20 MAR 2019

Speech on leaving the EU - health and social care

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Bone, and to follow the hon. Member for Argyll and Bute (Brendan O'Hara). Above all, this debate allows a reasonable discussion of the issue, which I hope we can have, but I was struck by the similarity between it and last night's debate in the main Chamber. Like the hon. Gentleman, I am aware of constituents who have expressed their great problems in getting drugs for two conditions, in particular: insulin for diabetes and the drugs required for cystic fibrosis. Cystic fibrosis is a particularly horrible disease that requires a continuous supply of drugs, so I can understand the concerns.

Throughout all the discussions on this matter, I have been conscious of the lack of objectivity from anyone, including the medical profession. The hon. Gentleman seems to think that those in the profession can stand aside and take an independent line, but I do not believe that is true or that what they say is necessarily helpful. Allow me to pick up where the Minister left off: the guidance published by the Government for pharmacists and members of the public is not to stockpile medicines. As part of the Brexit contingency measures, the Department of Health and Social Care has asked drug manufacturers to ensure they have a six-week buffer stock, on top of the three months already in place, but the public do not need to stockpile medicines.

Mr Gregory Campbell

During a recent episode of "Question Time", the new presenter Fiona Bruce asked the audience how many of them were stockpiling. Almost nobody put their hand up, much to the embarrassment of the BBC.

John Howell

The hon. Gentleman has much more leisure time than me, as he can still watch the BBC. I cannot remember when I last watched it, but I am pleased to join him in condemning its attitude. He makes a strong point. During the Brexit campaign, the health sector was dominated by the promise on the side of the famous bus, but equally, the remain campaign has lied through its teeth in saying many things. I have no real confidence that, if we were to have a second referendum, we would at any stage be able to have a debate free of exaggeration.

A constituent contacted me to say that he had been to a local hospital and was astonished to see that as a result of Brexit—although it has not happened yet—the ward was closing and had lost a large number of staff. I decided I would not let that go, but would find out the facts. I spoke to the matron who ran the ward in question. She said to me, "That is absolute rubbish. We have a full ward; this is a normal cycle of people's leave and it has nothing at all to do with Brexit." If we make Brexit arguments we need to ensure we have a rational and objective discussion, which so far we have not been able to have.

Brendan O'Hara

To have a rational and objective discussion, we have to rely on experts and take evidence from the people in the field. The contributors are objective: Macmillan Cancer Support, the British Medical Association, Cancer Research UK and CLIC Sargent have come to us to say there is a major problem. I presume the hon. Gentleman would not say that they are partisan players.

John Howell

I am not sure that I agree with the hon. Gentleman. As politicians, we have the principal duty to explore the situation. There will be times when we need expert opinions, but I am complaining about the debate and discussion in this country where people on both sides use the issue as a football and produce exaggerated claims.

I have a great deal of sympathy regarding mental health, an issue on which I have done an enormous amount of campaigning. Outside the EU, there is another organisation with responsibility for mental health, the Council of Europe, on which I serve as a member of the Parliamentary Assembly. The Council of Europe has an expert committee on mental health, which is nothing to do with the EU. That means that if we leave the EU, there is a body of evidence and recommendations already in place to take forward mental health issues. That expert committee has produced a reference tool to determine the essential basket of potential rights that an individual should have, to consider whether the human rights of a patient suffering from mental disorders can be maintained with a great deal of dignity. That is an important element that we seem to ignore; we pretend it does not exist, yet many of us spend a huge amount of time at the Council of Europe trying to push forward those sorts of rights, not to take the place of the EU—it works the other way around—but to provide a safety net for people who are suffering from mental disorders.

I want to end on the issue of care. In Henley, the Government have spent about £12 million rebuilding a new hospital that is a model of how to integrate care and medical provision. The hospital was built without any beds; the beds are in the care home at the side of it. That has changed the way that doctors look at the provision of care. They do not immediately think that they should simply send patients to a bed when they can be treated better at home. I have taken various Ministers along to look at that hospital. I do not think it will be affected by Brexit in the slightest. The model set up there is one we can all take as a better way for the system to work in future. I extend an invitation to the Minister to come and see that hospital and how it operates. I hope he will enjoy the experience and see the lack of impact that Brexit will have on the provision of service.

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