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UNISON’S National Women’s Conference

I was honoured to be invited to deliver a keynote speech at UNISON’s National Women’s Conference, where the pivotal theme centred on women’s health in the workplace.

Throughout the conference, we engaged in profound discussions surrounding the specific needs of women employees, particularly concerning conditions like endometriosis, menopause, and menstruation. It was evident that when these crucial aspects of women’s health are overlooked by employers, it significantly impacts workplace well-being.

One of the significant motions passed during the conference was aimed at enhancing maternity care for Black women, who unfortunately face heightened risks of miscarriage or maternal mortality. This issue underscores the urgent need for proactive measures to address healthcare disparities and ensure equitable access to quality care for all women.

During my address, I shed light on the systemic racism that women of colour encounter when seeking healthcare services. Additionally, I emphasised the imperative for employers to recognise and accommodate menopause as a crucial aspect of women’s health in the workplace.

Women’s health demands prioritisation at all levels of governance. Unfortunately, far too often, the needs of women have been side-lined. However, I firmly believe that it’s time for a transformative shift.

In my speech, I articulated Labour’s unwavering commitment to reinvigorating the NHS to make it truly inclusive and responsive to the diverse health needs of women. Our vision entails not only addressing existing inequities but also eradicating systemic racism within healthcare systems and instituting frameworks that prioritise women’s health needs.

Now more than ever, we must rally behind the fundamental principle of a NHS that is universally accessible and free at the point of use, ensuring that every individual, regardless of gender or background, receives the care they deserve.

You can read more about the conference and my speech here and read about an interview I did with UNISON here.

Let’s continue our collective efforts to champion women’s health and build a future where every woman can thrive.

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Abena appointed Shadow Minister for Women’s Health and Mental Health

I hope you will be pleased to know that I have recently accepted the position of Shadow Minister for Women’s Health and Mental Health. This is such an important role and these are issues that I’m really passionate about.

My main role as a Shadow Minister is scrutiny. I am committed to ensuring that the government is held accountable in legislative procedures and in ministerial conduct. This might include exploring government policy, finding its faults, and critiquing it. That being said, as an opposition minister I am part of a government in waiting. This means that I must ensure that Labour is ready for government in case of electoral victory, and ready to deliver our mission to build an NHS Fit for the Future.

I am pleased to say that Labour is committed to getting waiting lists down and getting people treated on time. We have a 10-year plan for change and modernisation and this will include one of the biggest expansions of the NHS workforce in history. But more than that, we plan to put individual care and mental health treatment at the heart of our mission. An issue that has for too long been in the shadows.

With Labour, more care will be delivered on your doorstep, out of the hospital and in the community. We will focus on prevention and a move towards transformational new technologies.

In my new role, I will be working with various charities and stakeholders, listening to experts in Women’s Health and Mental Health, and considering how Labour will do things differently. However, I will also be speaking to those working in our health and care sectors and the patients receiving care.

I’d love to see Women’s Health and Mental Health services transformed into something that the British people can be truly proud of. I want everybody to receive the support that they deserve, delivered as quickly and efficiently as possible.

It is Labour who has the plan and the mission to build a NHS Fit for the Future and there for you when you need it. I encourage you to take a quick look at Labour’s plans for health services, which you can read here: Building an NHS fit for the future.

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Equal access to defibrillators can save lives says Abena Oppong-Asare MP


We all know having access to life-saving defibrillators saves lives. The issue is not their design but their location and public awareness about what they are and how to use them.

Having access to a life-saving defibrillator depends on where you live. Today, I called on the Government to address this cruel unfairness to save lives. That was my message in my Westminster Hall debate on public access to Defibrillators.

Research from the Resuscitation Council UK shows that access to defibrillators, or AEDs, is not fairly distributed across England. Each year, there are 30,000 out-of-hospital cardiac arrests in the UK, with less than one in ten surviving. Whilst immediate CPR and defibrillation can more than double the chances of survival, defibrillators are used in less than one in ten cases. If you have a cardiac arrest and have access to a defibrillator within a minute, have a 90% chance of survival.

According to the BMJ, access to a defibrillator varies widely by location:

  • 140 per 100,000 people in Swansea
  • 61 per 100,000 people in London
  • 2 per 100,000 people in Birmingham

The issue was highlighted to me by the experience of my constituent, Bonnie McGhee, who works on the cardiology unit at Queen Elizabeth Hospital. Bonnie sadly lost her father to cardiac arrest and has since successfully raised funds for a defibrillator in his memory.

Access to a defibrillator may have saved his life. Bonnie successfully fundraised for a defibrillator in memory of her father.

To save lives, defibrillators must be in a well-signposted location, unlocked and easy to find so that members of the community can access them immediately in an emergency. They must be maintained and ready for use. Information about defibrillator locations is hard to come by. People do not know where to find them and how to use them. The Circuit is a national database of defibrillators but it is incomplete, meaning that emergency services may not be able to direct someone to save a life.

In my debate today I said “Knowing where a defibrillator is and how to use one saves lives. Learning simple resuscitation skills can make all the difference in an emergency. Today, I’m calling on Ministers to listen and help save lives.”

You can read my full speech here and watch it here.

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Home Instead visit

Home Instead in Erith provide vital care to ageing residents to enable them to live happily, comfortably & independently at home. The office opened in the latter part of 2019, and most of their journey was heavily impacted by the Covid. However, they came through it and are now supporting clients across Erith and Thamesmead.

Last week I met with them to discuss their experience through the pandemic, how they are being affected by the recruitment crisis & how increasing costs, from living to fuel, are putting people off the care profession.

 
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Government must do more to support people to self-isolate

As part of my role in the Shadow Treasury Team, I have been pushing the Government to provide more support to people who need to self-isolate.

Labour has always said that health and economic measures must go hand-in-hand, but the Government’s failure has meant too many people have to choose between self-isolating and paying the bills.

At this weeks’ Treasury questions, I asked the Chancellor about reports that the Treasury had suppressed information about how the furlough scheme could be used to support self-isolating employees. This shocking revelation show’s how poor the Government’s approach to economic support during the pandemic has been.

I called on the Chancellor to appear before the joint parliamentary inquiry into the handling of the Covid crisis to explain why the Government has not listened to the experts and introduced a robust self-isolation support scheme.

 

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Raising Cancer Concerns in Parliament

After a local GP raised concerns with me about delays in receiving vital test results, I asked the Health Secretary to look into the problem and resolve it as soon as possible.

I will continue to push the Government to improve on cancer care and diagnosis in our area.

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Roundtable with Minister and local disabled advocacy groups

This week I brought together a group of local disability advocacy and support groups to raise concerns about the operation of the benefits system on people with disabilities with Justin Tomlinson, the Minister for Disabled People, Work and Health.

Earlier this year I met with the Minister to raise concerns about how the pandemic had affected people with disabilities and the failure of the DWP to meet the needs of disabled people.

The Minister agreed to take part in a roundtable with local organisations working on the frontline with disabled people.

I have raised a number of these issues in Parliament during a recent debate on the impact of the pandemic on people with disabilities. In that debate I called for the Government to bring forward a national strategy for disabled people as soon as possible.

Key issues raised at the roundtable included a failure to provide accessible information to disabled people, the problems people with learning difficulties face accessing PIP, the impact of benefit assessments on claimants mental health, and the lack of appropriate training for assessors.

Participants also raised problems with disabled people accessing Universal Credit and the problems some people face due to the increasingly online-only system.

The roundtable discussion will feed into the Green Paper on health and disability which is due to be published shortly.

I urge local organisations and individuals to contribute to the consultation process once it is open.

I am determined that nobody is left behind in Erith and Thamesmead, and this means that disabled people need better treatment from the Government.

I hope the Government will listen to the concerns and bring forward concrete proposals to improve the benefits system for disabled people.

Kara Lee from Bexley Mencap said: “It was fantastic to be involved in such an important conversation to share the experiences and views of people with learning disabilities about the benefit system and how it could be improved.  Thank you for organising the meeting to give small organisations, and more importantly the people they represent, a voice about such an important topic.”

Alan Kerr from Metro GAD said: “I really valued the opportunity to speak directly with the Minister of Disabled People to express our very real concerns about the benefits system and the impact it has on their lives.”

Press coverage of the event: https://london-post.co.uk/abena-oppong-asare-mp-holds-roundtable-with-government-minister-and-local-advocacy-groups-to-discuss-concerns-about-the-treatment-of-disabled-people/

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Abena Oppong-Asare MP meets ovarian cancer survivors ahead of Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month

On Friday 12 February, I hosted a special virtual event with Target Ovarian Cancer, the UK’s leading ovarian cancer charity, meeting with Erith and Thamesmead survivors of ovarian cancer to help raise awareness about the disease ahead of Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month in March.

At the event we heard from Sue and Della, two inspirational survivors of ovarian cancer who are both campaigning to raise awareness. Together, they are making sure that more women are being diagnosed early. You can read both their stories here: Sue’s story and Della’s story.

Sue, 62, who is an Erith and Thamesmead resident, was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in March 2017. I had the pleasure of meeting her last year to hear her story and find out what more can be done to raise awareness. She said:

Very little is known about ovarian cancer even though over 7000 women are diagnosed in the UK each year. I want all women to be aware of the symptoms and don’t delay contacting their GP, especially in during the pandemic, as the sooner ovarian cancer is diagnosed the better the outlook. For Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month in March, I would like the women of Erith and Thamesmead to spread the word: make your mothers, aunts, sisters, cousins and friends aware of what to look out for.

Tragically, 11 women die every day from ovarian cancer. If diagnosed at the earliest stage, 9 in 10 women will survive ovarian cancer. But right now, two thirds of women are diagnosed late. More women’s lives could be saved if we are more aware of the symptoms of ovarian cancer.

The symptoms of ovarian cancer are:

  • Persistent bloating
  • Feeling full quickly and/or loss of appetite
  • Pelvic or abdominal pain
  • Urinary symptoms

Other symptoms can include unexpected weight loss, a change in bowel habits and extreme fatigue. Anyone experiencing these symptoms, which are not normal for them, should see their GP.

The pandemic has exacerbated existing health inequalities, especially for women. People are worried to see their GP and we’ve seen cancer referrals plummet. This is a life-threatening problem that needs action from everyone and I am glad that this event helped to demystify the disease. The sense of care and support for one another, even over zoom, was palpable.

Please call Target Ovarian Cancer on 0207 923 5470 if you have any questions or need support.

You can watch the event below:

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Local health and care heroes nominated in NHS Parliamentary Awards

The NHS Parliamentary Awards, sponsored by Fuji Film, were set up for the NHS’ 70th  Birthday to recognise the massive contribution made by the individuals who work in and alongside the NHS.

This year, more so than ever before, the NHS Parliamentary Awards highlight how health and social care staff continue to put others ahead of themselves to protect our community.

I was among over 260 MPs in England who put forward outstanding nominees who have innovated, impressed and made a real difference to how local health and care services provide care for patients.

I’m pleased to have nominated Greenwich and Bexley Community Hospice team for the Excellence in Healthcare award. The hospice team went above and beyond during COVID-19 to keep loved ones together and make sure vulnerable individuals were supported. I have to commend not just the team but the many volunteers who stepped up during this period in their work with Greenwich and Bexley Community Hospice.

I am also pleased to have nominated Lewisham and Greenwich NHS Trust for the Wellbeing at Work award and Kate Hudson, Lead Dementia Nurse Specialist for the Care and Compassion Award. As individuals and as a team employees at Lewisham and Greenwich NHS Trust, these amazing key workers went above and beyond to offer online support services and staff wellbeing support during COVID-19.

Everyone in Erith and Thamesmead is rightly proud of our local NHS and care services, The Coronavirus pandemic has shown the determination and bravery of thousands of NHS, care and key workers across Erith and Thamesmead and so I’m delighted to be taking part in the NHS Parliamentary Awards as a way of thanking and recognising the people who work in or support those services.

Nominees put forward by MPs across England will initially be judged by senior local and regional NHS experts to find regional champions in each category, which will be announced later in November and will be featured in The House Magazine.

These regional champions will then be judged by a national panel made up of senior clinicians, union leaders, former winners and patient representatives, with the overall winners announced at a special awards ceremony held in Parliament on Wednesday 7 July – the week of the NHS’ birthday.

 

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Our carers need us, we must Care for Carers

During the COVID-19 crisis we have seen the value and need for our care staff more acutely than ever before.

I am so incredibly proud and humbled by the dedication and hard work I have seen the NHS staff and care workers in Erith and Thamesmead display throughout this virus. They have been the people that have kept us safe in this pandemic, but for many this has come at a personal cost.

In 2019 nearly 5 million working days were lost due to poor metal health, up to 30% of NHS staff absence is stress related, the British Medical Association have stated that 41% of doctors suffer with depression, anxiety, stress and other mental health conditions relating to their work.

The people looking after us during COVID-19 deserve better than this. This is why I am supporting the Labour Party call for a ‘Care for Carers’ package of mental health support for 3 million NHS carers and staff.

A Care for Carers package would launch a new national hotline, staffed by paid professionals and available 24 hours a day. It would provide follow-up support, treatment and specialised help for people with Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Unless our staff are protected, they cannot continue their vital work of keeping us all safe.

At the start of the COVID-19 crisis the Government failed to protect our Carers physical health with adequate PPE, as we move forward let’s not fail to protect their mental health.