Meningitis B Debate - 29-04-16

For almost three hours this Monday Parliament was engaged directly at the request of 823,345 petitioners from every constituency across the nation, following the tragic death of Maidstone's little Faye Burdett. Unsurprisingly Maidstone & The Weald had the highest number of signatories at 3717.

The Petitions Select Committee debate on Meningitis B produced an impassioned, enlightened and informed series of speeches and interventions, from members of all political leanings. It was witnessed by bereaved parents, national charities and other important campaigners. Their presence in the Westminster Hall added poignant public engagement to our Parliamentary proceedings and showed our democracy at its best.

The petition sought to extend the existing vaccination programme beyond babies of 12 months old but the debate took the issue to a broader plane; seeking to raise public awareness, developing a wider prevention strategy and seeking cost reductions from the vaccine manufacturer were all mentioned.

Challenging the formula used for assessing cost effectiveness was another point that I and other colleagues advocated; emphasising the importance and value of public preference in healthcare choices, public peace of mind, and the lifetime cost of treatment for survivors of the disease.

Another issue I raised personally was regarding the vaccination of teenagers; in addition to directly protecting them, adolescents aged 16 to 21 are also the main carriers of the meningococcal bacteria.

The Health Minister confirmed in the debate that the 'adolescent carrier' study would be reporting in February 2017. She also announced the launch of a national awareness campaign focussed upon early symptom recognition and more details will follow.

Mr and Mrs Burdett were sitting behind me throughout the debate. Their campaign continues but they have already achieved enormous strides against Meningitis B and I hope that will help them in their sadness and loss.


Helen's weekly column is published every Friday in the Kent Messenger.  The content shown here may differ slightly from the press version.

Future of British fruit industry under serious threat

MP and Kent farmers confront DEFRA over major concerns facing the industry

Westminster, London 13-04-16; Major changes are needed if the Garden of England is to survive as a commercial horticultural proposition, say farmers.

'A toxic combination of unique and extreme packaging costs required by UK supermarkets, together with UK pesticide regulations, massive escalation in the cost of seasonal workers, systemic problems with the new online 'Basic Payment System' and difficult barriers to export markets are all conspiring to prevent our farmers from making a fair and reasonable profit – if at all' says Helen Grant MP.

The issues all arose from a meeting called and convened by the MP for Maidstone & The Weald whose constituency is home to a large fruit growing area in the heart of Kent's famous 'Garden of England'.

Following a 90 minute session with farmers, NFU representatives and senior officials from DEFRA in Westminster, Mrs Grant has produced an action plan to address these and other issues facing local farmers and related businesses.

Helen said 'These businesses are the beating heart of rural communities in my constituency. I will not stand by and see them face ruin when they are very good and viable commercial entities being thwarted by nonsense'.

Top fruit grower and NFU member Clive Baxter, of Westerhill Farm, near Maidstone, said: "The NFU and the industry has had various meetings with Defra to highlight issues and problems within the industry. We are very pleased to see Helen Grant's involvement. There has been a lot of listening to date from Defra but with our MP behind us we're hoping we'll see more in the way of actions and solutions from Defra. It is actions that we now need because our industry is suffering at the moment."

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