needs to be investigated. We have also seen a bigger impact on people from minority ethnic backgrounds. All these things need to be studied. Levelling up and closing that health inequality gap is an incredibly important part of the Government’s agenda for recovering from this terrible disease.

Health Inequalities

Mary Kelly Foy Excerpts
Wednesday 4th March 2020

(10 months, 3 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber

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Department of Health and Social Care
Rosie Winterton Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Rosie Winterton)
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It is a great pleasure to call Mary Kelly Foy to make her maiden speech.

Mary Kelly Foy Portrait Mary Kelly Foy (City of Durham) (Lab)
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4 Mar 2020, 5:16 p.m.

Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for calling me to make my maiden speech to the House today. To begin with, I want to pay tribute to my predecessor, Roberta Blackman-Woods. Roberta served the constituency for 14 years and was a tireless advocate for the people of Durham. Most recently, she was shadow Minister for Housing and Planning. Roberta was passionate about that work and highly respected for it. I want to say, on a personal level, that she has been a great help to me recently, and I wish her all the best in the next phase of her life.

It is an enormous privilege to be the Member of Parliament for the wonderful City of Durham. I want to thank the constituency Labour party members for their hard work and support in ensuring that I was elected, and the constituents who have placed their trust in me. I must also thank my family who have supported me throughout my life.

Durham has an incredible heritage. It is impossible not to be inspired when you see the cathedral on the horizon, and it is so central to the life of the city. It is fitting that the cathedral is now surrounded on all sides by the world-renowned Durham University, which is providing essential jobs and technology, linking Durham to all parts of the world, and giving our city a real vibrancy.

Durham has another history that needs to be celebrated: its mining heritage. It is a tradition that prides itself on resilience, forged by the trade union movement. All of that is encapsulated in the Durham miners’ gala, when banners from the villages that surround the city are proudly paraded through the streets, accompanied by brass bands. I hope that the right hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove) has now learned that it is held in our constituency, which is very much still Labour.

To prepare for this speech, I read those of my predecessor, Roberta, and her predecessor, Gerry Steinberg, and it was fascinating. Gerry’s speech was made in 1987. He talked about the devastating levels of unemployment after the closure of the coal mines, and the refusal of the Thatcher Administration to tackle the resulting insecurity in people’s lives and work. This was a time of de-industrialisation, a widening north-south divide, trade unions being crushed, a run-down NHS and the poll tax on the horizon. In contrast, my immediate predecessor, Roberta, gave her speech in 2005, eight years into a Labour Government. She referred to unemployment being halved, the minimum wage, GCSE results improving, and a new state-of-the-art further education college being built, as well as a hospital and secondary schools. It could have been a different country.

Then I reflected on my life during those periods; these were the experiences that made me the socialist that I am. In 1987, I had just finished a youth training scheme. I was in insecure work, and shortly afterwards I was made redundant. My dad, too, was thrown on the scrap heap after Swan Hunter’s shipyards closed.

In 1989, my first daughter came into the world, born 10 weeks premature and needing a ventilator before she could breathe on her own. Unfortunately, this basic piece of equipment was not available at the hospital, nor was it available in any of the surrounding hospitals. This was a direct result of deliberately running down the NHS. Eventually, a ventilator was located 30 miles away and Maria was born three hours later by emergency C-section. She suffered brain damage and lived her whole life with severe cerebral palsy.

The policies of Governments greatly affect the lives of ordinary people. The actions of the Conservatives and their former coalition partners have seen the stalling of the increases in life expectancy. This is extraordinary and has not happened since 1900. Labour has been accused of wanting to take us back to the 1970s; well, the Conservatives have taken us back to the 19th century.

Last week, the Marmot report on health inequalities showed the impact of austerity—something that I have seen first-hand. In my constituency, a child born on the Sherburn Road estate can expect to live 15 years fewer than a child born in the most affluent parts of the city, just a couple of miles away. Even more shockingly, a recent report in the British Medical Journal showed that between the most deprived local authorities—including County Durham—and the rest, inequalities in infant deaths, which decreased sharply under the Labour Government, have now started to increase under Conservative austerity. Just what kind of society is being created?

There are families in the former pit villages of Ushaw Moor, Coxhoe, Brandon and others in my constituency who are trapped in poverty. Children and grandchildren of the miners who built the wealth of this country are now having to use food banks and undergo a cruel benefits regime. Is it any wonder that the police have reported that the main issue affecting these communities is male suicide?

Improving health in Britain is not just about refurbishing hospitals; it is about having a good education, a secure and loving home and a regular source of income. Until we address these social issues, we will not see any substantial changes in public health. As Professor Marmot says:

“What good does it do to treat people and send them back to the conditions that made them sick?”

Labour has a strategy—oven-ready, you might say—to tackle these injustices and build a fairer, more equal society. It was laid out in our manifesto. Unfortunately, we are not able to deliver it yet, but that will not stop us holding this Government to account or campaigning for a better society. My pledge to those who feel the harsh impact of Tory austerity—those who will feel health inequalities hardest—is that I will fight for them, because I have not come to this place just to lay out the problems: I and my party will be part of the solution.

The city of Durham is steeped in history, but it is the future we fight for. The motto of the Durham miners may be 150 years old, but it was adopted by people who also suffered defeats and setbacks but carried on their struggle and, over time, won improvements in their industry and in the lives of entire communities. The motto is still very apt, and it is one that I hold close to my heart as I start my parliamentary journey:

“The past we inherit, the future we build”.

Paul Beresford Portrait Sir Paul Beresford (Mole Valley) (Con)
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4 Mar 2020, 4:34 p.m.

I congratulate the hon. Member for City of Durham (Mary Kelly Foy) on her maiden speech. It was interesting; funnily enough I did not agree with a considerable amount of it, although that is to be expected.

I am the second working medical professional to speak, following my hon. Friend the Member for Central Suffolk and North Ipswich (Dr Poulter). We are both from the same party and speak with some knowledge of the difficulties that we face. The moment that this sort of debate comes up, health professionals from our own particular field have a go at us.

I was delighted that the Minister referred to child dental health, on which I feel a push from behind every time there is a health debate. When I first came to this country, I worked in a really deprived area of east London. Trying to treat children there was like trying to fill a bath with the plug out. The statistics for child dental health are still grim today: 23.3% of five-year-olds have tooth decay, rising to 33.7% in deprived areas. The rate drops to 13.6% in less deprived areas, but it is still bad. Tooth decay is the single greatest reason for hospital admissions for five to nine-year-olds. Last year, 25,702 children went to hospital because of tooth decay. Worse than that, 45,000 children and young people aged up to 19 went to hospital because of tooth decay.

The estimated cost of treating these children in hospital is about £50 million annually. Virtually all children will require a general anaesthetic. Every anaesthetic, especially for little ones, carries a risk—an unnecessary one. The cost is made worse because those cases occupy trained health professionals and hospital facilities that could be used for other NHS services. It makes me very cross because dental caries, as the Minister has said, are virtually entirely preventable. Put simply, the cause is acid from sugar and dental plaque. Britons eat about 700 grams of sugar a week—an average of 140 teaspoons. That intake is not spread evenly; it is higher in the north and lower in the south-east. As Members might expect, teenagers have the highest intake of all age groups, consuming, probably, about 50% more.

The Government are taking action and the sugar tax is helping. Sara Hurley, the chief dental officer, along with many charities and organisations, has a drive to teach children, even down to day nursery children, how to brush their teeth. It is helping but, as the Minister mentioned, far and away the best proven method to reduce tooth decay among children—and even, to some degree, among adults—is the fluoridation of the water supply. Fluoride increases the resistance of tooth enamel to decay dramatically. In the United Kingdom, approximately 330,000 people have naturally occurring fluoride in their water supply. Traditionally, another 5.8 million in different parts are supplied with fluoridated water. But that covers only 10% of the total population. The cover in the United States is about 74% and rising. In Canada, it is 44% and rising, in Australia, it is 80% and rising, and even little New Zealand has managed 70% and rising.

We do have fluoridation legislation, but it is left to local authorities to instigate the process and to compel water companies to fluoridate their water supplies. There is no financial advantage for local authorities if they take such action, but the savings that come through to the NHS are considerable.

The second problem with the legislation is that few local authority boundaries are coterminous with the boundaries of the water companies, which means that the direction and implementation get difficult, complex and sometimes nigh on impossible. To my mind, the simple and sensible answer would be for the application to be put into the hands of the Department of Health and Social Care so that the policy could be applied step by step across the country, going for the most deprived areas first. That is a big ask and it will require a brave Government, but from reflecting on the Labour party’s previous position on fluoridation, I would hope for Labour’s support.

Whenever I raise the issue of fluoridation, the green ink flies. Letters come in and broomsticks whizz around my house as people come up with extraordinary contrary points. The latest Department of Health figures show that the odds of experiencing dental health decay in fluoridated areas were reduced by 23% in five-year-old children in the less deprived areas, and by 52% in those living in the most deprived areas.

Water fluoridation reduces hospital admissions for dental extractions for children by 59%, and in deprived areas by as much as 68%. We have the opportunity to be world leading, to give our children this chance, and to combat health decay and children going to hospital.