The Lord Privy Seal (Baroness Evans of Bowes Park) (Con)
I thank the noble Lord and the noble Baroness for their comments. First, touching on the questions of the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, about our international efforts, she may well be aware that last week, we pledged a further £105 million of UK emergency aid to help vulnerable countries tackle the omicron variant by scaling up testing capacity, improving access to oxygen supplies and providing communities with hygiene advice and products. That builds on the £1.3 billion of UK aid already committed to the international health response, supporting vaccines, health systems and economic recovery in developing countries. I am delighted to say that we met our 2020-21 target of delivering more than 30 million vaccines to more than 30 countries as part of our pledge to donate 100 million doses to the world. This year, we will be donating millions more vaccines, including 20 million AstraZeneca doses and 20 million Janssen doses.
The noble Lord and noble Baroness both rightly asked about education, and of course there will be more detail in the further Statement later today, but we have delivered almost 3 million doses to children aged between 12 and 17 in England. We continue to work on increasing uptake, including through repeat offers, ensuring parental consent forms are translated into appropriate languages and collaborating with leading social media platforms to direct people to trusted sources of information. Obviously, we must make sure that where people can get vaccinated is clearly evidenced, and we are working with the education sector on that.
In relation to catch-up, the noble Lord is absolutely right. It is a priority, and always has been, to try to keep schools open, which is why we have been putting so much effort into that, and we are incredibly grateful to all the teachers and other staff in schools who have been helping to make that happen. We already announced £5 billion for education recovery, including £1.5 billion for tutoring, to provide up to 100 million tutoring hours for five to 19 year-olds by 2024, more than £800 million to fund 40 additional hours per student in 16 to 19 education and more than £950 million in flexible funding for schools to use how they see best. We are very cognisant of the need to ensure that young people do not suffer yet more during the pandemic, and we have a lot of work in place to do that.
The noble Baroness asked about antivirals, and I am pleased to say that we are leading in the number of antivirals bought per head of population in Europe. We are currently rolling out neutralising monoclonal antibodies and antiviral treatments for patients at highest risk of severe disease and hospitalisation, and up to 1.3 million patients could benefit if they are clinically eligible. We have a plan to personally communicate with those patients and make sure that they receive prioritised PCR test kits to ensure early access to treatment if they become ill. Antivirals are and will be playing an increasing role for us in coming to live with this virus, so I can certainly assure the noble Baroness that we are in the forefront of making sure we have access to the drugs, which are developing constantly, to help tackle Covid.
The noble Baroness asked about lateral flow tests for the 100,000 critical care workers. These kits will be sent directly to organisations, including those who work in critical national infrastructure, national security, transport and food distribution and processing. These are separate and in addition to the tests already allocated to our public services, and we will be working with those sectors on distribution; but, as I said, tests will be sent directly to those sectors.
Both the noble Lord and the noble Baroness asked about testing capacity. We are now delivering record numbers of lateral flow tests to pharmacies across England, with almost 8 million tests being made available this week alone. I can reassure the noble Lord and noble Baroness that we are tripling our supply of lateral flow tests in January and February from our pre-omicron plan of 100 million to 300 million a month. Of course, we will continue to review and work with the sector on where we can source tests to ensure we can meet the demand, which they rightly say is unprecedented. But this shows how conscientious the public are being in protecting themselves and their loved ones by testing regularly, and we are very grateful to everyone for everything they are doing to keep each other safe.
The noble Baroness asked about statutory sick pay. We have extended it to those who are self-isolating and made Covid-related SSP payable from day one, meaning that it could be up to 75% more generous for full-time employees who need to self-isolate. Statutory sick pay is £96.35 a week, and that remains the statutory minimum, but more than half of employees receive contractual sick pay from their employer. It should not be looked at in isolation. We have taken other measures through universal credit and employment support allowance, so we have been focused on and cognisant of the need to provide support for people. We have also provided the £500 test and trace support payment, which we have extended until the end of March. We have already committed more than £340 million to ensure that there are no financial barriers for those isolating in England, and we have made nearly 400,000 of those payments.
On the NHS’s preparedness, the noble Lord and noble Baroness will be well aware that we have provided record investment to tackle the backlog, with £2 billion this year and £8 billion over the next three years to deliver an extra 9 million checks, scans and operations. We have provided an extra £5.4 billion for the NHS to respond to Covid up to April, including £2.8 billion for costs including infection control measures, £600 million for day-to-day costs, £478 million for enhanced hospital discharge and £1.5 billion for elective recovery, together with capital funding. I hope that they will agree that we are supporting our NHS with further investment to help it get through this incredibly difficult time.
Both the noble Lord and the noble Baroness asked about critical incidents, which, as they will know, are determined and activated locally. Of course it is serious when that happens, but noble Lords will be aware that the NHS also takes this approach during non-Covid winters, because it is a way of ensuring that the local NHS can continue to best serve patients and protect staff, as it is an operational escalation mechanism. Ministers are working very closely with NHS England to get the assurance that proper support is being delivered.
The noble Baroness rightly asked about mental health. Noble Lords will know that at the heart of the NHS long-term plan is an expansion of mental health services. Mental health will receive at least a further £2.3 billion a year of extra investment to support 380,000 more adults and 345,000 more children.
I was grateful to hear the noble Lord mention the changes to the travel rules. The one thing I would say is that there have been no changes for unvaccinated adults: the changes that have been made are for those who have been vaccinated, and we are keeping the definition of fully vaccinated under review. If it changes to include boosters, plenty of time and notice will of course be given to make sure that people understand and are aware of that.
The noble Lord asked about reducing isolation times. Our current assessment is that shortening the period would be counterproductive. In some settings, such as hospitals, it could actually worsen staff shortages if it led to more people being infected.
In relation to your Lordships’ House, as the noble Lord said, legislating, of which I believe voting is a key part, is the central element of what we do. I disagree with him: I believe it should be done in person. We are working to make sure that it is as safe for everyone as possible. I am afraid that I disagree with him on that point.