Jenny Ousbey on the ‘hot’ new MPs to watch in health
Boris Johnson has promised to deliver a legislative agenda that will “repay” first-time Tory voters who caused Labour’s Red Wall to crumble. Investing in the NHS and social care is one of the key ways Johnson hopes to secure this group’s continued loyalty.
The election brought in a sizeable number of new MPs – 140 in total. That’s a bigger group of MPs than all of the representatives for Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland combined.
A number of those, across parties, come with a background in health. Labour MPs with experience in diagnostic virology, oncology pharmacy. New Conservative MPs include doctors and a former pharmaceutical analyst and maths teacher. The new Liberal Democrat Health spokesperson has worked in the pharmaceutical and chemicals industries.
Arguably, a group of new MPs operating in the context of a stonking majority government wield little power over healthcare developments. They don’t have the clout luminaries such as Sir Simon Stevens, Meindert Boysen or Clara Martinez Alberola (who will lead much of the UK negotiations for the EU in 2020) do on the decisions that affect the pharmaceutical industry.
But power can take stranger forms than a crop of new and enthusiastic MPs….
Where does power now lie?
With previous health agitators/influencers in parliament parting ways with voters (Sarah Wollaston, Luciana Berger, etc), it paves the way for others to fill the space.
They will have plenty to get their teeth into. NICE’s methods review consultation, the NHS People Plan, further legislation on NHS structures and mental healthcare and the oft-promised Innovative Medicines Fund will happen in 2020-21. Add to that the pressures on acute care, demands from patient groups to improve access for patients to personalised and innovative therapies, and you have a heady cocktail of potential ‘influence capital’ for new MPs with experience in pharma, healthcare and life sciences. Not to mention a social care ‘plan’ promised by the Prime Minister for this year.
The select committee elections will be happening in the coming weeks (although have not been formally scheduled yet due to the Cabinet reshuffle). The health and social care committee has been allocated a Conservative chair. There is already a jostling for position amongst Tories with an eye on chair positions on the committee corridor – with rumours abound that former health minister Steve Brine is on manoeuvres and Jeremy Hunt is also vying for the role; Dr Dan Poulter is also keen.
What’s the vision in Number 10?
The political arithmetic could also dictate the direction of travel for policies that will impact how pharma companies operate in the UK. For example, the feted/derided/hated de facto Downing Street head honcho Dominic Cummings penned an article on his blog last year discussing how we should make genomic sequencing free and available to all as the single biggest enabler of preventative health.
He is keen to turn the NHS into a ‘scientific powerhouse’ and sees genomics as the frontier of what can be achieved in terms of large-scale population health interventions. In the same article he pushed for the creation of a Data Science Unit in Downing Street – ‘able to plug into the best researchers around the world, and ensure that policy decisions are taken on the basis of rational thinking and good science or, just as important, everybody is aware that they have to make decisions in the absence of this’.
The big question is whether ‘rational thinking and good science’ will be overtaken by a focus on avoiding the potential cliff-edge Brexit (no deal Brexit is so 2019) at the end of the year, with negotiations between Johnson’s team and that of Ursula von der Leyen’s already playing out in the press.
Not forgetting the impending Cabinet reshuffle in February – where Matt Hancock could very well be moved on. Boris Johnson’s allies have already suggested the Prime Minister is out to “northernise” the Cabinet – a verb we can expect to find in our dictionaries by the end of 2020.
Who are the new kids on the voting block?
The incoming cohort with experience and interest in health policy will shape and inform what they do over the next five years – the causes they support, the insights they provide and the votes they cast.
We’ve taken the temperature of the new Parliament and identified the top 10 ‘hot’ new MPs to watch in health. We asked all of these MPs what game-changing policy they would want introduced. Their answers provide some insight into what the hot Parliamentary topics will be over the coming sessions – and what debates will inevitably continue to be played out in the media.
Amy Callaghan was diagnosed with melanoma aged 19 and is the SNP MP who beat Jo Swinson in East Dunbartonshire. She said: “To deal with the immediate threat to our NHS from the Tories’ after Brexit, the SNP will bring forward the NHS Protection Bill that would protect the NHS across the whole of the UK from ever being harmed by a Tory-Trump trade deal.
“It is only the SNP that has proposed a legal ban on using the NHS in trade talks, and is giving people the double-lock of ensuring that no action can be taken to include the NHS without the permission of any parliament.”
Feryal Clark is the Labour MP for Enfield North and studied bioinformatics at Exeter University. She said:
“I would like the NHS to fully fund the general access to Pre-exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) across the UK.
“If we are serious about eradicating HIV transmission in England by 2030, with no new infections within the next decade and to become one of the first countries to reach the UN zero infections target by 2030 – then we must fully fund PreP across the UK now.”
The Liberal Democrat health and transport spokesperson, MP for Twickenham Munira Wilson is a former corporate affairs lead for the German pharma company Merck. She said: “With 75% of mental health problems established by the age of 25 I believe we must prioritise children and young people’s mental health to ensure we drastically reduce the number of people reaching crisis point with their mental health.
“I will campaign for the Government to introduce further mental health maximum waiting time standards for child and adolescent mental health services and ensure all children and young people with a diagnosable condition receive NHS treatment.”
Conservative MP Virginia Crosbie (Ynys Mons) said: “Specifically in pharmacy I want to see our pharmacists and pharmacies delivering much more healthcare to take the pressure off our GPs. Our pharmacists have so much knowledge of their customers and are embedded in the community. Prevention is better than cure!”, while fellow Tory MP Sarah Atherton (Wrexham) expressed her desire to “expand and extend the role of the nurse. An example would be for nurses and paramedicals to be able to administer, for example neuro-toxins, to offer timely- and much-needed healthcare to patients, whilst relieving the workload of doctors.”
So, how will our profiled MPs gain cut through and make an impact in the coming months and years? Most crucially, where will they collaborate and share a collective responsibility to influence key policy developments? Our advice is to frame each ‘issue’ with compelling patient-centric stories and data, and to champion their causes in unexpected ways.
The Parliamentary pharma game changers?
Sarah Atherton – Wrexham
A former community councillor and owner of a microbrewery, Atherton is a former servicewoman, having joined the regular army at 16. She retrained and became a District Nurse before becoming a social worker specialising in the elderly and in mental health. As Wales’ first female Tory MP, and the first ever Conservative to win in Wrexham, Atherton is touted as a good prospect for promotion in the February reshuffle. Atherton has previously insisted her constituency is her primary focus, particularly regarding the issues of crime, improving the town centre and health services in Wales, as well as reducing crime. On national policies, she has called for better mental health provision in the UK, increased funding for dementia research, as well as for the government to establish a Chief Social Care Officer for Wales.
Virginia Crosbie – Ynys Môn
With a degree in microbiology, Crosbie worked at GlaxoWellcome before it became GSK, working on the production of interferon. She then moved into banking, becoming a director at UBS and later an award-winning pharmaceutical analyst at HSBC. She was also a senior parliamentary researcher for former Basingstoke MP Maria Miller. Prior to her election victory, Crosbie was (concurrently) a maths teacher, Director of political mentoring group Women2Win, Deputy Chair of the Kensington, Chelsea and Fulham Conservatives and the Conservative Policy Forum (CPF) Champion for Social Mobility. Her varied CV is capped off by her experience as a dolphin trainer for Terry Nutkin on the BBC show Animal Magic. A female Tory MP for Wales, Crosbie has promised to be “a great constituency MP” and “not a career politician”, saying she will be moving to Wales from Sussex, and will learn Welsh.
Kieran Mullan – Crewe and Nantwich
Son of a nurse and a policeman, Mullan grew up in social housing and went on to become an A&E doctor. He is openly gay and is one of seven new LGBTQ+ MPs in Parliament. He was also Director of Policy & Public Affairs at The Patients Association and then Head of Engagement & Strategy. He went on to serve as an independent advisor in the inquiry into NHS complaints procedure in England in 2013, following the Francis report into Mid Staffordshire. He has contributed articles to the Independent and Conservative Home around health, Brexit and other topics. In his victory speech for his bellwether seat – Mullan said he would “speak up for, and work for, staff” at the NHS and increase the number of GPs. He’s gone on to say he would increase GP numbers and support care reform so health and social care are “a more linked-up picture”.
Ben Spencer – Runnymede and Weybridge
Taking over the seat from former Chancellor Philip Hammond, NHS consultant psychiatrist Ben Spencer is well positioned to be a big name in health policy for government. Spencer previously ran against Harriet Harman in Camberwell and Peckham in 2017, bemoaning at the time that his party had retreated from crucial policy areas such as health. A long-time Conservative activist, Spencer is a Vice Chair of Conservative Health – a membership organisation with influence on Tory health and social care policy. On top of this, he is also the organisation’s Lead for its Mental Health Special Interest Group. He’s written about the government’s need to tackle the “mental health epidemic” in the UK and spoke at the Tory Party conference in 2017 and 2018 about the NHS and “the burning injustice of mental health care”. Now in a safe seat in Surrey, he’s one of two MPs on our list who was selected for a Private Member’s Bill – it’s a safe bet that mental health reform could be the topic.
Luke Evans – Hinckley and Bosworth
The 2017 British Public Speaking Champion has family roots in medicine. As well as being a GP, he is the son of a GP and nurse, and is married to a fellow GP. He is also the eldest of three brothers – the other two are also doctors. When running in Edgbaston in 2015, he said he would continue working part-time as a GP in order to keep his licence and “stay in touch with the real world” – whether he still feels the same now remains to be seen. Evans was selected last year as one of Tomorrow’s Champions by the CPF to act as an outreach ambassador for health, developing the policy conversation with “harder-to-reach” voter groups the Tories were set on turning blue. Since becoming MP he’s been busy providing weekly updates on his work, which includes tabling questions on front-line health services and supporting The Sun’s campaign to ban cosmetic lip-fillers for under 18s.
Feryal Clark – Enfield North
A Labour moderate, Clark is the “Corbynsceptic-favoured” former deputy mayor of Hackney and the first female Kurdish MP in Parliament. The support from her community, as well as from high-profile figures like Sadiq Khan and David Miliband, helped to see her through a controversial candidate selection and into the safe seat previously occupied by Joan Ryan (who defected to Change UK). Clark studied bioinformatics at Exeter University, going on to work in diagnostic biochemistry and diagnostic virology for four years until 2010. She was elected to Hackney Council and was Lead member for Health and Social Care – giving her responsibility for adult social care, public health and the relationship with the wider NHS, amongst other things. She is supporting Lisa Nandy and Angela Rayner in the leadership election and has called for a woman to be the next Labour leader. She has set her priorities on health and social care reform – commenting she has “spent the last 14 years fighting the privatisation of the NHS” – and on addressing the climate emergency.
Mary Foy – City of Durham
A Labour Party member for 30 years, Foy – before her election – was the regional representative on Labour’s national policy forum and a cabinet member on Gateshead Council with responsibility for health and wellbeing, Chair of Gateshead Mental Health and Wellbeing Partnership, and a member of both Unite and UNISON. She also previously worked as a parliamentary assistant to Stephen Hepburn. Foy cites the NHS as one of her main priorities, especially after her experience as a mother and carer to a disabled daughter, Maria, who suffered brain damage at birth which caused cerebral palsy. In an interview with a student newspaper ahead of the election, Foy warned if Labour did not win, the NHS would be sold off to US private health corporations. She is seen as a strong Corbyn supporter and is backing Rebecca Long-Bailey and Richard Burgon in the leadership elections. Expect her to be a voice in Parliament for health services, as well as for the rights of people with disabilities.
Taiwo Owatemi – Coventry North West
27-year old Owatemi is a senior oncology pharmacist specialising in cancer and palliative care, as well as having been Vice Chair of the Young Fabian Health Network. Her 2016 article ‘The true cost of Brexit on health and scientific research’ in New Europeans argued that Brexit would damage the UK’s involvement in EU health projects and lead to reduced R&D investment. A Londoner, she was the surprise winner of both the candidate selection for the seat in Coventry and the Parliamentary election itself, albeit with a reduced majority. Her father’s death when she was six – due to a lack of available organ donors – and experience being raised by her mother (who is a nurse) had a formative impact on her healthcare views. She gained experience working under Oliver Letwin after being selected for a Parliamentary internship by the Social Mobility Foundation. She is supporting Lisa Nandy and Dawn Butler for the new leader and deputy respectively.
Munira Wilson – Twickenham (Liberal Democrats)
Wilson was selected to stand in Sir Vince Cable’s constituency of Twickenham after the former Lib Dem leader announced he would be stepping down at the election. Having worked as a political assistant to Nick Clegg prior to the Coalition, she is a lifelong party campaigner. Wilson has lived in Twickenham since 2005 and was a local councillor for West Twickenham. An ardent Remainer, she has campaigned to ensure that EU citizens’ access to the NHS would be protected after Brexit. She brings a wealth of experience working in health, including managing strategic relationships with health agencies at NHS Digital, as well as public affairs at the charity Beating Bowel Cancer. She has worked extensively in government and corporate affairs at multinational pharma companies Novartis and (most recently) Merck and Co.
Amy Callaghan – East Dunbartonshire (SNP)
The new MP that gave Nicola Sturgeon so much to cheer about, Callaghan unseated Lib Dem leader Jo Swinson in one of the election’s biggest upsets. Sturgeon’s praise was not limited to her much-viewed victory celebration, having described the 27-year old as likely to be “one of the stars of the next House of Commons.” After being diagnosed with skin cancer at 19, she had surgery to remove part of her cheekbone and nerves from her face. She relapsed at 21 and credits the NHS with saving her life. Cancer free for five years now, she is a powerful advocate for cancer services. Notably, she worked on a collaborative project with Teenage Cancer Trust, CLIC Sergeant and Children with Cancer UK to produce a BMJ paper exploring the damaging impact cancer has on mental health. Understandably, Callaghan has gone into Parliament with two priorities – to “protect the NHS” and to secure Scottish independence. She has promised to be a “local, accountable MP” who is in it “for the people, not the profile.”
Jenny Ousbey is managing director and founder of OVID Health, www.ovidhealth.co.uk