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Social Leaders Debate

By Kofi Dwinfour

On Tuesday 24 March, I shall be attending the Social Leaders Debate. The debate, organised by the Charities Aid Foundation (CAF) and the Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations (ACEVO), is billed as:

“[A] no-holds-barred debate between senior ministers and shadows with responsibility for our sector from five major political parties.”

This is a great opportunity for me to question, support and engage with leading politicians, in the last few weeks before the election when we can make most difference. As I promised, I will put to them the issue of skin disease and how it affects patients, families and carers. In particular, I plan to ask each of the panel how aware they are of skin disease and the affect skin conditions have on patients. I will let them know of my shock and anger that 20% of consultant dermatologist posts can go unfilled without a national outcry (read more about this and my Skin Disease Patients’ Manifesto). There is a coming crisis in both primary and secondary dermatological care.

Confirmed speakers so far:

Rob Wilson MP, Minister for Civil Society and Conservative MP for Reading East

Lisa Nandy MP, Shadow Minister for Civil Society and Labour MP for Wigan

Nathan Gill MEP, Leader of UKIP Wales and UKIP MEP for Wales

Bill Rigby, Green Party

Some recent parliamentary questions, asked by MPs with an interest in dermatology and skin disease, caught my eye.

Lilian Greenwood MP asked the Secretary of State for Health, how many commissioning fact sheets have been produced by NHS England since 2013; and what plans NHS England has to produce a commissioning fact sheet for dermatology services. The essence of the reply given by Norman Lamb MP (Minister of State at the Department of Health) was:

“Although there are currently no plans to produce a commissioning factsheet for dermatology, National Institute for Health and Care Excellence guidance in areas such as eczema and psoriasis continues to help commissioners to deliver high quality dermatological care.”

We all know how much priority NICE places on skin disease patients.

Cheryl Gillan MP asked a question that addressed the shortfall in the number of dermatology consultants. She wanted to know what is the Health Department’s policy is on the long-term use of locum consultants to run dermatology services in England. The minister’s reply was a masterpiece of obfuscation:

“The Department expects National Health Service organisations to have a strong grip on their workforce planning and management across all their specialties including dermatology, making permanent appointments to consultant posts wherever possible. Via Monitor, the NHS Trust Development Authority and the Care Quality Commission, the Department is working with the NHS to reduce trusts’ reliance on temporary staffing including the long term use of locum consultants.”

Ms Gillan probed further and asked directly how many vacant consultant dermatologist posts there were in the NHS on 13 January 2015.

Dr Daniel Poulter MP (Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department of Health) replied:

Information on vacancies is not collected by the Department. The last annual National Health Service vacancy survey in England was undertaken by the Health and Social Care Information Centre in 2010.”

These glib, evasive answers are simply not good enough.

Write to your MP. You are the change that you are waiting for.

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The prevalence of skin disease exceeds that of obesity, hypertension, or cancer. Despite skin being the largest organ of the human body, dermatological research remains one of the most under funded areas of medicine. In a world where society has an increasing preoccupation with image and it’s importance to every aspect of a person’s life, sufferers of skin diseases are feeling and being more marginalised and isolated than ever.

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