This editorial first appeared in the Telegraph & Argus: Sat 20 January 2024
For many people, the new year is usually a time of reflection, renewal and optimism for what lies ahead. It also serves as an opportunity to think ambitiously about our future.
Whilst this is no doubt a dangerous time for the world, 2024 will certainly be a big year for the UK. Voters are likely to have their say on who they think should be running the country - in the first General Election in five years. And whilst the Prime Minister has yet to set a date, for many, it cannot come too soon.
Because I know that people in Bradford and across the country have a thirst for change this year. People want renewal and growth, new jobs, opportunities, and better public services, not the slow and steady decline that we’ve seen under 14 years of Conservative Government that have cut services to the bone.
Take the struggle to get an NHS dentist for one. I have been banging the drum and fighting against the decay of our dentistry services since I was first elected nearly eight years ago – and I am pleased that Labour put this squarely in the spotlight last week as the focus of a day of opposition debate in Parliament. This is an issue now high up on the political agenda.
As I have said many times, it is not acceptable that it is so difficult to get an NHS dentist in Bradford. Too many people are now left with no choice but to register for a private dentist because they cannot access an NHS dentist. The alternative is emergency treatment at A&E. Whilst this decline in our NHS services might seem inevitable, it is not. It is a political choice by this Conservative Government who have driven our vital public services into the ground, both at a national level and here in Bradford.
Labour has a rescue plan to begin to save NHS dentistry. A Labour Government would address the immediate crisis with 700,000 more urgent dental appointments and focus dentist recruitment in places that need them most – I would argue, in places such as Bradford. Labour will improve children’s dental health by providing supervised tooth brushing up to the age of five, reducing tooth decay and building good dental habits for life. A Labour Government will also reform the NHS dental contract in order to save the NHS dental system - because our NHS services should serve everyone, from the cradle to the grave.
I want to hear about your experiences getting an NHS dentist – fill in my dentistry survey on my website: www.judithcummins.org.uk/post/dentistry-survey
The issues faced by our healthcare system, of course, go beyond NHS Dentistry. I have been working in recent weeks and months to promote the importance of local community pharmacies. Hundreds of people signed a petition to protect local pharmacies here in Bradford South, which I delivered to Parliament in September. However, with Pharmacy funding cut by 30% between 2015 and 2023, the situation is desperate. In December, I co-ordinated a joint letter with 20 MPs to the Health Minister calling for the protection of pharmacy funding. Stepping into the new year, I intend to continue to call on Ministers to give pharmacies the funding that they deserve.
Healthcare is as much about prevention as it is about the cure. Speaking to ITV this month, I raised the issue of the harmful effects of high-caffeine products on young people and the lack of regulation to keep children safe. Shocking new health research shows that excessive caffeine puts young people’s mental and physical health at much greater risk than previously thought.
It is not just that young people who regularly consume energy drinks have worse quality sleep and perform measurably worse at school, it is associated with health problems like diabetes, tooth decay, and impacts young people’s mental health with an increased risk of depression and anxiety.
The sale of all high-caffeine products to under-16s, including energy drinks and supplements, must be banned to protect young people from the harmful effects of excessive caffeine consumption. This is about preventing long-term health conditions for future generations, and about protecting our children. It is also the sensible option for our NHS.
Finally, I am glad the government finally acknowledged the horrific impact of spiking - just days after my cross-party debate in Parliament. I welcome that the government thinks there should be a clarification to the law, but a rewording isn’t enough. We still need a specific offence of spiking to protect people from this horrific crime. The government has yet again missed a clear opportunity to make the law in this area fit for the 21st Century. That’s why I am introducing an amendment into parliament which makes the specific act of spiking is illegal.
2024 can be a year of change. It can be a year of progress. Together, we can get Britain’s future back.
I wish you a prosperous and happy year ahead.