Devolution or Independence: We must not neglect the North East

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Devolution or Independence: We must not neglect the North East

In the early hours of Friday morning we will learn whether Scotland has voted in favour of Independence.

The arguments have been well rehearsed from the uncertainty of Independence, and the stability offered by the Union, to the economic and democratic freedom offered by Independence. As a supporter of the Union, and the Better Together Campaign I hope Scotland will vote to retain the United Kingdom. However, I have no doubt that an Independent Scotland would be a successful and prosperous nation.

The referendum will have a profound impact on the UK, no matter what the result, we know more powers will be transferred from Westminster to Holyrood.

This will leave the North East in a precarious position wedged between a Scotland with the economic and tax freedom to gain a competitive advantage to attract investment and drive growth, and a Conservative Government in Westminster that fails to look beyond their heartlands in the South.

We must make the case now that the North East must also feature in any negotiations that will take place over the coming months, whether over devolution or independence, otherwise there is a risk that our economy could be undermined.

I have followed the arguments closely throughout the campaign and time and time again the Better Together campaign have said that devolution is the best of both worlds, with the power and autonomy to make decisions in the best interest of the Scottish people, with the safety and stability of being part of a wider union. I agree, and if this is the best of both worlds why can’t these same benefits be extended to our region, so that we are on an equal footing to co-operate and compete with the Government north of the border.

At this time, the North East needs greater representation in Government and for jobs and prosperity, however in the last four years we have seen our representation weakened with the loss of our Regional Development Agency – One North East, as well as our voice in cabinet as the Prime Minister abolished the Minister for the North East.

In contrast, Scotland has its own Government Department and Minister in Westminster, in addition to their devolved Parliament in Edinburgh, and development bodies all of which are seeking to drive forward economic growth.

The referendum should be an opportunity for all of us to reflect how we are governed, and in the aftermath of Thursday’s vote as more powers and autonomy are transferred to the devolved administration we cannot neglect the English Regions, particularly, the North East, who as Scotland’s nearest neighbour will be directly impacted by devolution or an Independent Scotland.

Easington MP ‘Delighted’ by England Coast Path Announcement

Coast PathEasington MP Grahame Morris has welcomed the announcement that the England Coast Path –an longstanding ambition to allow walkers and nature lovers to traverse the entire coastline of England – will be completed and open for all to enjoy by 2020.

The right to walk along the coast and explore our nation’s stunning beaches was won in 2009 but, so far, the creation of the path has been slow. The announcement means that our coastal path will get more investment and will be completed sooner than had previously been expected.

Grahame Morris has been a keenly involved in putting pressure on the Government to open up the coast for everyone to enjoy and the announcement is, in part, due to the successful campaigning of the Ramblers organisation, which Mr. Morris has been involved in.

The Ramblers One Coast for All campaign was launched from an ice-cream van – a much loved seaside icon – outside Westminster last September. Grahame Morris MP attended to lend his support to the Ramblers call for a government commitment to the completion of the coastal path for the nation, and to ensure that people in East Durham get their stretch of coastal path too.

There had been a fear that the completion of the English Coastal Path was going to be delayed by up to a decade, but yesterday’s announcement revealed that it will now be completed just one year past the original deadline.

The English coast path will:

  • Boost economic growth by generating millions of pounds for a fraction of investment – the cost of £1 per metre of coast path vs £18,000 per metre of motorway.
  • Breathe new life into coastal communities, some of which are the most deprived in the country
  • Connect people with their local environment, helping people to experience the natural world around them
  • Improve health and wellbeing, offering people new opportunities to unwind and get active
  • Strengthening our identity as an island nation by reconnecting people with their coastal heritage

Grahame Morris said:

“I am delighted at yesterday’s announcement, especially after the concerns that the completion of the English Coastal Path would be delayed by up to a decade. The path will breathe new life into our coastal towns and villages.”

Mr Morris added “I expect tourism in East Durham to be boosted and our local economy to benefit. We are fortunate to have a splendid coast and the completion of the path will allow people to fully enjoy Easington’s natural beauty”

 

Grahame Morris MP calls for action on pancreatic cancer in Parliamentary debate

HoCGrahame Morris, Member of Parliament for Easington, County Durham this week spoke in a Parliamentary debate about pancreatic cancer awareness, diagnosis and research. The debate had been called after an e-petition organised by Mrs. Maggie Watts – whose husband died from pancreatic cancer in 2009 – reached the necessary 100,000 signatures to trigger a debate in Parliament.

Maggie and more than 50 pancreatic campaigners attended Parliament to listen to the debate and to meet with MPs and others to raise awareness. The debate was also attended by Julie Hesmondhalgh, whose Coronation Street character Hayley Cropper died after battling pancreatic cancer.

Pancreatic cancer is the fifth biggest cancer killer in the UK. Every day, 24 people are diagnosed with the disease and they currently face a chance of survival of less than 4%, the lowest survival rate of all 21 common cancers. Chronic late diagnosis results in many patients being diagnosed at a point when the cancer has spread to other parts of their body and when curative surgery is no longer an option. Despite being responsible for 5.2% of cancer deaths in the UK, only £5.2 million, representing just 1% of the National Cancer Research Institute’s partner organisations’ 2013 site-specific budgets, was spent on pancreatic cancer research.

Speaking after the debate, Grahame said:

“I was pleased to be able to take part in the pancreatic cancer debate. Pancreatic cancer is a disease that kills far too many people and for which very few treatment options are available. More needs to be done to improve survival outcomes.

“I am particularly keen that new, advanced radiotherapy treatments are properly trialled and, where proved successful, brought into regular NHS use as quickly as possible. This could be a particular benefit for pancreatic cancer patients, for whom current treatments are particularly limited. I was pleased that the Minister, in her response, announced that a £6 million trial of stereotactic ablative body radiotherapy (SABR) will now also be assessed for pancreatic cancer patients, and look forward to seeing the outcome of the trial in future.”

Alex Ford, CEO of Pancreatic Cancer UK commented:

“Sadly, mortality rates for pancreatic cancer continue to rise at the same time as the number of deaths from other types of cancer are falling. We need to see more work done to boost awareness of the disease, improve early diagnosis and treatment, and increase the amount of research into pancreatic cancer. The debate in Parliament was detailed, knowledgeable and will definitely help further the pancreatic cancer cause. We are grateful to Grahame and all the other MPs who took part.”

Westminster Hall Debate on Pancreatic Cancer

westminster hall2

I’d like to begin by congratulating my Hon. Friend, the Member for Scunthorpe, and Mrs Maggie Watts for securing this debate on what is all too often a forgotten and neglected form of cancer.

Pancreatic cancer is not an uncommon cancer, in fact, by the time this debate has concluded, three more people will have lost their lives to the disease.

Although the UK still lags behind most of European counterparts when it comes to cancer survival rates, there have been a laudable improvement in cancer treatments across the board in recent decades, yet survival rates, at 5.2%, have virtually stood still for pancreatic cancer for four whole decades.

The very nature of pancreatic cancer contributes towards poor survival rates, but the lack of progress achieved over the last 40 years is a clear indication that funding and strategy must change if victims of pancreatic cancer are to be given a better chance at survival.

We have heard some wonderful contributions suggesting how pancreatic cancer survival rates might be improved – and there is certainly a very strong argument for the need of public awareness campaigns as well as boosting the awareness amongst GPs who too often miss the symptoms of pancreatic cancer until it’s too late – but it seems that regardless of the success of awareness campaigns, that real progress will also require improved treatments.

Pancreatic cancer receives just 1% of the National Cancer Research Institute partner’s research spend, this equates to just £625 per death per year compared to £3,426 per death per year on breast cancer.  Surely, if our rhetoric on wanting to improve the survival rates for pancreatic cancer is sincere, then talk has to be backed up by an increase in available resources.

There are relatively few treatment options available for patients with pancreatic cancer, and it seems that research into and development of new drugs and treatments is key if we are to bring survival rates for pancreatic cancer towards the levels of other common cancers.

There is evidence to suggest that advanced radiotherapy, such as Nanoknife or Cyberknife which can target tumours more precisely with bursts of radiation, might be particularly effective for some pancreatic cancer patients.

As it stands, there isn’t a great enough evidence base for the National Institute of Care and Excellence to allow their routine use on the NHS. Many of the cancer and pancreatic cancer charities I have spoken to have argued, as a matter of urgency that the technology for advanced radiotherapy needs to be verified.

Patients are already receiving advanced radiotherapy for other cancer types and it is available for private patients. Until research into forms of advanced radiotherapy for the treatment of pancreatic cancer is increased and the viability of the technology can be properly verified, NHS patients will continue to miss out.

I will be interested to hear the Minister’s response, particularly in regards to research into advanced radiotherapy. Hopefully when our successors are debating in here in 40 years’ time will be talking about survival rates that are significantly higher than 3%, but for that to happen, this and the next government must act.

Local MP shows support to tackle Sepsis, which claims 37,000 lives a year

Graham Morris MP (Sepsis Pledge)

Grahame Morris MP signs pledge to back awareness of sepsis

Easington MP Grahame Morris, attended the All Party Parliamentary Group on Sepsis reception at the Palace of Westminster to show his support for efforts to tackle the relatively unknown illness sepsis, which claims the lives of 37,000 people every year in the UK.  The event supported World Sepsis Day (13th September), aiming to raise awareness of a condition that kills more people than breast cancer, bowel cancer and prostate cancer combined.

This awareness reception was supported by the ‘Cycle for Sepsis’ campaign – teams from England and Wales cycled to Westminster, stopping at hospitals along the way to raise money and awareness of sepsis with healthcare professionals.

Sepsis is a life-threatening condition that arises when the body’s response to an infection damages its own tissues and organs. It can lead to shock, multiple organ failure, and death, especially if it is not recognised early and treated promptly. Sepsis is the leading cause of death from infection around the world and, despite advances in modern medicine like vaccines and antibiotics acute care experts believe not enough is being done to save lives.

The event was attended by many parliamentarians, and was supported by a number of representatives from charities and the medical and nursing Royal Colleges, sepsis survivors, doctors, nurses, health professionals and the general public. Speakers included Dame Julie Mellor, the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman, Ron Daniels, Chief Executive of the UK Sepsis Trust and Anna Coles a survivor of sepsis. Sarah Newton MP, co-chair for the new APPG on sepsis also spoke, alongside Celia Ingham Clark from NHS England and Mark Baker from NICE.

Ron Daniels, Chief Executive of the UK Sepsis Trust, said, “Through strategies for early recognition and treatment, many more sepsis patients will be diagnosed and interventions delivered before severe organ dysfunction develops.”

Grahame Morris MP stated:

“While sepsis is a condition which may not hit the headlines, it is deadly.  It is a little known life threatening illness that claims the lives of 37,000 people in the UK every year.  If timely interventions proposed by the UK Sepsis Trust were adopted across the NHS it could save up to 12,500 lives a year and the NHS money.”

“In East Durhamthere are an average of 140 cases of severe sepsis per year and more than 50 deaths. Simple, timely interventions could instantly cut deaths from sepsis by more than 50%.”

“I was keen to show my support for efforts to tackle the disease and save lives. I want to see sepsis viewed as a medical emergency and have a higher profile among medical professionals and the public”

Backbench Business Debate — Pancreatic Cancer

Monday 8th September,
Westminster Hall Debate,
Pancreatic Cancer

westminster hall2Grahame M. Morris (Easington) (Lab): Thank you for calling me, Mr Chope. I apologise for not being present for the whole debate; I meant no discourtesy to colleagues. I wanted very much to speak in the debate. I begin by congratulating my good and hon. Friend the Member for Scunthorpe (Nic Dakin) and the hon. Member for Lancaster and Fleetwood (Eric Ollerenshaw), who made a very moving contribution. I also thank the Backbench Business Committee and, indeed, all the volunteers. I had the pleasure of meeting Maggie Watts, but there are also many hundreds of others working in charities and as volunteers who have campaigned so effectively on this issue; they have helped secure the signatures to get this debate on what is very often a forgotten and neglected form of cancer.

I know that there are time constraints, but there are some specific issues that I want to raise with the Minister. I will just make some general points and then move straight to my questions. We know from earlier contributions that pancreatic cancer is not an uncommon cancer. My understanding is that by the time this debate has concluded, three more people will have lost their lives to the disease.

We heard in the contribution from the hon. Member for Basildon and Billericay (Mr Baron) that the UK still lags behind most other European countries when it comes to cancer survival rates. To be fair, there have been significant improvements in cancer treatments across the board in recent decades, but as we are aware the rates for pancreatic cancer, at 5.2%, have virtually stood still in the past four decades, so this is not a criticism of the current Minister or the present regime—the present Government.

The very nature of pancreatic cancer contributes towards poor survival rates. I do not intend to go over the arguments put so eloquently earlier about the difficulty of getting a proper diagnosis and the lack of an effective pathway to make the necessary early referrals. However, one thing that I am concerned about—I want to put this point to the Minister—is this. Yes, it is very important to have awareness campaigns, and I pay tribute to the campaigners who have brought this subject to Parliament today, but if we are to have real progress, there need to be improved treatments as well. Pancreatic cancer receives just 1% of the National Cancer Research Institute partners’ research spend. That equates to £625 per death.

I fully understand that we one cannot equate such things in financial terms, but that compares with almost £3,500 per death on breast cancer, the campaign against which receives much more public attention. If we as politicians—I am talking about all politicians; this is not a criticism of the Minister or the Government—are serious about improving survival rates for pancreatic cancer, our rhetoric must be backed up with firm action on the allocation of resources.

We have heard that relatively few treatment options are available for patients with pancreatic cancer, and research into the development of new drugs and treatments is key if we are to bring survival rates for pancreatic cancer down towards those of other common cancers. Over the past week or so, the case of the little boy Ashya has been in the news, and we have heard about the terrible circumstances and trauma that his parents went through in being unable to access the advanced radiotherapy that they felt was an appropriate form of treatment for their son. The hon. Member for Lancaster and Fleetwood has already referred to the potential of advanced radiotherapy. Forms of the treatment such as NanoKnife and CyberKnife, which can target tumours very precisely with intense bursts of radiation, may be particularly effective for some, although not all, pancreatic cancer patients.

I know that the Minister is sick of me going on about advanced radiotherapy, but we are not doing as much as we should to develop the evidence base for the treatment. I fully understand that it is not suitable for all types of cancer, or even for all types of pancreatic cancer; there are a number of different forms. The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence insists that before it allows routine use of the treatment, particularly in the NHS, there must be an evidence base.

Many of the cancer charities that I have spoken to have argued that, as a matter of urgency, the technology for advanced radiotherapy must be verified. I make an appeal to the Minister on that. Patients already receive advanced radiotherapy for other cancer types, and the treatment is available for private patients. I fully understand that we need to have an evidence base and see what is effective in different circumstances. Until research into advanced forms of radiotherapy for the treatment of pancreatic cancer is increased and the viability of the technology can be properly verified—until we actually grasp the nettle and fund the research and the trials—NHS patients will continue to miss out.

Stephen McPartland: The hon. Gentleman and I have debated radiotherapy and chemotherapy several times. I am proud that my NHS hospital trust was given the first CyberKnife by a wealthy donor, so it has the evidence required for advanced techniques and advanced radiotherapy. I sound a note of caution, however. My constituents have to make a 60-mile round trip to access that treatment. We have just opened a chemotherapy unit that can be used by someone who has cancer in Stevenage, but if they receive radiotherapy they often have to make a 4,000-mile journey over the course of their treatment. Although patients can have advanced radiotherapy, the difficulty is accessing that treatment.

Grahame M. Morris: That is a sensible point, which I have made to the Minister and several of her predecessors on a number of occasions. My view is that each of the 28 cancer networks should have access to advanced radiotherapy and that we should carry out a series of trials to evaluate the effectiveness of that treatment.

I would be interested to hear the Minister’s response, particularly on research into advanced radiotherapy. I hope that when our successors debate the matter in 40 years’ time, they will be talking about survival rates significantly higher than the current 3%. For that to happen, I respectfully say that the Government, or a Government, must act.

A Real Alternative for Rail

Seaham Rail 3

Monday 8th September began with protests at Northern Rail Station, including Seaham, campaigning against the introduction of higher fare, threats to rail services, and job cuts on the rail network.

Northern Rail has been pressed by the Department for Transport to raise extra revenues as sixty nine percent of their costs are covered by subsidies they receive from Government. However, this did not stop those paying dividends of £36 million to shareholders.

The failure of private train operators and the franchising process continue to hurt commuters. Changes to off-peak tickets will mean they are no longer valid between 4:00pm and 6:30pm on weekdays, leaving commuters with a choice of waiting longer and paying more for their journeys home, with some travellers facing fare hikes of up to 117% on some services.

The Campaign for Better Transport (CBT) today attacked the Northern rises, saying they would particularly hit part-time and shift workers.

The Hexham to Newcastle route, a popular North East train service, has seen a 100% fare increase from £3.55 to £7.10.

This cannot continue and we need a real alternative for our rail services.

I welcome Labour’s commitment to establish a state-owned train company to compete against private companies such as Virgin and Stagecoach, which could see some parts of our rail network renationalised, but I would like to go further.

I believe the whole rail franchising experiment has failed commuters and the taxpayer. We have seen higher rail fares, some of the highest in Europe, the continuation of subsidies, with the top five operators receiving almost £3 billion from the Treasury between 2007 and 2011, and failed operators, such as GNER and National Express, who left the network in chaos when they did not deliver their contractual promises. 

Last year, the Government conceded that the botched franchise process for the West Coast Mainline cost taxpayers at least £50 million with the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee warning the failed competition process was likely to cost more than the Government admitted.

We are now in an absurd position where the successful state owned company, Directly Operated Railways, who took over the running of East Coast Mainline following the withdrawal of National Express, will not be allowed to compete to continue to run the franchise. This is despite delivering £235 million in profits to the Treasury. Worse still, there is nothing to stop previously failed operators from taking over the franchise, and while the Government will prohibit the UK state owned companies operating the franchise they have no issue with foreign state owned companies operating the franchise.

Privatisation has failed, with reports estimating that it has cost the Government an extra £1.2 billion a year through private profits and dividends, fragmented services and higher borrowing costs. The public over-whelming support renationalisation of rail services, with opinion polls regularly showing support above 70 per cent. This can simply be achieved by returning each franchise into public hands as the contracts expire.

I believe we should stop repeating the mistakes of the last twenty years of private railways. Continuing with the status quo is simply unacceptable, and we need a real alternative for rail.

 

FREE LIFE-SAVING BLOOD PRESSURE CHECKS

blood prerssureBlood Pressure UK are encouraging the public to have a free, painless and potentially life-saving blood pressure check during Know Your Numbers Week (15-21 September 2014).

Know Your Numbers! Week is the nation’s biggest blood pressure testing and awareness event;  aiming to check the blood pressure of over 100,000 people nationwide at conveniently located “Pressure Stations” held in pharmacies, health clubs, community centres, GP’s surgeries and shopping centres.

One in three people (16 million) in the UK have high blood pressure and it is the major cause of death and disability through causing stroke and heart attacks. This year’s aim is to highlight that there are eight million people in the UK that are suffering from high blood pressure and not being treated for it – both young and old.

High blood pressure has no obvious symptoms so the only way for people to know if they have the condition is to get their blood pressure checked.  Once diagnosed, high blood pressure can be successfully managed. The importance of early diagnosis was highlighted by Public Health England (PHE) who said that checking the blood pressure, cholesterol, weight and lifestyle of people aged 40 to 74 could prevent 1,600 heart attacks and 4,000 cases of diabetes a year.

To get involved and to find your nearest Pressure Station during Know Your Number Week please visit Blood Pressure UK

Later Life Ambitions

England, UK . 2.9.2014. London . House of Commons. Later Life Ambitions launch.I was delighted to attend the launch of the Later Life Ambitions (02.09.14) where I joined over 150 people at House of Commons to hear about the pressing need to listen to the voice of pensioners in the build-up to the next election.

By 2030, there will be almost 13 million people in later life – aged 65 or over. Later Life Ambitions brings together the collective voices of over a quarter of a million pensioners and sets out a ‘manifesto’ for the future that takes into account the aspirations of today’s pensioners, but also looks to the next generation of older people.

At the event, I pledged to listen to and express the views of pensioners in my constituency, and to consider the policy recommendations in the Later Life manifesto.

The campaign organisers, the National Federation of Occupational Pensioners, the Civil Service Pensioners’ Alliance, and the National Association of Retired Police Officers Association, are hoping that members of the public will become involved in the campaign as it progresses and are asking people to sign up to their pledge via the website www.laterlifeambitions.co.uk and by following their twitter feed @laterlives. You can also take part in an online survey or submit experiences or views via post or email.

I am committed to supporting pensioners in East Durham and look forward to supporting Later Life Ambitions in the months ahead, I hope that you will also want to get involved.

 

End the Bedroom Tax

Bedroom Tax Demo2I would like to congratulate the Hon. Member from St. Ives for securing an important debate concerning the Bedroom Tax.

Whilst it is true that the Bedroom Tax was only made possible through the collaboration of the Lib Dems, the Hon. Member, to his credit, has been steadfast in his opposition.

It is a shame for the 660,000 people who have been unfairly penalised by this malicious tax that more of the Hon. Members’ colleagues don’t share his principles.

Of course, I would like to see the Bedroom Tax scrapped altogether, and I’m proud to say that having consistently fought against it in this parliament, the first act of the next Labour Government will be to scrap this miserable tax once and for all.

Today is a fantastic opportunity for those who have supported the Bedroom Tax thus far to amend for their mistake.

The Bedroom Tax was mis-sold to us and has achieved none of its stated objectives. We were told before its introduction that the tax would solve the problem of under occupation, that it would cut the housing benefit bill and make the welfare system fairer.

Anybody who, despite warning, supported the Bedroom Tax and thought it would achieve these objectives before its introduction should now, with the benefit of hindsight, have no excuses left for not opposing it.

The Bedroom Tax isn’t the removal of a subsidy from the idle who are living in luxury at the expense of the taxpayer, it is a cruel and unforgiving tax that unfairly targets the most vulnerable people in our society, the majority of whom are disabled.

The tax doesn’t deal with the problem of under occupation and it was never supposed to – the Government’s own costings on the Bedroom Tax explicitly assumed that people would not move into smaller properties.

The Government has itself stated that the Bedroom Tax is a nonsensical approach to tackling the problem of overcrowding, knowing full-well that without the available properties, people would be unable to move and would be hit by the tax anyway.

Just 4.5% of people, less than 1 in 20, of affected claimants were able to move into a smaller property and the rest have been faced with a financial hardship that they cannot avoid. The Bedroom Tax is an attack on the welfare of the sick and disabled plain and simple, thinly veiled as an attempt to achieve “fairness” in the social housing sector.

We all now know of the tremendous amount of human suffering the Bedroom Tax has caused. This is not a problem unique to Labour constituencies. 250,000 of those who have been hit by the tax are living in Lid Dem or Tory constituencies and I am sure that every Member of Parliament has met with constituents of theirs and have had the profound suffering that the Bedroom Tax causes explained to them in person at one of their surgeries.

It might have been easy for some Hon. Members to defend the Bedroom Tax from here in the city of Westminster, but who could defend the tax after speaking face to face with a disabled constituent who has been told that the room used to store their vital medical equipment is ‘spare’? Who could defend plunging 60% of those affected into rent arrears after just six months, knowing that, for the majority, there was no possible way for them to avoid the punitive tax?

I didn’t enter parliament to scapegoat the vulnerable in order to win the favour of the right-wing press or to balance the books on the backs of society’s poorest and most vulnerable members.

I came here to serve my constituents and any Member who still supports the Bedroom Tax, despite the extensive evidence of how unjust and unworkable it is in practice, will be failing theirs.