In my first column of 2018, few will be surprised that I’m championing the cause of our incredible NHS staff, whose skills and endurance are being tested to the limits through what is proving to be a very challenging winter.
Neither is it likely to surprise many that I’m still haranguing Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt to keep his word and visit Dewsbury and Huddersfield hospitals. He must listen to local voices – residents and health professionals – who have strong concerns about decisions currently with Mr Hunt, that stand to leave the whole of Kirklees without a full A&E service.
My commitment to our health service is further renewed this month, with my appointment to new role on Labour’s frontbench team. I’m honoured and delighted to be joining Jonathan Ashworth's Health & Social Care Team, working with Shadow Cabinet Minister Barbara Keeley to hold this chaotic Government to account over their failing policies on mental health and social care.
Over the past seven years this Government have systematically eroded the benefits and services that people with mental health difficulties rely upon. They might talk of parity of esteem, but their record clearly shows that the rhetoric does not match the reality.
It is worrying for example, that there are rising levels of mental health issues among Yorkshire NHS staff, with reports from the Royal College of Nursing that often emotionally demanding roles are made ever more challenging by high vacancy levels and rising patient demand. The number of days lost to anxiety and stress amongst NHS workers in Yorkshire has risen for each of the last four years and in 2017 it stood at more than 37,000.
It’s been confirmed that the annual cost to the country of poor mental health is £99bn. Showing understanding, providing support in the workplace and further than that, ensuring mental health services are accessible at an early stage, are all key to helping retain people in work. If not for moral, compassionate grounds, then the government should heed the cost to UK productivity.
Mental health can often be an afterthought in the workplace, but stress and anxiety are a big problem that needs to be addressed. Indeed, mental health charity Mind recently authored a report that found the number of people forced to stop work as a result of mental health problems was 50% higher than for those with physical health conditions.
For some, either through mental or physical illness, they will be too unwell to work. In those cases, the government should provide the benefits and support services that are needed. But a fulfilling working life can be important to good mental health. It can improve self-esteem and confidence, and that way everyone benefits.
Sadly, this government’s poor economic investment coupled with their relentless austerity cuts, continue to damage our area. We can’t fix these problems with a single event, but this Friday I’m hosting my first jobs, careers and apprenticeships fair for local people to network and talk with organisations and to hopefully find employment.
The event is at Dewsbury Jobcentre Plus, Friday 26 January between 2pm and 4pm. I hope that this will be an opportunity for anyone struggling to find work, to make a connection with employers in the constituency.
As always, if local people have any issues or concerns they would like me to raise on their behalf, please don’t hesitate to get in touch – email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 01924 565450.
Read the column in full at the Dewsbury Reporter.