Sugar Awareness Week: Unfortunate Timing for the New Health Secretary

Sugar Awareness Week: Unfortunate Timing for the New Health Secretary

The British Society of Paediatric Dentistry (BSPD) has written to new Secretary of State for Health & Social Care, Victoria Atkins. As an organisation whose mission is the improvement of the oral health of children and young people, BSPD has a history of campaigning for, and implementing, improvements in children’s oral health in the UK.

The new minister arrives to an in-tray that includes 6.5 million people waiting to start treatment, industrial action that is now approaching its first birthday, and a generally poor perception of the government’s management of the NHS. Against this background it may be questionable how much time or energy she or her department will be able to spare for NHS dentistry, or how much attention the BSPD’s letter will receive.  In addition, Victoria Atkins’ husband is Paul Kenward, CEO of ABF Sugar. This must create questions of confilct of interest.

Professor Paula Waterhouse, BSPD President said: “We remain hopeful that the new Secretary of State for Health & Social Care will act on what is best for children’s health. In April 2023, the Conservative Party promised to share a dental recovery plan and we had hoped that there would be an announcement at the recent conference. However, our members still wait to hear what is planned to support children and young people’s oral health both in the immediate future – and long-term.

With an approaching general election the BSPD are asking all parties about their plans for oral health. They wrote: “What we need to hear from Victoria Atkins MP, as a matter of urgency, is a serious plan that demands measurable outcomes, to grip the immediate crisis and set NHS dentistry on the path to recovery in the long-term.”

The BSPD went on to remind the new health secretary that the Labour Party recently presented their plan which included a commitment to deliver a supervised tooth brushing scheme to target three to five year-olds in deprived areas in England, which was warmly received by BSPD members.

It has not been overlooked that Ms Atkins is married to Paul Kenward, who is the chief executive of one of the world’s biggest sugar companies, ABF Sugar. In their letter the BSPD wrote that they, “would like to know that Rt. Hon. Victoria Atkins MP will support measures to reduce the sugar content in drinks and food marketed at children. The Society also asked for reassurance that despite recent media reports about a possible conflict-of-interest (The Times 13.11.23 “Victoria Atkins: meet the new health secretary and her sugar boss husband”), that there is no risk of such a conflict.”

Victoria Atkins comes from a political family, her father being a former MP and MEP, and her mother a councillor. For her own part she has held numerous ministerial posts prior to her joining Mr Sunak’s cabinet, serving in the May and Johnson governments, including time as a treasury minister. So she will know the importance of timing in politics.

This year sugar awareness week runs from 13th to 19th November.

Sugar Awareness Week

Sugar Awareness Week 2023 - Action on Sugar


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