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Westminster Column

Last week I held my annual meeting with many of Sutton Coldfield’s clergy – this year was very kindly hosted by Monsignor David Cousins at Sacred Heart Church in Four Oaks.

I am regularly in touch with Sutton’s faith groups and I am grateful for these meetings as an opportunity to exchange views and discuss topics of local importance.

This year we spent some time discussing current health care provision within Sutton Coldfield as well as the Coalition Government’s forthcoming plans to reform the NHS and the potential impact of these proposals on our local medical services.

Having visited two of Sutton’s doctors’ surgeries this autumn I have spent considerable time discussing the Government’s plans for the NHS with our local GPs. Their comments were extremely helpful and I have passed their views and concerns on to my colleague, the Secretary of State for Health, Andrew Lansley.

Effective health care provision is top of this Government’s agenda and this week we unveiled a Department of Health White Paper called Healthy Lives, Healthy People which sets out our long-term vision for the future of public health in England.

The new approach is designed to encourage people to make healthy decisions without regulation and pressure from Whitehall. The Government will set aside a ring-fenced pot of NHS money to help - the first time that the public health budget has been protected since the 1800s.

Under the plans, councils are to be put in charge of encouraging healthier lifestyles and local public health directors will be moved out of the NHS and into local government. Ministers believe the wider remit of councils in areas such as housing, transport and leisure puts them in a stronger position to tackle smoking, drinking and obesity in England. It is simply wrong to think that health can be tackled on its own, so people's health and wellbeing will be at the heart of everything local councils do.

People living in the poorest areas of Britain today die 7 years earlier on average than people living in richer areas. We have amongst the highest obesity rates of any country in the world and more than 1 in 6 people still die before their 65th birthday. Recently health inequalities have widened and money which should have been used to tackle these problems was raided to tackle deficits in the NHS.

We are determined to implement a different approach. Hopefully this week’s White Paper will be a good start.

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