Health and Politics: This Week’s Agenda

This is the first in a weekly series of posts that aim to explain what our politicians are doing about health-relates issues. 

Published each Sunday, these articles will look at the Parliamentary agenda for the week ahead. This series aims to clarify what events are happening, which ones matter and why you should care.

Monday 16th

The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) is looking at the management of adult diabetes services in the NHS. The PAC looks at how government departments spend their money, and is widely respected. It can drag anyone in front of it for questioning, and doesn’t always treat them nicely when they get there.  This session’s victims include Simon Stevens, the head of NHS England

It’s usually pretty scathing in its reports, and recently eviscerated the Government for its handling of Kids Company, a charity which collapsed into financial ruin despite huge grants from central government.

This session, and its report that’ll come out later, won’t produce any changes in law. However, it’s evidence carries a lot of clout and influences many future decisions on policy and management.

Tuesday 17th 

The monthly pantomime that is Health Questions, where for three hours, Jeremy Hunt and his junior lackeys will avoid answering questions from other MPs.

A disappointing set of questions this time around, as at least six look like they’ve been tabled just to give a chance for Jeremy Hunt to hear how well he’s doing (despite all evidence to the contrary).

There’s still a slight chance of something interesting happening though. Things to look out for include:

  • The inevitable row over junior doctor contracts
  • Quite how badly the Government answers a question on the availability of off-patent drugs, given that a heath minister Alistair Burt, blocked a bill that would’ve made such drugs cheaper just two weeks ago.
  • The likely spat between Phillip Davies and Jo Cox over hospital car-parking costs. Davies infamously blocked a bill that would have made hospital parking cheaper for visiting carers.
  • Ministers trying to appear informed about genomic medicine, and the genetic issues around first cousin marriages.

Wednesday 18th

The House of Lords is having a chat over dinner about improving stroke care. In what is delightfully called ‘Dinner Break Business‘, peers get to chat about whatever issues they feel are important whilst everyone else is having food. These debates can get quite technical and detailed, and generally are a lot more informed than Commons debates.

Thursday 19th

Backbench MPs have organised a debate on ‘A New Cancer Strategy’. Backbenchers are those who don’t hold senior positions in the government or opposition.

David Tredinnick, Parliament’s very own witch doctor, was involved in getting it organised. Tredinnick is famous for believing surgeons don’t like operating in the full moon as blood doesn’t clot properly, so there’s potential for some very wacky ideas to get thrown about.

Almost as equal a nutball is the previously mentioned Phillip Davies, MP for Shipley. Davies’ claims to fame include being Parliament’s biggest producer of hot air and for getting in a recent argument over whether to debate International Men’s Day.

Davies got his way but will be talking in Westminster Hall. If the Commons chamber is the Premiership, Westminster Hall is the Vanarama League. Seems about right for as silly an idea as International Men’s Day. It’s a great shame that the very serious topic of male suicide is being discussed alongside it.

Friday 20th

Despite many members returning to their constituencies on Thursday, apparently the House of Commons thinks Fridays are great times to discuss new laws. Specifically, they debate Private Members Bills, which are introduced by normal MPs, rather than the Government.

Unfortunately, these bills can be ‘talked out’ by MPs who think they’re a bad idea. Basically, this involves chatting enough nonsense so that there’s no time to vote.

Phillip Davies, who by now is seeming like a thoroughly disagreeable human being, does this quite a lot.  Ideas up for debate include:

  1. Introducing compulsory emergency first aid education to secondary schools
  2. Increasing provision of independent mental health advocates in England
  3. Making service commissioning more equal towards those with mental illness and learning disabilities
  4. Increasing provisions for mothers, and expecting mothers, with mental illness

Unfortunately, if the first aid bill uses up all available time, then every other bill can be blocked by just one MP shouting object. If this happens, bills get shoved to the bottom of the debate pile for next time and have no practical chance of becoming law. This might be the single stupidest thing in Parliament, which is quite impressive given the intelligence of some of its occupants.

The Lords are also debating a bill which will give more money to mesothelioma research. A commendable idea, but it won’t ever happen, unless an MP in the Commons decides to pick it up.

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