MPs urged to set a good example on public health

Campaign groups have called on health ministers to set an example to patients on how to lead healthy lifestyles.

Simon Burns: lead by example (Photograph: The Conservative Press Office)
Simon Burns: lead by example (Photograph: The Conservative Press Office)

Health minister Simon Burns was recently branded an 'overweight chain-smoker' in the House of Commons by MP Barry Sheerman (Labour, Huddersfield), who asked whether his constituents should be 'lectured by somebody as unhealthy' as Mr Burns.

The comments came as the DoH released its public health White Paper, which calls for patients to take more responsibility for their health.

Roger Goss, co-director of Patient Concern, said Mr Burns' lifestyle undermined what was already a difficult health message.

'If you are an MP who has been elected then you have to lead by example,' he said.

'You may get away with being fat and walking round in a cloud of smoke if you're selling something people want, but this is not something people often want to hear.

'People don't want to be told how to live their lives, especially by MPs who have a relatively comfortable life. That is a big problem in public health.'

But GPC negotiator Dr Beth McCarron-Nash said it would be discriminatory to deny Mr Burns a job for his lifestyle. 'In an ideal world we would all live the lives we advocate,' she said. 'But once you get into denying people jobs because of their weight, it's a dangerous, almost Nazi-ish attitude.'

A DoH spokesman refused to comment, but pointed to remarks Mr Burns made to the Independent on Sunday, in which he said of his smoking: 'That's life.'

Health secretary Andrew Lansley told MPs recently that the DoH would 'lead' on public health and not lecture.

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