Why the Health and Care Bill is damaging to our NHS

Kate’s latest column for the Shields Gazette:

Last night the Conservative Government’s controversial Health and Care Bill returned to the Commons after it completed its Third Reading in the Lords recently.  

For those of us who strongly believe in our National Health Service as a comprehensive public service run for the benefit of patients, the Health and Care Bill remains a devastating piece of legislation that will open the NHS up to widespread privatisation. 

It’s being used by Boris Johnson and his Government to push through a major restructuring that would be damaging to patients, but in the middle of a pandemic it is feared will be a disaster for healthcare services.

It’s been a massively difficult two years for our NHS who have kept our country going, protecting us and looking after our loved ones, during the pandemic.

NHS staff right across the Jarrow constituency, and beyond have done so much and continue to do everything they can in our fight against Covid-19, which despite the ending of Covid restrictions, is still far from over.

Every one of our brilliant, dedicated staff in our hospitals from South Tyneside and Sunderland to those in the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Gateshead have gone above and beyond during the most testing of times.

The Covid-19 pandemic has posed one of the biggest challenges to our NHS, made even more difficult following more than a decade of underfunding, understaffing and an ideologically-driven programme of austerity that has left the service on its knees. This simply cannot be allowed to continue.

Here on our own doorstep in South Tyneside, we have already lost our stroke services, our consultant-led Maternity Unit, our Special Care Baby Unit, our overnight Children’s A&E service and of course the loss of the Jarrow Walk-In Centre six-and-a-half years ago despite the facility being used by more than 27,000 people in the 2013-14 period.

However, the effects of the Health and Care Bill will be felt far and wide. There will be more privatisation, more cuts, and more cronyism.

The Bill will cut medical and emergency services, it will force more people to pay for their health care and it will also allow more private companies to take over services and make decisions on budgets.

The Bill also caps adult social care costs at £86,000, which will hit the average household hard, while leaving the rich protected.

The major reorganisation of the NHS was voted for by Conservative MPs despite protests on various elements of the Bill such as social care and the presence of private representatives on NHS boards.

The Bill breaks NHS England into 42 different pieces, each one deciding what services to offer. This means different services in each piece, with some vital health needs available in some places but not others, creating a postcode lottery for treatments and making it difficult for patients to get the care they need. 

These will bring decision-making powers to private companies and democratically unaccountable third parties which will not guarantee a patients’ right to access the healthcare they need when they need it.

For too long our NHS has been pushed to the brink by the Tories. We entered the pandemic with the longest financial squeeze in NHS history, 17,000 beds closed, hospitals struggling, public health services cut, services privatised, children’s mental health budgets raided, thousands waiting longer for cancer treatment, the 18-week target not met for years and the A&E target not met for six years.

All this has the devastating consequence of forcing more and more people in pain and desperation to take out loans and crowdfunding on the internet to pay for an operation because the wait is too much to bear.  A two-tier health system, privatised by the back door. 

With NHS waiting lists at a record six million in England, a staffing and funding crisis, and the pandemic having an ongoing impact on an already struggling service, all of our focus must be on recovery and stability. Our NHS cannot sustain the current level of attacks from this Government and inevitably it is going to be both staff and patients who will suffer.

Kate Osborne MP wins star support for wildlife campaign

Kate Osborne MP’s bid to ban imports of hunting trophies has won the backing of some of Britain’s best-loved public figures.

Joanna Lumley and Downton Abbey star Peter Egan were among those to express their support for Kate Osborne MP.

British trophy hunters shoot hundreds of endangered animals each year, including lions, elephants, giraffes and polar bears.

Joanna Lumley said: “Kate Osborne MP is representing the 9 in 10 voters who want to see an end to this barbaric, cruel industry. It should have been abolished long ago. What sort of world do we live in where endangered animals can be killed for thrills by British trophy hunters? It is the height of cowardice. Kate Osborne MP has my full support for this campaign.”

Peter Egan added: “I applaud Kate Osborne MP’s courageous campaign. The American gun lobby is fighting efforts to ban this evil ‘sport’ because it says hunters’ ‘rights’ should be protected. But what about the innocent, defenceless animals that are killed by British trophy hunters every year just for kicks? Kate Osborne MP is absolutely right to stand up to the industry lobbyists and to speak up for voiceless animals.”

The law currently allows British trophy hunters to bring their ‘trophies’ – including animals’ heads and bodies – back into the country to display in their homes.

Opinion polls show that almost 9 in 10 voters support a ban.

A recent report by a cross-party committee of MPs and Lords says that elephants are the most popular trophy animal shot by British hunters. Many British hunters go to Africa to shoot ‘canned’ lions – animals bred in captivity and shot within fenced enclosures. British trophy hunters also shoot seals, otters and wild cats, according to UN figures.

Kate Osborne MP said: “Trophy hunting is cruel, barbaric, and is helping to push some of the world’s most endangered wildlife ever closer towards extinction.”

“Animals killed by trophy hunters often suffer slow, painful deaths and it has no place in a modern, civilised society.”

“I call on the Government to implement a comprehensive ban on trophy hunting imports and exports as quickly as possible and to work with other Governments to help bring an end to trophy hunting.”

UK-owned firms are hosting trophy hunting ‘holidays’ where people can shoot cheetahs, leopards and rhinos, according to the Campaign to Ban Trophy Hunting.

US-based gun rights groups are lobbying Ministers in an attempt to block a British ban on trophies. Safari Club International, the world’s largest trophy hunting group and which is leading efforts to allow the ‘sport’ to continue , awards prizes to trophy hunters who shoot over 100 different species of animal.

Eduardo Goncalves of the Campaign to Ban Trophy Hunting said:

“Many people are shocked to learn trophy hunting still goes on. They are even more shocked to learn that British people are involved and that it’s not just Americans who shoot lions for so-called ‘sport’, selfies and souvenirs. Kate Osborne MP is absolutely right to be reflecting local people’s views on this issue. Trophy hunting is opposed by the vast majority of local constituents.”

The cost-of-living crisis is at the forefront of people’s anxieties

Kate’s latest column for Labour Outlook:

Last week marked a significant moment for the Labour and Trade Union Movement.

Eight years ago, we lost Tony Benn and Bob Crow. Throughout their activist and political lives, they played central roles in the struggles that the working class face today. As Secretary of State for Industry and Energy, Tony invested in North Sea Oil. Bob famously coined the phrase, ‘if we all spit together, we can drown the bastards!’

This week is a time to reflect how we miss their wit and wisdom and contribution they brought to the movement and think about how they would squirm at the present economic state of Britain.  

The increase in the cost of living caused by rising energy prices and food costs has never been more at the forefront of the people’s anxieties in my Jarrow constituency and beyond. As reported on Tuesday by the TUC, these anxieties have been compounded by the fact ‘Real Wages have fallen by 1.5%, the worst drop in 8 years.

Today’s cost of living crisis has been bubbling for decades, a problem that is a direct consequence of an economic system that regards water, energy, and food as commodities rather than national assets. A policy whereby over the last 40 years, successive governments have made sure that the private sector has firmly replaced the role of the state, in the name of profit, accountable to profit, at the expense of the taxpayer. A direct consequence of a long lasting neo-liberal, political culture which has hung over our politics for generations.

Why is our government still putting trust in these private companies that remain so intent on ripping people off and putting profit before people?

France is limiting the price of electricity to 4% and will return €100 to almost six million lower-income families. Norway has subsidised household electricity bills … paying a portion of the bill above a certain rate, 80% for the period January to March. Sweden has set aside €600 million to compensate families worst hit by rising energy prices.

If other European Governments can take positive actions to offset the burden on high energy costs, why can’t we?

This is why in the time of the Spring Statement it is our role in the Labour and Trade Union Movement to demand our Government takes significant steps to alleviate this crisis.

I am demanding the Chancellor commits to:

  • A windfall tax on North Sea oil and gas profits.
  • A VAT cut on household energy bills, coupled with an extension of the Warm Homes Discount Scheme.
  • A scrap to the rise in payment of national insurance contributions.
  • A significant rise in the national minimum wage , for everyone irrespective of age.
  • An increase of benefits and state pensions by 8%.

After the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn, who turned the tide in Labour Party policy with our 2017 and 2019 manifesto, we must keep the flame of Anti-Austerity Politics alive at the core of our movement.

This is why I am proud to back campaigns such as Ian Byrne’s ‘Right to Food’ Campaign and the TUC’s demand that “https://www.tuc.org.uk/news/trade-unions-call-emergency-support-chancellor-response-ukraine-crisissupport for households, should be in the form of a grant, not a loan“.

This is a cost of living crisis, compounded by the Tory Government’s desire to do deals with regimes like Saudi Arabia to offset our shortage of supplies.

In South Tyneside, I am proud to represent a local authority which is home to a large Yemeni population, and I openly condemn Boris Johnsons decision to go cap in hand to Saudi Arabia to purchase oil, the profits of which will not benefit my constituents but will rather line the pockets of these private companies.

I would like to extend my solidarity to the victims of the Wars in Ukraine and Yemen. To remember that the cost of living crisis isn’t on the shoulders of people escaping from war, but rests firmly with our Governments loyalty to the private sector and profit, it is crucial to keep in mind that in any conflict or war, directly or indirectly, it is always the workers who suffer most.

Our proud shipbuilding past must herald a bright future

Kate’s latest column for the Shields Gazette:

Our proud shipbuilding past must herald a bright future

With a huge heritage in the area, shipbuilding on the Tyne was and still is one of our key industries in the North East.

It is vitally important that the Government commits to UK shipyards such as A&P Tyne

Along the River Tyne, shipyards, such as the old Palmers yard in Jarrow, once employed generations of families and brought pride and income to the area.

When over the course of the 1980s, Margaret Thatcher’s wrecking ball smashed our yards, steel mills, factories, and our mines, it was seen as a war on manufacturing. A staggering 75,000 jobs were lost in UK shipyards, and the damage was intolerable.

In South Tyneside, we built warships and liners, as well as tankers and cargo ships for the world’s commercial fleets.

I desperately want us to have a great industrial future and not just one from the past.

That’s why after months of delay, I’m glad that last week, the Government come forward with their refresh of the National Shipbuilding Strategy, a £4 billion fund for new vessels which was set out in the 2020 spending review and the 2021 Autumn Budget.

The Ministry of Defence says that under the national shipbuilding strategy, the Royal Navy plans to introduce 150 new naval and civil vessels over the next 30 years.

But while this 30-year pipeline for the shipbuilding industry is welcome, it is vitally important that the Government commits to UK shipyards such as A&P Tyne to secure these jobs.

Yards such this have lots to offer the industry where the skills and expertise of a first-class workforce helped to build the Royal Navy’s Queen Elizabeth and Prince of Wales aircraft carriers plus the nuclear-powered Astute fleet of submarines.

I have every confidence that the yard will build on these achievements to make itself available for any prestigious future orders from the Ministry of Defence.

Last week in Westminster, I raised this issue with the Defence Minister during Urgent Questions and called on the Government to commit to yards such as A&P to bring jobs to the area. I also asked him to commit to involving and consulting the trade unions in the new strategy.

It is so important that the Government places its confidence in the A&P Tyne shipyard in Hebburn and the Tyne during these difficult economic times.

I, like you and the Labour Party, are ambitious for our region, confident we can build on what we do now to return shipbuilding to its rightful place as a powerful engine of the local economy.

Kate Osborne MP and Paul Chuckle help support Marie Curie’s biggest fundraising campaign

Jarrow MP, Kate Osborne and Paul Chuckle, TV comedian and entertainer known for being one-half of comedy duo The Chuckle Brothers, are backing end of life charity Marie Curie’s biggest annual fundraising campaign, the Great Daffodil Appeal.

Kate pledged their support to the Great Daffodil Appeal and is encouraging local people in the South Tyneside and Gateshead to donate if they can, and wear one of the charity’s daffodil pins to help fund vital care and support for people living with a terminal illness, and their families. Donations also support the charity’s Information and Support line, which provides a listening ear to anyone dealing with any aspect of death, dying and bereavement.

The campaign, held every March, was forced to cancel its public collections for the past two years due to the pandemic. This year, fundraising events and collections are going ahead, and the charity is urging new and existing supporters to come forward to show their support.

Last year Marie Curie provided direct support to more than 69,000 people – a 15% rise on the previous year – which is more than ever before.

Kate Osborne MP said: “Every five minutes, someone in the UK dies without getting the care and support they need at the end of their life, and that also has an impact on those they leave behind who are grieving.

“From the expert care given by Marie Curie Nurses, through to the reassuring voices on the support line – its services have never been more in need. But they can only continue to reach those in urgent need of help with the generosity of the public. That is why I am supporting the Great Daffodil Appeal this March.”

Paul Chuckle, who has been a supporter of Marie Curie since 2015, said: “I’m proud to be part of the Great Daffodil Appeal, helping ensure Marie Curie can raise as much awareness and money as possible so they can be there for people in their final days, weeks, months.

“The charity does fantastic work. It’s dedicated team of nurses, doctors and support staff help make the end of life experience the best it can possibly be for everyone. So, I urge you to don a daffodil pin this March and unite with Marie Curie in our wish for a better end of life care for all.”

Ruth Driscoll, Head of Policy and Public Affairs at Marie Curie, said: “We’re very grateful for the support of Kate and Paul Chuckle in helping us to raise awareness of our much-loved Great Daffodil Appeal.

“Over the past year, Marie Curie has delivered direct care to more dying people than ever before. However, the pandemic isn’t over and the additional costs of operating to ensure we keep our beneficiaries and staff safe continues which is why the Great Daffodil Appeal is so important.

“We want to make sure that everyone affected by terminal illness, wherever they may live, gets the right support, at the right time – whether that is high quality nursing care, emotional and practical support, or fast access to the benefits they need.”

During the Great Daffodil Appeal the annual National Day of Reflection will take place. On 23 March, the charity is encouraging everyone to wear a daffodil pin and take a moment to show their support for the millions of people bereaved during the pandemic and remember the people we’ve lost.

Marie Curie is currently working with Parliamentarians across both houses to strengthen the Health and Care Bill for people with a terminal illness and their families. The bill is a unique opportunity for our health system to learn lessons from the pandemic, prevent future crises and help ensure that nobody misses out on the care and support they and their families need during life limiting illness.

For more information on how to support or donate to Marie Curie’s Great Daffodil Appeal visit: www.mariecurie.org.uk/daffodil


Kate’s latest column for the Shields Gazette: 

Last week the Government announced plans to remove all remaining Covid-19 restrictions in England, including the legal requirement for infected people to self-isolate.

Under the Government’s plan for living with Covid-19, restrictions in England have now reverted to guidance instead of legal rules.

By doing this, they said, it would make England the “freest country in Europe”.

However, there are 500,000 immunocompromised people at high risk from Covid-19 who are not free.

A number of leading charities including the MS Society, which represents immunocompromised and disabled people, remain very concerned about the Government’s plans.  From 1st April, their family members, friends and unpaid carers cannot be sure that they are not exposing those closest to them to infection unless they can pay for a test.   

The scrapping of free universal testing has been described as “not only reckless but dangerous”, with some charities fearing that vulnerable people may be forced back into isolation.

Two weeks ago I wrote to the Prime Minister, raising these concerns and I raised this matter with him again during Prime Minister’s Questions in Westminster yesterday.

Throughout the pandemic, universal free testing has been a crucial tool, helping many vulnerable people to continue living normal lives by providing reassurance that those they are meeting do not have Covid.

Now universal free testing will be massively scaled back from the beginning of next month, and will instead be focused on the most vulnerable, with the Government developing further plans on who will be able to access free testing which it will announce shortly.

Ahead of this, I wanted to ensure that the Government are aware of these concerns. It really is essential that the Government continues to make sure that those at the highest risk continue to have the protection they need.

Charities warn that the Government must continue to make free lateral flow tests available to people who are eligible for Covid-19 treatments (including the immunocompromised), and their households and personal contacts – regardless of whether they have symptoms.

They must provide new money to the NHS and Local Authorities to fund regular testing of frontline health and social care staff and continue to require employers to carry out Covid-19 risk assessments for high-risk employees. 

If we are to truly move forward and live with Covid, the Government must ensure that friends and family of vulnerable people can get free tests and address the concerns of immunocompromised people who fear they are being abandoned by the Government.

The Prime Minister’s plan for living with COVID-19 fails to give a credible explanation of how over 500,000 immunocompromised people can live safely alongside the virus.

The announcement of a further booster is welcome. But that’ll be of little comfort to people who are less protected – or not protected at all – by further vaccine doses.

The Prime Minister must urgently address these concerns as we move to a new phase of the pandemic, so that all 500,000 immunocompromised people will be protected and supported to manage their risk so they can live normal lives.

As a nation, we will be unable to live alongside Covid-19 if the Government continues to leave the most vulnerable behind.

It’s shocking that LGBTQI+ couples don’t have equal access to IVF treatment

Kate’s piece for Politics.co.uk

Starting a family for any couple is an exciting new adventure, but for LGBTQI+ couples it is a hugely costly process, both financially and emotionally.

Dubbed the LGBTQI+ fertility tax, it is significantly harder for a lesbian, bi-women or some trans people in a same-sex relationship to access NHS fertility treatment even though they are unable to conceive naturally.  In some cases, they are asked to prove that they have attempted to get pregnant up to twelve times before some CCGs will grant them access to free fertility treatment on the NHS.

In the Jarrow constituency that I represent, the CCG requires same-sex couples to have to prove infertility by self-funding six rounds of artificial insemination (IUI) themselves before they can access NHS funded IVF. Often this results in these couples having to post-pone plans of starting a family in order to save up for initial fertility treatments – all without the guarantee that the IUI will be successful and each round costing between £350-£1,600.

This policy creates unfair and significant barriers for those hoping to become parents, in particular for lesbians, bi women and some trans people. The huge cost of fertility treatments alone is a lot to bear, but such a high price and no guarantee of success, the emotional toll of this costly process is enormous. It is absolutely vital that the government step in and ensure that there is equitable access to NHS fertility services for all, regardless of gender and sex.

Further adding to the unfairness, each local CCG has the discretion to choose how to delegate NHS funding, meaning access to NHS fertility services has become a postcode lottery, as provisions differ between areas and in some areas, same-sex couples have to go through up to twelve rounds of private IUI or IVF before being granted access to free NHS fertility services. There is no uniform policy across the country.

Opposite-sex couples are given access to NHS fertility treatment after attempting to conceive unsuccessfully for two years, while this alone can be a hugely challenging and emotional process as prospective parents, LGBTQI+ couples are facing unnecessary financial challenges alongside the emotional aspect of it. It should not be the case that a same-sex couple is limited in their ability to start a family when an opposite-sex couple has access to the same services without the cost. Nearly four in five CCGs require LGBTQI+ couples to self-fund multiple rounds of artificial insemination, in the Jarrow constituency for example, LGBTQI+ couples have to pay up to £9,600 before they can access NHS services, while those in different-sex couples do not have to pay anything.

We all know that having children and starting a family costs money, but lesbians, bi-women, and other LGBTQI+ couples are having to pay extortionate amounts unfairly when different-sex couples are not paying the same financial cost to conceive through IUI or IVF. The way the current system is set out, only LGBTQI+ couples who are able to self-fund, are able to have children, as many are without access to the services they need in order to start a family.

Stonewall have launched their campaign to make access to IVF equal for LGBTQI+ people, calling for the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care to act now to ensure that the additional unnecessary barriers LGBTQI+ people face when starting a family are removed, and demanding equal access to fertility services for all LGBTQI+ people.

It is absolutely unacceptable that these unfair barriers remain in place for same-sex couples who want to start their own families. We cannot allow the LGBTQI+ fertility tax to continue. It is vital that the government commit to a full review of the inequality in access to NHS-funded fertility services across England and the CCG postcode lottery is ended, ensuring that all CCGs provide equal access to treatment to ensure that lesbians, bi-women, trans people and anyone who identifies as LGBTQI+ who wants to conceive, has the same equal access to NHS funded care as opposite-sex couples.