Last weekend, I was really pleased to be asked by the new Shadow Secretary of State for Health Wes Streeting to join his health team. 2020 and 2021 have been tough as I’ve managed my Long Covid symptoms, but I now feel ready to return to the Labour frontbench and am excited to work with a brilliant team.
I’ll be focussing on Public Health in my new role, meaning that I’ll be holding the Government to account on life expectancy, smoking, obesity, COVID, health inequalities and more. I’ve worked as a Shadow Public Health Minister in the past and feel very passionately about Public Health issues, partly because of my own experiences in Tameside.
I grew up in Denton West and went to school at Egerton Park (now Denton Community College). One of my best mates at Egerton Park lived in Haughton Green in Denton South. We were two lads with a lot in common. Same age, same school, same town and same interests, yet statistically we were poles apart. My life expectancy is estimated to be about 10 years more than him, due to massive health inequalities.
That is totally unacceptable, and it’s shocking that this is still a conversation we are having in 21st Century Britain. The Labour Government made great strides on Public Health and inequality, from focussing on early years, to tackling child inequality and pensioner poverty. Labour also drove down hospital and A&E waiting times so that those that needed care could access it quickly.
Unfortunately, lots of this good (and unfinished) work has been undone over the last decade. The gap in life expectancy between the most and least deprived areas of England has widened significantly in recent years and waiting times have skyrocketed. In addition to this, NHS hospitals, mental health services and community providers are now reporting a shortage of nearly 84,000 full time staff. Again, that is totally unacceptable, and the Conservative Government needs to be pressed on how this has happened and what urgent steps they will be taking to sort it out.
It’s time for a strong voice on Public Health, and I look forward to providing this in Parliament and beyond. Public Health affects us on a national and regional level, and it is the job of Government to ensure that we all live long and healthy lives, no matter where we are born or grow up. It is that principle that will be driving my work in this new role.