I was pleased to join the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly at the start of the week for one of our biannual plenary meetings. After the restrictions of Covid, it was good to meet with so many colleagues in person. Together we condemn Putin’s invasion of and war on Ukraine. A close working relationship is vitally important between Britain and Ireland and the UK and Ireland. We continue to stand together against violence and tyranny, and we continue to emphasise the importance of dialogue and debate over the common problems and challenges that we face. Whatever the headlines say about the Northern Ireland protocol, we in both parliaments will continue to discuss, debate, and ultimately work together to ensure peace and prosperity on both our islands.
I was pleased to speak during questions on Health and Social care this week. The Government seem to think that there is some kind of magic staffing tree, but there is no increase in capacity, no elective recovery and no fixing of social care without an immediate and ambitious workforce plan. We have legislation in this place, and we have seen a tsunami of White Papers, but none of that includes a credible workforce plan. Given the estimated 93,000 NHS vacancies and more than 110,000 vacancies in social care, I asked the Health Secretary in Parliament this week when we could expect such a plan. The Guardian have recently reported that around 400 workers are leaving the NHS every week in order to restore their work-life balance, with many complaining of burnout and PTSD following two years of battling with the Covid pandemic. This is completely unsustainable and we need a credible workforce plan that incorporates both hiring and retention of staff with acceptable and supportive conditions and pay.
On the topic of capacity and sustainability of the care system, I submitted a question to the Health and Social Care department on what recent assessments have been made of the impact on earning capacity and wellbeing of being an unpaid carer. Given the extremely challenging living crisis situation that we are facing in this country and the challenges facing the social care system, I find it unbelievable that the only assessment available is from BEIS from March 2020. The Health and Social Care Department should urgently address this issue and ensure that health plans for recovery include consideration of the role of unpaid carers and the ways in which they can be supported, financially and emotionally.
This week, the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee questioned Michael Gove on the work of his Department for Levelling Up, Housing, and Communities. I was interested to hear from Michael Gove on the Strategy and Policy Statement for the Electoral Commission. We are concerned that the Government’s Statement could put at risk the full independence of the Electoral Commission. The Electoral Commission themselves have written to the Government to voice their concerns that such a Statement from the Government would be inconsistent with the role of an independent body and with maintaining public trust in the system. This is completely unacceptable and we must defend the role of the Electoral Commission to be entirely separate from Government.
I was pleased to join a Cancer Drop In event in Parliament on the backlog that the NHS are facing with delivering diagnoses and providing treatment. The Covid pandemic hit at the worst time for the NHS: a decade of austerity had already depleted much of their resources to enable them to withstand the immense pressures and challenges that the pandemic brought. A decade of underfunding and understaffing has led to long waiting lists and a lack of investment in ageing equipment. We need an increase in treatment capacity that comes from more funding for staffing and more funding to replace equipment with the high-tech, cost-effective treatment of radiotherapy that is used in half of cancer treatment.
I know many constituents are concerned about the rise in eating disorders, indeed, in Bristol South we have seen a large increase in cases, so I visited a drop in event sponsored by Dr Agnes Ayton and Professor Gerome Breen to learn more. Dr Ayton has been leading vital research at the Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust looking at the treatment of anorexia nervosa. One of the challenges is that people who are admitted to hospital when their condition becomes life-threatening and often involuntarily, are discharged when still malnourished. Readmission rates are as high as 50-60%. Her study suggests that providing uninterrupted care that includes integrated cognitive behaviour treatment improves outcomes and readmission rates. It’s clear that health isn’t something that is addressed in hospitals and GPs with our physical bodies; we have to take a greater holistic approach and recognise the importance of mental wellbeing in our treatments and health as a consideration across policy-making.
This week I supported Luke Pollard’s Ten Minute Rule Bill Keyham’s Law. On 12 August 2021 five people were murdered and two further people were injured in a shooting in Keyham and Ford in Plymouth. Keyham’s Law has three proposals: One, it would ban keeping pump-action weapons in homes (a pump-action weapon is fast to load and easy to use). Gun certificate holders who can demonstrate a legitimate reason for keeping these weapons in their homes who work in farming or pest control would be the only two permitted exemptions. Two, it would call for mental health concerns to be addressed by linking medical records to gun certificates. Under these proposals a person’s gun certificate would be linked to their medical records and if there were any concerns flagged about their mental health, the competent body for issuing the gun certificate would be required to review the person’s suitability for holding a gun certificate and possessing a gun. And three, it would make violent misogyny an aggravating offence. We have to do all we can to prevent such awful tragedies happening again.
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