This week: Munira Wilson MP
Why she matters: Munira Wilson is the new MP for Twickenham, and the Liberal Democrat’s spokesperson on health, wellbeing and social care. She spent nine years as a senior lobbyist for the pharmaceutical sector and also worked as a strategic account manager at NHS Digital in 2015-16 where she managed the organisation’s relationship with the Department of Health, NHS England, NHS Improvement, Public Health England and other arm’s length bodies.
“I’ve seen some very senior players in the health system up close, and how differently NHS national bodies work together – or don’t, as the case may be”, remarks Munira Wilson when asked what she will bring to the scrutiny of the NHS as the Liberal Democrats health spokesperson.
“My time at NHS Digital [also] made me realise that although data may not be the sexiest of issues, it is absolutely critical. I was given a lapel pin reading ‘data saves lives’ – and that’s true, and we need to do more to support the system to join up data effectively and also to reassure the public that their data is being used safely and effectively - and that better outcomes and healthier lives depend on it.
“My perspective from the pharma industry will be a hopefully considered and balanced voice in the debate about innovation and access. I certainly look at it as a critical friend and from an informed perspective having worked in that industry.”
How does she approach the challenge of developing a distinctive position on health and social care issues in a Parliament with a big government majority and an uncertain main opposition?
“I think the danger of a government with a big majority is that they will obviously take Parliament for granted, knowing they have the numbers”.
In a triumph of understatement, Ms Wilson adds, “they may not be as strong on attention to detail as a government needs to be when its Parliamentary numbers are on a knife-edge.
“And with the main opposition party, Labour, navel-gazing with its leadership contest, and even after that, still needing to work out how to rebuild and work out how to get back into government, there is a gap.”
“We Lib Dems have an important role to scrutinise and analyse the government on the big issues. Once we’re over the big emotive political hurdles on Brexit, I hope that in policy areas like mental health where there’s lot of cross-party consensus, we might see that the government do the right thing, when feasible policy improvements are pointed out to them.
“I hope that I might be able to work with Labour and Conservative politicians to bring about change – I’m keen to work on grossly underfunded child and adolescent mental health services, which I see in postbag is a huge issue. My constituents, like everyone’s, struggle to access those services in timely ways. I mentioned this in my maiden speech.
“I spoke recently to a mother of a 10-year-old child with Tier Three needs, who is waiting four months for her first appointment, and would be waiting many months for follow-up appointments. This is impacting children’s educational and life chances: children should be the priority for mental and physical health treatment.
“I was talking to the Off the Record charity in my constituency today. They’re working with young people with mental health issues, some self-refer, others are referred by GPs and schools. They are having to raise their core funding themselves. Fifty per cent of the children whom they see are self-harming; 25 per cent are suicidal. And they say that they can’t access CAMHS if they’re not suicidal. Our services must not work like that.”
Where does Ms Wilson regard the government’s record and plans on health and care as being vulnerable to attack? There is no pause: “The huge waiting lists! The Conservatives have been leading in government in one shape or another for the entire last 10 years”.
There is also the not-small matter of the workforce crisis, she adds. “As best I understand it, the additional money that’s been promised is not enough to tackle the workforce issues; nor to meet the backlog maintenance requirements for capital, or even for up-to-date tech, which is the current secretary of state’s hobby-horse!”
What does she make of the suggestions that the government will seek a consensus on social care reform?
“I think they need to. Lib Dems have long called for this, and our manifesto featured our policy calling for an independent cross-party commission on social care, which could then also go on to look at healthcare funding on same basis.
“I’m not fond of general elections operating as bidding wars between the parties, with the NHS as a political football. I believe there is a cross-party consensus that we all want an NHS free at the point of use, so surely we should work together on how to fund that properly, most pressingly, on social care – if we cannot sort that, it’s clear that we can’t resolve healthcare problems.”
What does Ms Wilson think are the main lessons from the 2010-15 coalition government’s attempt at NHS reform? Her answer is straightforward: “Don’t do anything like the Lansley reforms ever again”.
We might miss the internal market
Does she think there are risks to government plans to legislate to remove mandatory competition and tendering from NHS services?
“The use of an internal market (supported by big real-terms funding growth for 10 years) helped bring down waiting lists previously in the 2000s, so I’d say that it remains to be seen how a similar reduction – which is badly needed – can be done today effectively without the same opportunity mechanisms”.
What distinctive Liberal Democrat principles will lie behind the party’s attempt to create a health and care system fit for the 2020s?
“To put wellbeing at the heart of all policymaking, which is why we talk in terms of an economy and wellbeing budget. Also, why we talk about schools having a wellbeing hour.
“In all parts of public policymaking, we need to think more about wellbeing and more holistically – as in education, whoever inspects schools needs to examine that they look at the situation holistically, not just academic achievement, but also their pastoral care and wellbeing for children.”
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