Hertford and Stortford MP Julie Marson on vaccinations, EU trade war threats, Supporting Families and Ockenden Report recommendations
Julie Marson, MP for Hertford and Stortford, writes for the Bishop's Stortford Independent...
Our local vaccination effort continues at a great pace. In the week to March 25, a total of 8,588 people in my Hertford and Stortford constituency were vaccinated with their first jab, up from 3,008 people the week before.
I had the pleasure of visiting the newly established vaccination centre in Fletcher's Lea, Ware Priory last week. Whilst on the other side of the constituency, it is run by the same local NHS providers as Bishop's Stortford and so shares similarities with centres in this area, particularly in its efficiency and the utterly brilliant staff and volunteers who make it such a positive and reassuring experience.
I want to touch on the topic of vaccine take-up among our ethnic minority communities. Take-up figures among different ethnic groups vary locally, but I encourage absolutely everyone to get a jab as soon as you are offered. I understand that vaccines can be met with more scepticism in certain communities, and we need to do everything we can to assure different communities and groups. As part of this process, we are running a vaccine confidence campaign that works with community and faith leaders to improve public knowledge and counter misinformation.
Supply levels are expected to reduce slightly over the next few weeks, but I understand it should not be to the extent that our pace is dramatically altered. More concerning, and frankly absurd, has been the posturing and trade war threats from Brussels, off the back of their dangerous campaign of misinformation about the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine. Even former European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker branded it "stupid" policy and hugely damaging to public confidence.
The behaviour of EU leaders stands in stark contrast to the success of Kate Bingham and her team at the UK Vaccine Taskforce, acting decisively to secure procurement contracts. That success has brought us to where we are now on the roadmap out of lockdown.
From this week, the rules have relaxed slightly and, among other things, six people, or two households, can now meet up outside, including in private gardens. It also seems that some nice spring weather is on its way, which is wonderful and uplifting. I would just urge caution. Cases have been rising gently again in recent days so we really need to be careful not to take a needless backward step.
I have written previously about my time as a magistrate and how passionately I care about tackling domestic abuse. I have used these pages on more than one occasion to talk about the struggles some people face and have discussed my role on the Domestic Abuse Bill committee in Parliament.
This week, we entered a new phase of what was launched back in 2011 as the Troubled Families Programme. Alongside £165m of further funding for 2021-22, the programme will have a new name – Supporting Families – to reflect its positive, joined-up approach to multi-agency support.
As we emerge from the pandemic, it is vital to be ambitious for vulnerable families and for the public services that support them. We need to ensure that every vulnerable family receives the right support at the right time.
Over the coming months, I will be calling on the Government to focus more attention on preventative interventions that work upstream to tackle crises before they emerge. I want to see more investment directed into outcomes-based services that incentivise better outcomes and allow service providers flexibility to innovate delivery methods as the landscape changes.
We need a dynamic system that reaches vulnerable families before they reach the point of care and intervenes to support them onto the right path again. I'm really pleased to see this announcement from the Government and will be lobbying to ensure that families in Hertford and Stortford benefit from the programme.
One issue which emerged out of the restrictions introduced during the pandemic was the guidance that prevented fathers from attending maternity appointments and, in too many cases, even the birth. I and many of my colleagues, led brilliantly by Alicia Kearns MP, who was herself expecting a baby at the time, flagged this as a particularly emotive and difficult issue and the Government responded quickly to change the restrictions.
Pregnancy, whilst usually joyous and uncomplicated, can be incredibly difficult for some women and many need access to specialist support throughout. The Government has just announced a really welcome £95m investment in maternity services in response to the Ockenden Report recommendations. I will be working hard to ensure that we receive our fair share of the funding so that local maternity services can be properly supported.
The majority of this investment will go into workforce and training costs, helping to create 1,000 more midwifery posts, enable more consultant time, provide better training more widely and allow enough capacity in the system for further improvements. I'm really excited about the appointment of a Chief Midwife for our region, who I know will be a very strong voice for mothers and provide much-needed leadership for the area.
As ever, please don't hesitate to get in touch with me and my team if we can help with casework-related issues. We are short-staffed in the office for the next couple of weeks, so for anything non-urgent there may be a slight delay to usual timeframes, but we will try to come back to you as quickly as possible.