It’s funny how a different theme can dominate my time each week in parliament. Not because I plan things that way, but because the parliamentary timetable is so unpredictable, and I have to respond rather than set priorities. It can be a frustrating way to have to work, it’s certainly not like any other job I have ever done, though I have got used to it over they years.
So this week, I’ve found myself spending a lot of time working on health issues. North West MPs had a briefing on what the NHS is doing to catch up on treatment backlogs following the pandemic. I am well aware of some constituents waiting months for treatment, and I can imagine how upsetting this must be for those who are worried and in pain. In order to speed things up, some patients will be offered treatment away from local sites, although NHS officials stressed that this would be voluntary, and patients could wait for an appointment locally if they prefer. Private providers are also being used to plug gaps.
One way to help the NHS cope with high demand, especially as winter approaches, would be to make more use of our community pharmacies, who can provide advice on health worries, and help treat some simpler conditions. I’m all in favour of this, and was pleased to get along to a meeting of the All Party Group on Pharmacies to hear about the support they need from government so they can do this work. I’ve made use of local pharmacy services recently, when I had my flu jab at Boots in Stretford last week. Getting our flu and covid jabs (I’m very pleased I have now had both) is something we can all do to help the NHS.
On Thursday, the public accounts committee, of which I’m a member, held a session on the new Integrated Care Partnerships and Integrated Care Boards that will be responsible for health and care in the future. I think they’re a good idea. For us, the ICB and ICP will cover the whole of Greater Manchester, which makes sense, and everyone understands the importance of good social care to keep people out of hospital, and get them home quickly after treatment. But I was surprised that the care and health structures still aren’t as well integrated as they need to be. It was a very interesting session, and if you’d like to watch, you can do so at https://www.parliamentlive.tv/Event/Index/00481576-0d47-46ff-bdbd-483ee08b3243
But the highlight of my week was being able to introduce a bill on Tuesday which would change the law to introduce automatic registration of families eligible for Healthy Start support. This is a great benefit that helps pregnant women, new mums and their young children obtain fruit and veg, milk and vitamins which are vital for their well-being – but only around 60% of those eligible are getting the support they’re entitled to. I’m delighted to have support for my bill from dozens of MPs from across a number of political parties, as well as charities, businesses and local and regional government. It won’t reach the statute book, sadly, but I was very pleased the Secretary of State agreed to meet campaigners to discuss the proposals it suggests. You can read more about this at https://www.politicshome.com/thehouse/article/government-must-do-more-to-boost-uptake-of-healthy-start-scheme
This week has also seen me spending time on the continuing, and disgraceful, treatment of asylum seekers arriving from across the Channel in small boats. We learnt that 4000 had been crowded into a centre in Kent intended for less than half that number, and that some had then been bussed to London and literally dumped in the street. I couldn’t be more ashamed of the way we are treating people desperately fleeing danger and persecution, or more angry at the Home Secretary’s refusal to take responsibility for what is going on. As well as asking questions in the chamber about this, I joined a cross party round table to discuss idea for speeding up asylum decisions so that people aren’t trapped for months on end in hotels and immigration centres, waiting to know if they will be allowed to stay in the UK.
Universities also took up some of my time this week. I joined a debate on the contribution of international students to the UK economy (almost £30 billion a year, if you’re wondering, not to mention the way they enrich our cultural lives and academic communities). And it was a special pleasure to welcome a team of researchers from Manchester Metropolitan University, including Andy who lives in Urmston, to hear about the work they’re doing on healthy ageing.
Finally, a big shoutout to my good friends at Manchester United Disabled Supporters Club! It was so good to join you at your famous dinner last Friday – the first time we have been able to hold the event in the past 3 years. It was great to see everyone, and I had a fantastic evening. I’m already looking forward to next year’s event!