Many of us, me included, carry an organ donor card in our wallet or have one in a safe place at home. Voluntary organ donation saves the lives of thousands of people every year, but there are 6,500 people on the transplant register in the UK and an average of three people a day die because they don't get help. I was pleased last week when Prime Minister, Theresa May announced as part of her speech at the Conservative Party Conference that a consultation on introducing an opt-out system for organ donation is to be held in England.
The consultation will outline ways to increase rates of organ donation and propose a new approach where every person would be deemed to have given consent unless they choose to opt out. Any changes will take place after the views of all sections of our community have been looked at.
There was more good news from the Conference, where we set out our plans to ban the sale of ivory. The proposals will protect elephants and help combat poaching by removing opportunities for criminals to trade illegally-poached ivory. When I unveiled the superb life size elephant sculpture at the late Lord Joffe's Lidington home last year, we were highlighting the decline in the elephant population fuelled by poaching for ivory. I am proud that we are now taking action as part of the necessary global effort to end this trade that threatens the existence of our noble pachyderms.
New legislation that will increase the maximum sentence given to those who abuse animals from six months to five years will also be brought forward. This sends a clear signal to any potential offenders that animal cruelty will not be tolerated.
On Friday, I was delighted to go to Swindon Trauma Group’s 8th Annual Conference. This local group has been providing support for those suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and other related conditions over the past ten years and I have worked with them over that time.
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is a serious issue and anyone can, without warning, experience a traumatic experience that will affect them, often long after the triggering event itself. It is often diagnosed only after years of suffering.
As a backbench MP, I campaigned to introduce standard waiting times for mental health treatments and even introduced a Bill in Parliament to help get the issue on the agenda. I was very glad to see that the Government acted to implement this and that our Prime Minister has publicly committed to improving provision, announcing a comprehensive package of measures to transform mental health support in our schools, workplaces, and communities. We are investing more in mental health than ever before – spending an estimated £11.7 billion a year and have already legislated to give mental and physical health equal priority in law. The work of Swindon Trauma Group is not only helping its members but benefiting our wider community by raising awareness, too.
It was a joy to take part in Swindon Brighter Futures Radiotherapy Appeal Music Marathon at Immanuel Church in Old Walcot on Saturday. Together with my piano accompanist, the legendary Sheila Harrod of Kentwood Choir fame, I sang a selection of American Songbook classics and did my bit to help raise funds for this excellent cause. Bringing radiotherapy services home to Swindon will make a difference to many families and friends. To everyone who made it happen: thank you!