Much attention is being paid to the MPs resigning ahead of the December General Election and the great uncertainty facing those running to regain their seats. But what does the General Election mean for key health stakeholders, and how might they fare?
An exodus of MPs?
Less than two and a half years from the last election, the UK is heading back to the polls for the first December election since 1923. As the main political parties frantically pull together their manifestos, MPs have been making their minds up about whether or not they will be fighting for a place in Parliament.
Over 50 MPs have announced they’re stepping down so far, and we can expect a few more to come, with an average of 86 MPs stepping down in each general election between 1979 and 2015.
What does this mean for health?
Amongst the retiring MPs are a few key health stakeholders. Sir Norman Lamb, former health minister and chair of the Science and Technology Select Committee, announced his resignation back in August, and has set up a Trust that will support the work of mental health and learning disability charities. As a member of multiple APPGs on health-related issues, and a key champion of social care in Parliament, Sir Norman’s departure is a huge loss – especially for ongoing scrutiny of the future Government’s social care plans.
Veteran Labour MP Sir Kevin Barron will not be seeking re-election, after 36 years as an MP. A tireless anti-smoking campaigner, Sir Kevin is responsible for introducing many of the anti-smoking measures we now take for granted. He introduced a Private Members’ Bill to ban the advertising and promotion of tobacco products in the 1993-1994 parliamentary session, and in 2006 he tabled a motion with nine other MPs calling for a blanket smoking ban to protect all workers from second-hand smoke.
Parliament is also losing father of the house and former Secretary of State for Health Ken Clarke, former Minister of State for Care and Support Alistair Burt, former Public Health and Primary Care Minister Seema Kennedy, and three former Women and Equalities ministers – Justine Greening, Nicky Morgan and Amber Rudd.
And what about those that are standing?
In addition to those standing down, many of the health champions who are standing for election face an uphill battle to reclaim their seats.
Sarah Wollaston, the Health Select Committee’s chair and one of Parliament’s most active champions on the NHS, faces her first election as a Liberal Democrat in Totnes, where she had a 13,477 majority in 2017. Luciana Berger, another Health and Social Care Committee member is also standing as a Liberal Democrat for the first time – moving from her current seat in Liverpool Wavertree to stand as the candidate for Finchley and Golders Green.
Other health-interested MPs from across the political spectrum face an even bigger battle. Paula Sherriff, the Shadow Social Care and Mental Health Minister, and key women’s health campaigner, has a parliamentary majority of just 5.9% in Dewsbury. Chris Green, Conservative MP, former Science and Technology Committee member and keen life science champion, has an even smaller majority of just 1.8% in Bolton West. Dr Paul Williams, a practising Labour GP, holds his seat in Stockton South by 1.6% and Jackie Doyle-Price, former health minister, has a 0.7% majority in Thurrock. These seats could all change hands in December, potentially creating gaps in health expertise in Parliament.
Which familiar faces can we expect to see again?
Health will not be short of parliamentary advocates, though. Matt Hancock, app-connoisseur and current Health and Social Care Secretary, seems pretty safe in West Suffolk – he secured 61% of the votes in the 2017 election. Jon Ashworth, his Labour counterpart, also looks secure in Leicester South with over 70% of the vote share. Junior health minister Nadine Dorries is likely to be re-elected in Mid Bedfordshire, where a Conservative MP has been elected every time since 1931, and Jo Churchill and Caroline Dinneage similarly looks safe in Bury St Edmunds and Gosport respectively. On the Health and Social Care Select Committee, Diana Johnson recently fought off a deselection bid in her Kingston upon Hull North constituency, and Ben Bradshaw has been the Labour MP for the marginal seat of Exeter since 1997.
Election day will also herald a new generation of health advocates. The NHS is set to be a key battleground and only time will tell what the result of the election will be – and who may or may not return to fight it out in Westminster.