Health, Poverty and Burns

22nd January 2016

Health was again top of my agenda last week at Westminster. On Monday I chaired the Association of Breast Surgeons conference which looked at improving treatment for older women with breast cancer so that they get access to the full range of treatment available. The conference was held in response to a report produced during the previous Parliament by the All Party Parliamentary Group on Breast Cancer, of which I am now Co-chair, which highlighted that by 2040 almost three-quarters of all women living with breast cancer in the UK will be aged over 65. It was a really interesting day with speakers from Europe and the US contributing; it was also nice to meet some old colleagues.

On Wednesday the All Party Parliamentary Group on Health in all Policies held its first inquiry. Evidence from public health experts showed that child poverty is rising and, with it, the negative effects on their health, education and life chances. Tragically, this will only get worse as the welfare cuts within Universal Credits come into force. It is vitally important to find effective ways of alleviating this and investing in our children or it will cost society dearly in the long term. Sadly, the UK Government don’t seem to understand this.

Back home and, needless to say, Burns Suppers are featuring rather heavily in my diary at the moment. Last Friday, I was delighted to attend my first Irvine Burns Club Supper, which is one of the oldest, and through the speeches, particularly the Immortal Memory given by the President, J. Derek Murdoch, I was fascinated to learn the importance of Burn’s time in Irvine during his teenage years. Whilst born in Alloway, the Man and Poet were fashioned in Irvine. It was here that he met Robert Ferguson and spent so much time in William Templeton’s bookshop accessing all the literature he could. As an avid reader from an early age, this is something I can relate to as without doubt the biggest influence in my childhood was Andersonstown library in Belfast from which I borrowed approximately 6 books each week – I used both my brothers’ tickets to take out extra books as they preferred comics.

The night before, I was honoured to attend the Robert Burns Humanitarian Award Ceremony which recognises individuals and groups who have shown selflessness and dedication to save, enrich or improve the lives of others. This year’s winner was David Nott, a trauma surgeon who has worked for Medecins Sans Frontieres in war zones across the world. A worthy winner indeed and a fine example of the good that is done by individuals in times of crisis or darkness; putting his own life at risk to help others. In commending David, I think the words of the Bard himself say it best, “That Man to Man, the world o’er, Shall brothers be for a’ that.”