Health Questions: 11th June 2013

Simon Hughes (Bermondsey and Old Southwark) (LD)
T2. In my borough of Southwark we have higher than average smoking rates, and the Cabinet member responsible for health has said that hundreds of people are dying early because they smoke. Can Ministers help me to persuade our Labour council that it is inconsistent to say “Don’t smoke” on the one hand and invest £2.6 million of pension funds in British American Tobacco on the other? [158892]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health (Anna Soubry)
That is a good point, but I have to say that I am not convinced that it is just a Labour-run council that might have chosen to invest their staff pensions in this way; I strongly suspect that all political parties are guilty of this. While this is, of course, a matter for local authorities, it is also the sort of great campaigning work that MPs can do with their local councillors. It is even more important that they do that, given that they now have this great responsibility for public health.

Mr Virendra Sharma (Ealing, Southall) (Lab)
T3. I welcome the leading role that the Department is taking in the formulation of a national strategy for TB. Its importance was reinforced by a recent all-party group report on resistant forms of the disease. One of the key points in the report was the importance of joint working in the development of the strategy, and that it should be public health-led. Does the Minister agree that NHS England also has a crucial role to play in the development of the strategy? Will she ensure that it works closely with Public Health England to develop it? [158893]

Anna Soubry
The short answer is yes. I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman for the work of his APPG. We had a good meeting in December and I am looking forward to our follow-up meeting tomorrow when we will discuss this matter further.

Steve Brine (Winchester) (Con)
T7. Now that public health responsibilities have, as has been discussed, moved to local authorities and Public Health England, can the Government confirm that raising awareness of the signs and symptoms of cancer and early diagnosis, which is of course so important, will be key priorities for those bodies? Will the Minister tell the House how the Government will assess progress? [158897]

Anna Soubry
Again, that is a very good point. I completely agree with my hon. Friend and pay tribute to the work of his all-party group on breast cancer. Screening is important. This is also a good opportunity to pay tribute to the Secretary of State’s announcement today of the publication on the website of such outcomes, which will not only drive huge improvement in public health, but, most importantly, ensure that we reduce health inequalities. The previous Government failed to do that; this Government are determined that we will improve them.

Gavin Shuker (Luton South) (Lab/Co-op)
T4. An enormous number of people—largely women—involved in on-street prostitution are caught in a cycle of drug and alcohol abuse, and are working to feed their habit, but at the same time, beyond managing drug dependency, many drug and alcohol services do not offer any practical pathways out of prostitution or even ask whether the client wishes to exit prostitution. Will Ministers look into this issue, consider issuing guidance and write to me? [158894]

Anna Soubry
Absolutely yes on all those very important points. The hon. Gentleman makes an extremely important point to which I absolutely subscribe. I have regular meetings on this matter, and I hope that our sexual health strategy addressed exactly those points, but I am more than happy not only to write, but to meet him to discuss the matter further. If I might say, I think that all Members, whatever the party political divide, could do far more both here and locally to reduce the number of women who find themselves working on the streets as prostitutes. I have long taken the view that these are some of the most vulnerable people in our society, and without exception I have never met a prostitute—I used to represent many of them—who has not herself been abused, usually as a child. They are vulnerable people and we should recognise them for that.

Alex Cunningham (Stockton North) (Lab)
T6. Three Health Ministers have indicated their support, and one even voted for it, so will the Secretary of State either introduce his own legislation or back new clause 17 to the Children and Families Bill to ban smoking in cars with children present? [158896]
Anna Soubry
Well, it is a very good point, and the hon. Gentleman knows my own feelings. [Laughter.] No; it is important that we always get the balance right between good public health measures and not getting the accusation from both sides of being a nanny state. [Interruption.] No, no; it is all right his getting agitated, but he knows my view, and I am happy to give him any assistance I can—my door is always open.

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP)
When a patient is ill and visits their GP, they will do as the doctor orders. One hundred thousand people will die of lung cancer this year. When will the Government do as the doctor orders and bring in plain packaging for tobacco?

Anna Soubry
I refer my hon. Friend to answers that I have given beforehand. I know the great work that he does on lung cancer and I am pleased to see that, yet again, we will have a national campaign following the great success of the last one. We can talk further.
Annette Brooke (Mid Dorset and North Poole) (LD)
This is cervical screening awareness week. What plans does the Minister have further to encourage women aged 60 to 64 to attend cervical screening, given the declining levels of screening uptake and the increasing levels of incidence in this age group?

Anna Soubry
Screening is one of the most important aspects of the work of Public Health England and we are keen to make sure that it is addressed both nationally and locally. Great work can be done by local authorities in making sure that women have this vital screening.

Jane Ellison (Battersea) (Con)
In April, the BBC’s “Casualty” programme highlighted the vital role that health professionals have in spotting young girls at risk of being taken abroad or of having female genital mutilation carried out on them in this country. We are approaching the most difficult time of the year over the long summer holidays, when girls are most at risk. Will Ministers do all they can to draw the attention of health professionals to the vital role that they have in these critical next two months?
Anna Soubry
Absolutely, and I pay tribute to my hon. Friend and to other hon. Members on both sides of the Chamber for the great work that they have done on FGM. I am really proud that the Government have produced the FGM passport, which is available to many young women. It does—I hope that it will continue to do so—protect women, especially younger women who are going abroad for this appalling abuse to be carried out upon them. We have done great work already with health professionals who increasingly realise, first, that they must be aware of it; secondly, that they must report it; and thirdly, that they must take action to prevent this appalling abuse of women, especially young women.