Health debate: New Statesman and Pfizer host special debate

“Taking Care of Health” forum brings together the politicians Andy Burnham, Norman Lamb and Mark Sim

In the latest of a series of influential debates and special reports, the New Statesman, in collaboration with Pfizer, has put together a Policy Forum to discuss the challenges and opportunities facing those working in health care in the UK.

On our panel we have Andy Burnham (Secretary of State for Health), Mark Simmonds (shadow health minister, Conservative Party) and Norman Lamb (shadow spokesperson for health, Liberal Democrats). They are joined by the writer and broadcaster Ed Stourton, a founder journalist on Channel 4 News and presenter of Radio 4's Today programme.

Professor Terence Stephenson, president of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, wants to ask each representative what his plans are, if he were to become secretary of state for health after the election, to use the 2010 Olympics to improve the health of children in the UK.

Zack Cooper, health economist at the London School of Economics, says:

The NHS is one of the only health systems in the world that is free at the point of use. Every shred of evidence suggests that if users don't have to pay, people will consume more health care and worry less about their individual health. Do you agree? And how can the NHS make individuals more conscious of their own lifestyle choices and be aware that health-care resources are finite?

Deborah Alsina of Bowel Cancer UK says: "In the current difficult economic climate, preventing cancer from developing not only saves lives, but also makes good financial sense . . . I would like to know from each speaker what steps their party will take to incorporate the [flexible sigmoidoscopy] test into the current bowel screening programmes as part of a strategy to prevent cancer."

And Louise Kirsh, parliamentary officer for Mind, wants to find out more about plans to tackle the stigma and discrimination "that affects nine out of ten people with mental health problems".

"Taking Care of Health" will also feature representatives from organisations including Civitas, Bupa and Macmillan Cancer Support, and takes place today from 2pm at Bishop Partridge Hall in Westminster.

An extended editorial feature covering the debate will be published online with the New Statesman issue of Monday 10 May.

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Can Philip Hammond save the Conservatives from public anger at their DUP deal?

The Chancellor has the wriggle room to get close to the DUP's spending increase – but emotion matters more than facts in politics.

The magic money tree exists, and it is growing in Northern Ireland. That’s the attack line that Labour will throw at Theresa May in the wake of her £1bn deal with the DUP to keep her party in office.

It’s worth noting that while £1bn is a big deal in terms of Northern Ireland’s budget – just a touch under £10bn in 2016/17 – as far as the total expenditure of the British government goes, it’s peanuts.

The British government spent £778bn last year – we’re talking about spending an amount of money in Northern Ireland over the course of two years that the NHS loses in pen theft over the course of one in England. To match the increase in relative terms, you’d be looking at a £35bn increase in spending.

But, of course, political arguments are about gut instinct rather than actual numbers. The perception that the streets of Antrim are being paved by gold while the public realm in England, Scotland and Wales falls into disrepair is a real danger to the Conservatives.

But the good news for them is that last year Philip Hammond tweaked his targets to give himself greater headroom in case of a Brexit shock. Now the Tories have experienced a shock of a different kind – a Corbyn shock. That shock was partly due to the Labour leader’s good campaign and May’s bad campaign, but it was also powered by anger at cuts to schools and anger among NHS workers at Jeremy Hunt’s stewardship of the NHS. Conservative MPs have already made it clear to May that the party must not go to the country again while defending cuts to school spending.

Hammond can get to slightly under that £35bn and still stick to his targets. That will mean that the DUP still get to rave about their higher-than-average increase, while avoiding another election in which cuts to schools are front-and-centre. But whether that deprives Labour of their “cuts for you, but not for them” attack line is another question entirely. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.

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