Sep 23

Broken Tory promises are putting people’s mental health at risk

People across Liverpool City Region are being put at risk because of the government’s postcode lottery for mental health funding.luciana-berger-mental-health-2

Through a series of Freedom of Information (FOI) requests I have uncovered that almost two thirds of Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) across the city region plan to reduce the proportion of the budget they spend on mental health for 2016/17, rather than increase it.

The Tory government pledged that CCG spending on mental health would increase at least in line with overall NHS budget increases, but it has broken this key promise, leaving people across the city region at risk.

Six of the seven city region CCGs responded to my FOI request and four plan to reduce the proportion of their budget they will spend on mental health. Nationally, more than half of CCGs (57 per cent) are planning a reduction.

Worryingly, the four CCGs which plan to decrease the proportion of their budget they spend on mental health – Southport and Formby, South Sefton, Halton and St Helens – already allocate below the national average of 10 per cent to mental health.

The amount CCGs plan to spend on mental health services as a proportion of their total budgets varies greatly. St Helens and South Sefton will spend just 6.94 per cent and 7.52 per cent – ranking them among the worst in the country, while Liverpool will spend 10.5 per cent.

The new figures prove that the government has failed to honour its promise to ensure that mental health spending increases in every part of the country.

Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, stated in an Opposition Day Debate on Mental Health in December that ‘CCGs are committed to increasing the proportion of their funding that goes into mental health.’

NHS England’s planning guidance states that all CCGs are required to increase their spend on mental health by at least as much as their overall budget increase.

In fact, time and time again Ministers have promised that mental health spending would increase. Yet the majority of local areas are planning to spend less of their budget on mental health.

Across the Liverpool City Region, too many people with mental health conditions are not getting the treatment they need. Services are stretched to breaking point, patients are at risk, and proper standards of care are being undermined.

For all their warm words about parity of esteem, it is clear that Tory ministers are not committed to achieving equality between physical health and mental health.

The government must urgently step in and prevent a dangerous situation developing.

I will continue to expose the gap between their empty promises and what is actually happening on the ground.

Sep 16

Defending our local health services

I voted for this motion in the House of Commons this week to highlight the shortcomings of the government’s Sustainability and Transformation Plans for our National Health Service.stp-motion

Over the past eight months, Sustainability and Transformation Plans have been drawn up for 44 areas in England by a range of agencies involved in the running of our health services and local government.

Here in Liverpool, the future of our local NHS will be determined by the Cheshire and Merseyside Sustainability and Transformation Plan. The local plan has not been published yet and is shrouded in secrecy. There are already serious concerns about the damaging impact it could have locally.

So what are these plans and how will they affect us?

NHS England describes them as ‘…a new approach to help ensure that health and care services are built around the needs of local populations. To do this, every health and care system in England will produce a multi-year STP showing how local services will evolve and become sustainable over the next five years – ultimately delivering the Five Year Forward View vision of better health, better patient care and improved NHS efficiency.’

What these plans are likely to be in reality is a very different story.

There has been heavy criticism of the lack of transparency surrounding the development of the plans, and there is no evidence to suggest that they will actually work. The Tory government is intent on cutting resources to our NHS, and many believe the most likely outcome will be cuts to our services, reduced quality of care and the loss of frontline nurses and doctors. And worryingly, local people are being shut out of the process and are not being given the opportunity to have their voices heard.

I am particularly concerned about the impact these plans will have for our mental health services locally. The government claims that it is committed to achieving equality between physical health and mental health, but there is no requirement for the plans to specifically mention mental health, and once again it appears to have been left behind.

This government has already stretched our NHS to breaking point, and I will stand side-by-side with local campaigners to fight these ill-thought out proposals at every opportunity.

Sep 10

Supporting Organ Donation Week

I’m backing Organ Donation Week to highlight the importance of organ donation and celebrate those who have saved lives.

donation-logoPeople waiting for transplants depend on people being willing to donate their organs but sadly on average three people die every day across the UK due to a shortage of donated organs.donation-pic

In fact, more people than ever before donated their organs after their deaths last year, with 1,364 people becoming organ donors when they died. Their donations resulted in 3,519 transplants taking place.

However, the UK still has one of the lowest consent rates in Europe, which is why we need people to talk about organ donation so that more families are prepared to donate their relative’s organs if asked to do so.

Families are more likely to agree to donation when a deceased relative’s decision is known to them. Almost nine out of 10 families in 2015/16 agreed to donation when the relative’s decision was known, but fewer than five out of 10 agreed when the patient’s decision was not known at the time of the potential donation.

It is easy to register your wish to donate. You can join the NHS Organ Donor Register here: or contact the 24 hour a day donor line on 0300 123 23 23.

The register records your decision on whether you want to donate your organs and/or tissue after your death to save and improve the lives of others. It is used by authorised medical staff to establish whether someone has registered an organ donation decision.

Letting your family know your organ donation decision will make it much easier for them to support what you want.


Sep 09

Zero hours contracts still on the rise

The number of people working on zero-hours contracts has increased by a fifth since last year and more than five-fold since 2010, to over 900,000, according to official figures from the Office for National

It is likely that the actual figure of people experiencing this type of precarious employment is much higher.

Before the 2015 election the Tories promised to act on zero-hours contracts, but these numbers show that was nothing more than words.

I know from talking to people who experience them that too many of these contracts provide unpredictable hours, irregular pay and a lack of job security or certainty.

In June 2013 I and Labour colleagues George Howarth and Alison McGovern looked at the experience of people across Merseyside who are on zero hours contracts. Our report, which you can read by clicking here, highlighted the exploitation too many people on zero hours contracts faced then.

Today, a record 903,000 people cannot be sure of the hours they will work or the pay they will earn from week to week.

In addition, cuts to Universal Credit will result in 2.5 million working families being an average of £2,100 worse off, hitting people in insecure low paid work the hardest.

During the last Parliament, Labour pushed for strengthened protections for people on zero-hour contracts, including allowing a right to financial compensation for cancelled shifts and a requirement for employers to offer a permanent contract to people working regular hours over a continuous period.

At the 2015 General Election I stood on a manifesto commitment to ban exploitative zero-hours contracts, which was part of wider plans to reform the economy to ensure that it works better for working people.

I will continue to challenge the government about this disgraceful rise in zero hours exploitation.

Sep 06

Government must act to back local businesses

Businesses using rooftop solar arrays to help combat climate change and save money face a massive rise in business rates next year unless the government panels

Rates could rise by between six and eight times above their current levels from next April because ministers have failed to issue new rules to the Valuation Office Agency, which is carrying out a review.

The government must act now to prevent businesses being penalised for doing the right thing and helping to generate green energy.

The rate rise will not hit domestic rooftop solar systems, solar farms or Academy schools which operate as charities, but will hit state schools and local businesses.

Labour MPs raised concerns in Parliament in July, but new Prime Minister Theresa May’s decision to axe the Department for Energy and Climate Change means that decision making has now been spread across government departments.

Ministers must intervene to update how solar panels are classified, or this proposed change will further undermine the clean energy revolution Britain needs to power the future.

The government needs to intervene in the business rates review and provide greater transparency over how these rates for solar are being calculated.

The new tax rates will be published at the end of September and will come into force on 1 April 2017. The government must intervene.

Failing to act would show the government’s incompetence in failing to support a high-growth clean energy British industry and its bad faith to businesses by moving the goalposts after investments have been made.

Sep 02

Join the Liverpool Memory Walk

The Alzheimer’s Society is organising the Liverpool memory walk at Croxteth Hall this Sunday, September 4 from 10am, to raise awareness of dementia and help raise money for the charity.Liverpool memory walk

As a Dementia Friend I know the importance of communities coming together to support the growing numbers of people who will experience dementia.

There are two routes on the walk. The short route travels by the lake on tarmac paths and is suitable for wheelchairs but does have some gravel paths. The longer route winds through Mull Wood, past the riding school around Ten Acres Clump and returns to the front lawn of the Hall. It contains rough woodland paths and is not suitable for wheelchairs.

Dementia is not a natural part of the ageing process. It is caused by diseases of the brain, but it is possible to live well with it. Some 850,000 people live with dementia in the UK today.

Dementia often starts with short-term memory loss but it can also affect the way that people think, speak and do things. People with dementia can become confused, find it difficult to communicate, as they can’t remember the words that they want, and can have difficulties planning.

People are often happier living independent lives in their own homes for longer. Dementia friendly communities where more people understand dementia make that more possible. That is why I signed up to help support a dementia friendly constituency.

Memory Walks take place across the country and this Sunday’s walk in Croxteth Park will give people taking part the chance to meet people affected by dementia and show their support for a dementia friendly Liverpool.

Over 100,000 people are expected to take part nationally, brought together by a shared desire to raise awareness and bring people together. To find out more, click here or telephone: 0300 330 5452.

Sep 02

Thrilled to be one of the judges for this year’s @BeamAwards

BEAM-Logo-Web-T572303BI am delighted to have been invited to join the judging panel for the BEAM Awards that celebrate Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic talent across the UK.

The awards recognise achievements across politics, arts and culture and give the public the chance to nominate their choices across 14 different categories.

You can make your nomination by clicking here. But hurry, nominations are only open until this Sunday September 4.

The awards, hosted by Sir Trevor McDonald, will be televised on ITV later this year following the awards ceremony at the London Palladium on October 12.

Nominations include hosts of figures from the worlds of sport, film, music, journalism, politics and business, pointing to the extraordinary contributions people from BAME communities make to the diversity and success of the UK.

This will be the first ceremony of its kind to be broadcast by a mainstream TV channel. Please join me in being part of it and make your nomination by Sunday by clicking here.

Aug 26

The government needs to come clean on the NHS

Tory promises to protect our National Health Service are proving worthless.NHS-RGB (2)

Behind the scenes and without proper public consultation the government is drawing up Sustainability and Transformation Plans for local NHS Trusts that will see many services merged and others closed altogether.

The plans are being drawn up against the backdrop of lengthening patient queues, missed treatment targets, staff shortages and financial deficits. The Tory government has told the NHS to save £22 billion, despite the population growing, ageing and high risk health concerns like diabetes and dementia increasing pressure on hard-pressed staff, as well as significant cuts to social care and public health.

There needs to be full patient and public involvement in the plans so that the services we all rely on are protected and to prevent Cinderella services – like mental health – being singled out for cuts.

We need to bring physical health, mental health and social care together in a seamless wrap-around service that looks after people, prevents ill health in the first place and saves money in the longer term.

Instead of working collaboratively with local authorities to promote prevention and find lasting solutions, the government is putting pressure on the NHS to find short-term, short-sighted savings that will cost us all more in the future.

The government needs to come clean and publish its plans for the NHS.

Aug 22

Government obesity strategy fails children

NHS eat well plateThe government’s long-delayed Childhood Obesity Strategy was eventually published last week – with ministers away on holiday and Parliament not sitting.

The government strategy has been delayed three times, and is a woefully inadequate response to the looming health crisis our country faces. No wonder the government wanted to sneak it out and ministers have failed to promote it.

The strategy includes providing an extra £10 million nationally for school breakfast clubs from the Soft Drinks Industry Levy. This amounts to as little as £1.28 per pupil per year. A weak response to a major national problem that will worsen for future generations.

The strategy also focuses disproportionately on physical activity. Sport and exercise are important for our mental health and for reducing the inflammation in our cells but has little impact in terms of reducing weight (exercise only contributes 10-20 per cent). What is critical is reducing the amount of sugar, fat and salt in young people’s diets.

Obesity, and particular childhood obesity, is one of the biggest public health challenges facing our country. Last year, the Department of Health spent £5.1 billion on obesity related illnesses. Obesity is ruining the quality of life for growing numbers of people.

Yet, rather than tackle the issue and ensure that food and drink companies improve the nutritional content of foods marketed to children, the government relied on a ‘Responsibility Deal’ with industry that was voluntary. It didn’t succeed.

I consistently warned the government in Parliament that it needed to face up to its failed strategy. You can read my exchange with the government’s then Public Health Minister by clicking here. Or watch it by clicking here.

The most recent statistics from the Health and Social Care Information Centre reveal that one in five children in Reception, and one in three children in Year 6, were measured as obese or overweight in 2014/15.

There are very serious and potentially life-threatening conditions associated with obesity, including diabetes and some cancer types.

We need a proper strategy to tackle the issue. One that is based on a comprehensive and broad approach that helps families, schools and children make the right decisions and supports healthy eating.

The last Labour government introduced a dedicated obesity strategy in 2004 – ‘Choosing Health’ – which included a target to halt the increase in child obesity for under 11s, as well as the Change4Life programme in 2009 to help promote and market healthy eating.

Today, we need more action on information, advertising and labelling. That is why at the 2015 general election I stood on a manifesto which pledged to set maximum permitted levels of sugar, salt and fat in foods marketed substantially to children.

The government’s soft drinks industry levy can only help tackle childhood obesity if it is part of a wider strategy that includes action on many other things.

We need real and urgent action from the government. I will continue to press the government to act when Parliament returns.

Aug 19

People are waiting longer for treatment

NHS-RGB (2)New figures released by the government in the past week show that almost 100,000 patients are now waiting over 18 weeks for elective surgical procedures

This compares to the over 51,000 patients who had to wait over 18 weeks for these procedures, which include hip replacements, knee replacements, hernias, adenoid and tonsillectomies, in 2014.

Indeed, the average waiting time for those five procedures is now over 100 days, causing people unnecessary distress and anxiety.

The figures are a scandal and show the government’s failure to protect the National Health Service.

The most commonly cited cause cited for planned operations being cancelled was equipment shortages or lack of beds. Hospitals are understaffed and facing financial crisis.

The Tories really can’t be trusted with the NHS. When Parliament returns in September, I will be seeking to hold the government to account for these lengthy delays.

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