Victoria Prentis speaks in Tuberculosis debate

On Thursday 7 June, Victoria Prentis MP spoke in a debate on Tuberculosis. Bovine TB remains an issue in the North Oxfordshire constituency and Victoria’s speech focuses on the importance of adequate funding and improved access to diagnosis and treatment services.

Please see below for a full transcript of Victoria’s speech, taken from Hansard.

Victoria Prentis (Banbury) (Con): I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in the debate and to follow some excellent speeches. I hope that we do not have to wait a further 65 years before we have the opportunity to debate this important matter again. My right hon. Friend the Member for Arundel and South Downs (Nick Herbert) and the hon. Member for Ealing, Southall (Mr Sharma) are vocal campaigners on this subject. I am encouraged by the fact that we are now giving it the attention it deserves, particularly in the same week as the UN civil society hearing on the fight against tuberculosis.

I would like to add to some of the dreadful statistics we have heard this afternoon. My right hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham (Dame Cheryl Gillan) pointed out that around the world an estimated 700 children a day die from this disease. I want to make it clear that 80% of those deaths occur before that child is five. Fewer than 5% of those children have access to the sort of treatment that we all know could save their lives. Treatment gets ever easier. Thanks to DFID-funded research, new child-friendly drugs have been developed. They taste of strawberry and can be added to water in a single dose, which makes things much easier for doctors and parents who until now have had to try to get children to take adult-sized pills. We have done the research on so much of this. We now need to ensure that the treatment programmes are rolled out so that many, many more of those 700 children a day who are dying of this disease get the treatment that they need.

I heard what the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg) said about treatment in countries where DFID is no longer actively engaged. That is critical in relation to the worldwide disease, but we should also be concerned that TB is still prevalent in the UK. Some of the highest rates in the developed world are found right here in the city we are standing in. My own family has personal experience of tuberculosis. When this matter was last debated in the Chamber, my grandfather was very ill and ultimately died of the disease in south Wales. Since I became an MP some three years ago, I have been surprised to note that I have had quite a lot of casework to do with TB in north Oxfordshire. One of those cases involves a constituent who moved to the UK in the late 1990s. He joined the British Army in 2009. During phase two of his basic training, he was diagnosed with TB. He had never been diagnosed with it before; it has been assumed that he contracted it during his training.

I have also had cases involving the immigration process for people applying for visas from countries including Morocco, Ecuador and the Dominican Republic. They have to undergo quite invasive TB tests by a Home Office-approved clinic as part of their application process. Clearly, the Government, in the wider sense, recognise the extent of the problem, but there is perhaps not always the joined-up cross-departmental working needed to tackle it.

We should be proud of the Government’s efforts so far in the fight against tuberculosis. We should be proud of our contribution to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. The number of new TB infections is dropping. DFID’s support in developing new drug combinations to treat TB and the provision of funding to the TB Alliance demonstrates our commitment. In Oxfordshire—we heard earlier about Liverpool, so it is only fair that I mention Oxfordshire—we are fortunate to have one of the world’s largest TB vaccine research centres, based at the University of Oxford. With the support of the Medical Research Council, the Wellcome Trust, DFID and product development partnerships, the centre has been able to undertake cutting-edge research. I am hopeful that that will transform how we treat TB in the future.

There is clearly a great deal more to do. I am sure that the Minister will mention the progress we have made because of DFID’s investment in research. Like everybody else who has spoken, I would welcome assurances that the Prime Minister, or another senior Minister if she is unavailable, will attend the UN’s high-level meeting in September to ensure that research is appropriately funded and co-ordinated so that it can be sustained in future.

I am also concerned that primary healthcare services and maternal and child health programmes are too often run separately from TB programmes. Awareness among healthcare workers, and the capacity more broadly for diagnosis and treatment, remain limited. I ​hope that the Minister will be able to provide reassurances that she will look at how we improve access to vital diagnosis and treatment services, in particular for children with TB.

My grandfather probably got TB from infected milk. We do not know and we will never know. We still have much to learn about the way in which TB spreads and about cross-species transmission. I would not be doing my job as the Member for Banbury if I did not mention in a debate on TB the fact that bovine TB remains a very hot issue in the fields and market towns I represent. I appreciate that this falls outside the Minister’s remit, but I have serious concerns about the continued effect of bovine TB and its human impact on the farming communities I represent. The relevant Minister from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs met me and my hon. Friends the Members for Henley (John Howell) and for Witney (Robert Courts) earlier this week to discuss how to reduce TB in cows in our area. We looked at compensation levels for farmers and reduction mechanisms, such as whether we can stop store cattle being moved from high-risk to low-risk areas. We also talked about badger control. If we are to eradicate TB once and for all, we have to look at what is happening in species other than our own.

We have made great progress in the right direction, but there is still much more to do, both at home and abroad. I hope that we will have the chance to talk about tuberculosis many times before we reach our goal—hopefully well before 2030—of eliminating it.