All 2 Baroness Watkins of Tavistock contributions to the Coronavirus Act 2020

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Tue 24th Mar 2020
Coronavirus Bill
Lords Chamber

2nd reading (Hansard) & 2nd reading (Hansard) & 2nd reading (Hansard): House of Lords & 2nd reading (Hansard)
Wed 25th Mar 2020
Coronavirus Bill
Lords Chamber

Committee stage:Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard): House of Lords & Committee stage

Coronavirus Bill

Baroness Watkins of Tavistock Excerpts
2nd reading & 2nd reading (Hansard) & 2nd reading (Hansard): House of Lords
Tuesday 24th March 2020

(4 years, 2 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Coronavirus Act 2020 Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: HL Bill 110-I Marshalled list for Committee - (24 Mar 2020)
Baroness Watkins of Tavistock Portrait Baroness Watkins of Tavistock (CB)
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My Lords, I draw the House’s attention to my list of interests in the register; in particular, that I am a registered nurse. We are here today at a time of public health challenge unknown to date on our globe. I will be brief and start with my support for the Bill, which is widely echoed by many Members who cannot be here today as a result of the social distancing advice to reduce the spread of Covid-19. However, they are following the Bill online and have aided my contribution. They include my noble friends Lord Patel, Lady Hollins, Lady Boycott, Lady Bull, Lady Hunt of Bethnal Green and Lord Bird. In addition, our Convenor has been in contact with our Members throughout the week. His message has been that while on first reading some of the measures in this Bill appear draconian, under the circumstances they are necessary. Knowing his concerns about the use of Henry VIII powers, this opinion should carry considerable weight in our deliberations.

The Royal College of Nursing and the British Medical Association have provided detailed briefings, as have many other parties, including the Royal College of Psychiatrists. In principle, they support the measures outlined in the Bill to protect the public and essential workers. However, they want reassurance that the measures will have regular parliamentary review, preferably at least every two to three weeks, to ensure the effectiveness and relevance over time. Can the Minister outline the plans for review once the Bill is enacted?

Nurses and other healthcare staff who have recently retired and those about to qualify have been encouraged to return to work or commence employment earlier than planned. We are assured that they will have the same employment rights as other workers. Sadly, we know from the management of previous infectious diseases that some healthcare workers will catch Covid-19 while carrying out their duties. Will these staff be entitled to proper sick pay in line with NHS employment rules? In the exceptional circumstances of such an individual dying, will death-in-service benefits be generous? These benefits often relate to length of service, so it may be necessary to change the current terms. Does the Minister agree?

Other noble Lords have spoken of the challenges in social care and the potential for some people to have, in effect, the current level of service reduced as demand rises. A range of groups associated with long-term disability ask: will any reductions be re-instigated after the emergency period? Can the Minister reassure the House on this issue, the details of which were brought up extremely effectively in the powerful speech of my noble friend Lady Grey-Thompson?

The changes to the Mental Health Act are supported by the Royal College of Psychiatrists and will be necessary to protect people with serious mental health problems and to ensure rapid access to treatment. However, some human rights organisations are concerned that that will result in higher numbers of detentions than normally, particularly among disadvantaged groups. As a former acute ward psychiatric sister, I remind the House that once a patient is admitted, other professionals assess that patient quickly, and that treatment orders can be rescinded rapidly if appropriate. Will the Minister consider echoing this point to reassure those who are so worried?

NICE has given guidelines to prioritise patients for effective treatment and critical care, and these of course need to guide clinicians and be enacted by them in their work. However, there are some concerns that the guidelines from NICE on this issue refer to frailty. Can the Minister further assure the House that frailty with regard to physical and learning disability and severe and enduring mental illness will not disproportionately disadvantage these groups? My noble friend Lady Grey-Thompson raised this issue in detail, and I will not cover it further. I thank her again for her powerful speech on a range of social care challenges and the rights of people with a range of long-term conditions. I await the Minister’s reply to her questions.

Finally, will the Minister ask the Government to consider debt relief for the fees of healthcare students who are entering the workplace this year and who will work in our healthcare settings, probably for several years in the future? It is extraordinary that we are asking them back. They have paid their fees this year; they are willing to come back—we need some intergenerational fairness on this issue.

Coronavirus Bill Debate

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Coronavirus Bill

Baroness Watkins of Tavistock Excerpts
Committee stage & Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Wednesday 25th March 2020

(4 years, 2 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Coronavirus Act 2020 Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: HL Bill 110-I Marshalled list for Committee - (24 Mar 2020)
Lord Blunkett Portrait Lord Blunkett (Lab)
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My Lords, yesterday I had the privilege of being able to speak, so I will be brief. I support the amendment moved by my noble friend Lady Thornton and the words of the noble Lord, Lord Scriven. Normally, he and I would be knocking bells out of each other but, on this occasion, we happen to be in total agreement.

I want to reinforce the point that in times of trauma, as we are at the moment, civil society is always critical to survival. That is true in war zones and it will be true in the weeks ahead. I have registered interests in a number of voluntary and charitable organisations, including the RNIB and the Alzheimer’s Society. I want to stress the importance of monitoring. That is not in the sense of a suspicion that the Government will somehow abuse these powers deliberately but because the prioritisation that underpins this power of suspension of normal rights understandably presumes that it will not be possible to carry out the norms of support available.

We learned today that a staggering 250,000 people have already indicated that they are prepared to volunteer. I recently stood down as a board member of the National Citizen Service, among other voluntary commitments. Picking up on the point made by my noble friend Lord Hain, it would be useful if we were able to reinforce very quickly the fact that those organisations in civil society—this is true at the local level as well—are picking up this cudgel and are able, not necessarily to fill the vacuum but to reach out, particularly to the 1.5 million people who have been asked to isolate themselves completely for 12 weeks. I hope we will be able to revisit that when things are clearer in three or four weeks’ time.

I very rarely speak about this, but I want to put on record what it must be like for someone without sight in a high-rise flat. They cannot even look out of the window to see the sun and the birds or make any contact. That is prison. Being able to reach out, even with local government’s lack of capacity, through the voluntary sector and volunteers to make contact, provide support and ensure that, where someone has a crisis, their rights are being upheld, will be vital. I believe that the Minister gets all this. From everything I have seen and understood in a metaphorical sense, he and the team around him are tremendously hard-working and appreciate these issues, working as they are in incredibly difficult circumstances. Given that, I hope that there can be a positive response because, frankly, if we cannot mobilise in this way as well as monitor the rights of those who yesterday the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, spelled out in a way that I could never manage, we will have let down those who need us most at this critical time.

Baroness Watkins of Tavistock Portrait Baroness Watkins of Tavistock (CB)
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My Lords, I hope noble Lords have noticed that my noble friend Lord Low has tried to speak twice, so when I finish, I am sure he will be given an opportunity to do so. When we are so short of people to oversee our proceedings, it is difficult.

I want to make two points. The first is that I am very supportive of the first amendment for two reasons. When I originally read the Bill, I assumed that the issue of local authorities having to decide who needs care in terms of the available resources was about the staff resources available, but it is clear that some among the population with severe disabilities are worried that it is about the allocation of financial resources. That is a very important reason for us to monitor regularly whether it is about money or staff because, as a nurse myself, I know that if we are very short of staff, we will have to prioritise in some form in both the NHS and social care.

The other issue about which many of us have been written to was spoken to yesterday by my noble friend Lady Grey-Thompson. If people with dementia are rapidly discharged from NHS care into care homes, which clearly they should be if that is appropriate, we need to ensure that there is no retrospective charging for them and their families. That is another important reason for Amendment 1.