Heath care is put at the heart of debate by panel of candidates in running to be Sunderland Central’s MP

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A HEALTH service fit for the future was among the pledges made by those hoping to become a Wearside seat’s next MP.

A hustings event at St Mary’s RC Church last night brought together five of the constituency’s prospective parliamentary candidates for the Sunderland Central ward in the general election.

Sunderland Central constituency's prospective parliamentary candidates take part in a hustings event at St Mary's RC Church in the city centre ahead of the general election on May 7.

Sunderland Central constituency's prospective parliamentary candidates take part in a hustings event at St Mary's RC Church in the city centre ahead of the general election on May 7.

It saw questions put to Julie Elliott, who hopes to retain her Labour seat, Conservative Jeff Townsend, the Green Party’s Rachel Featherstone, Brian Foster of UKIP and independent Joseph Young.

The need to address the lack of NHS staff and investment were put to the panel as the audience of 300-plus sought reassurances services would be protected.

Each said their parties would give it extra funding, with a discussion on mental health services tying together the issue.

Ms Elliott said: “It’s a massive problem nationally and in the North East, where we have some good services and some excellent new services opened, such as the Alzheimer’s ward at Monkwearmouth Hospital, and a secure unit at Cherry Knowle.

People were passionate and quite hearty in expressing themselves.

Pastor David Burke, of Bethany City Church, who chaired the hustings

“In mental health terms, some people are waiting sometimes for a year or more to see someone.

“We need to link up physical, mental and social care, they are interrelated and I totally agree there needs to be enough staff, so we are going to bring in more staff and health care workers.”

Ms Featherstone said there had been a rise in cases, but reduction in funding into care, while stress had an impact on doctors’ numbers.

“It’s holistic, looking at mental health care,” she said.

“I know I have a bee in my bonnet about housing, but not having proper, secure housing has a big impact on people and mental issues.”

Mr Townsend added: “With mental health, I agree with Julie and Rachel, there needs to be a holistic approach.

“We need to increase the number of staff and we cannot have people working 14 or 15 hour days.

“We need more staff in the service economy and more money put into the NHS.”

Mr Foster said: “We are also going to help veterans coming back from war, which is a massive mental health problem, and there will be housing and proper care.”

The candidates agreed on the launch of a register for private landlords to ensure standards.

Right to buy proposals by the Conservatives were backed by their candidate, who said it would help people aspiring to own their own home, a point backed by UKIP, with the need for good, affordable housing called for by Labour and the Green Party.

Other issues debated included zero hours contracts, with promises made by all that rules would be tightened, and calls for a reverse to the chance in Legal Aid rules.

Pastor David Burke, of Bethany City Church, chaired the debate.

He said: “I thought the questions were great and we had a good harmony in the room.

“People were passionate and quite hearty in expressing themselves.”

Laura Duggan, 32, a secondary school teacher in the constituency, said she would have liked a discussion on education and added: “I thought it was interesting to hear about the region and housing and health service and it was interesting to hear how the Tories say people should aspire to own their own home, but I think if you’re in a low paid job, it’s one which isn’t possible and it’s like saying ‘This is what you could have won.’”

The Liberal Democrat candidate Adrian Page was unable to attend due to his studies in Lancaster.

Mr Young struggled to take part due to hearing difficulties.