There have been 51 exchanges between Helen Whately and Department of Health and Social Care
|Tue 12th January 2021||Oral Answers to Questions||17 interactions (506 words)|
|Wed 6th January 2021||Public Health||10 interactions (1,264 words)|
|Wed 30th December 2020||Public Health||26 interactions (3,622 words)|
|Tue 15th December 2020||Covid-19: Effect on People with Learning Disabilities (Westminster Hall)||5 interactions (1,658 words)|
|Mon 14th December 2020||Covid-19||6 interactions (1,147 words)|
|Tue 24th November 2020||Covid-19: Acquired Brain Injury (Westminster Hall)||12 interactions (1,325 words)|
|Tue 17th November 2020||Oral Answers to Questions||17 interactions (685 words)|
|Thu 12th November 2020||Dementia: Covid-19 (Westminster Hall)||3 interactions (1,466 words)|
|Wed 11th November 2020||Family Visits in Health and Social Care Settings: Covid-19 (Westminster Hall)||5 interactions (2,189 words)|
|Thu 22nd October 2020||Down Syndrome Awareness Month||6 interactions (1,294 words)|
|Wed 7th October 2020||Public Health||23 interactions (2,708 words)|
|Tue 6th October 2020||Oral Answers to Questions||42 interactions (1,775 words)|
|Tue 6th October 2020||Public Health||39 interactions (3,279 words)|
|Thu 17th September 2020||Axial Spondyloarthritis||5 interactions (1,340 words)|
|Tue 1st September 2020||Oral Answers to Questions||25 interactions (574 words)|
|Thu 25th June 2020||Health and Social Care Workers: Recognition and Reward||3 interactions (1,090 words)|
|Wed 24th June 2020||Testing of NHS and Social Care Staff||15 interactions (1,965 words)|
|Tue 23rd June 2020||Oral Answers to Questions||41 interactions (1,305 words)|
|Tue 19th May 2020||Human Tissue||7 interactions (2,404 words)|
|Mon 23rd March 2020||A& E Departments: Staffing||14 interactions (1,528 words)|
|Tue 17th March 2020||Alcohol Harm (Westminster Hall)||9 interactions (1,272 words)|
|Tue 10th March 2020||Oral Answers to Questions||43 interactions (1,005 words)|
|Tue 3rd March 2020||Nursing Workforce Shortage: England (Westminster Hall)||15 interactions (2,707 words)|
|Tue 25th February 2020||Social Care||12 interactions (1,676 words)|
|Tue 2nd April 2019||Mental Capacity (Amendment) Bill [Lords]||4 interactions (625 words)|
|Tue 26th March 2019||Oral Answers to Questions||5 interactions (112 words)|
|Tue 19th March 2019||GP-Patient Ratio: Swale (Westminster Hall)||7 interactions (229 words)|
|Thu 17th January 2019||Mental Capacity (Amendment) Bill [ Lords ] (Third sitting) (Public Bill Committees)||11 interactions (225 words)|
|Mon 7th January 2019||NHS Long-Term Plan||3 interactions (106 words)|
|Tue 18th December 2018||Mental Capacity (Amendment) Bill [Lords]||7 interactions (779 words)|
|Mon 2nd July 2018||Department of Health and Social Care and Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government||3 interactions (884 words)|
|Wed 20th June 2018||Gosport Independent Panel: Publication of Report||3 interactions (86 words)|
|Wed 23rd May 2018||NHS Outsourcing and Privatisation||15 interactions (741 words)|
|Tue 8th May 2018||Oral Answers to Questions||3 interactions (57 words)|
|Wed 21st March 2018||NHS Staff Pay||3 interactions (90 words)|
|Tue 20th March 2018||Oral Answers to Questions||3 interactions (51 words)|
|Thu 15th March 2018||Psychosis: Early Intervention (Westminster Hall)||3 interactions (792 words)|
|Tue 27th February 2018||Mental Health Act: CQC Report||3 interactions (113 words)|
|Wed 21st February 2018||Medicines and Medical Devices Safety Review||3 interactions (67 words)|
|Tue 20th February 2018||PACE Trial: People with ME (Westminster Hall)||7 interactions (59 words)|
|Mon 8th January 2018||NHS Winter Crisis||3 interactions (97 words)|
|Tue 12th December 2017||Mental Health Provision: Children and Young People||3 interactions (174 words)|
|Tue 14th November 2017||Oral Answers to Questions||3 interactions (48 words)|
|Fri 3rd November 2017||Mental Health Units (Use of Force) Bill||23 interactions (1,712 words)|
|Wed 25th October 2017||Social Care||5 interactions (484 words)|
|Tue 10th October 2017||Oral Answers to Questions||3 interactions (62 words)|
|Wed 13th September 2017||NHS Pay||19 interactions (973 words)|
|Wed 13th September 2017||Autism Diagnosis (Westminster Hall)||5 interactions (467 words)|
|Thu 6th July 2017||Adult Social Care Funding||3 interactions (64 words)|
|Wed 28th June 2017||Health, Social Care and Security||5 interactions (622 words)|
|Thu 22nd June 2017||Kent & Canterbury Hospital||10 interactions (1,472 words)|
Ninety-four-year-old Tom Drury-Smith from Todwick was the first to receive the vaccine in Rother Valley at the Anston medical centre, thanks to the amazing work of the Rotherham CCG and the primary care network. Does my hon. Friend agree that the key to both community testing and vaccine uptake is to ensure that people do not have to travel far to access centres, especially those who are older and do not have access to cars? Can she assure me and others that vaccine centres and community testing centres will be sited as appropriately as possible, including in Rother valley areas such as Swallownest and Maltby?
Will the Minister join me in welcoming the opening of community testing centres around Swadlincote in recent weeks, paving the way for greater testing capability and coverage right across Derbyshire? Will she also confirm that the rapid lateral flow tests being used are accurate and reliable and are an important tool in tackling asymptomatic transmission of the covid virus?
We can have all the testing in the world, but it will not be effective if people do not self-isolate after a positive result. We have repeatedly said that compliance with self-isolation rules is not good enough; with only one in eight people qualifying for the self-isolation payment, that is not surprising. Can the Minister ensure that everyone is properly supported to self-isolate from now on and explain why those who test positive after a lateral flow test cannot apply for a payment and do not even enter the national test and trace system?
Break in Debate
I was asking the director of public health in Sheffield the other day about the figures for contact tracing. He says that in the NHS Test and Trace system—not the Public Health England one, but the NHS one—the current figures are 59%, and the 40% not contacted are passed on down to the local level, the city council’s contact tracing service, which is then contacting 75% of the people the national system could not contact. Why, then, do the Government not give more resources and more responsibility to the local council and the director of public health? In that way, we could contact more people at far less cost than the national system.
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. I put on record my thanks to you and your staff for what is now the second recall of Parliament for important business. I know that a lot of work goes into making that possible, and we really appreciate that, but it is important that we are here today. The daily figures that colleagues will have read while sat in this debate are sobering: 1,041 more of our countrymen and women have lost their lives to this horrible virus. It is a sobering moment, and with that in mind, we will support these regulations today. We do not think it is inevitable that we are in this situation, but it is clear that we are in a very challenging moment indeed, and in these dangerous times, with our NHS working at such high capacity, it is in the national interest to protect it and make these difficult decisions.
I say to people watching: if you are one of the very many people who have been excluded from Government support so far, or if you have missed out on self-isolation support, or if you are concerned about business support or reductions in welfare support going forward, I hope that you will have seen the support from our Benches, from my hon. Friends the Members for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy), for Leeds East (Richard Burgon), for Manchester, Withington (Jeff Smith), for Barnsley East (Stephanie Peacock), for Sheffield Central (Paul Blomfield), for Bristol South (Karin Smyth), for Sefton Central (Bill Esterson), for Blaydon (Liz Twist) and for Putney (Fleur Anderson), all giving you voice. Similarly, I hope that those very many clinically extremely vulnerable, who have so often felt ignored, saw in the contribution from my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Vicky Foxcroft) that they are not. The same goes for contributions on frontline staff made by my hon. Friends the Members for Worsley and Eccles South (Barbara Keeley) and for Liverpool, Riverside (Kim Johnson).
Many points were made earlier today about schools, which I will not emphasise any further, other than to mention the contributions from my hon. Friends the Members for Eltham (Clive Efford), for Sheffield Central, for Luton North (Sarah Owen) and for Cambridge (Daniel Zeichner). Important points were made about the border by my right hon. Friend the Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper) and my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff South and Penarth (Stephen Doughty), which I will reflect on shortly.
Many Opposition colleagues—including my hon. Friends the Members for Wirral West (Margaret Greenwood), for Hartlepool (Mike Hill) and for Sheffield South East (Mr Betts), my right hon. Friend the Member for Warley (John Spellar) and my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff South and Penarth—referred to the vaccine, as did many Government Members, including the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Anne-Marie Trevelyan) and the hon. Members for Bridgwater and West Somerset (Mr Liddell-Grainger), for South Leicestershire (Alberto Costa) and for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland (Mr Clarke). In particular, the hon. Member for Winchester (Steve Brine) and the right hon. Member for Forest of Dean (Mr Harper) made contributions about the Government committing to publish a schedule of precisely what vaccine is going to be received and when, and how that will be rolled out, and I think the Government ought to do that.
Important contributions were made by Government Members about the exit plans and support for business, as well as children and early years. Contributions were made by the right hon. Members for Chesham and Amersham (Dame Cheryl Gillan) and for North Somerset (Dr Fox), the hon. Members for Altrincham and Sale West (Sir Graham Brady), for Poole (Sir Robert Syms), for Bromley and Chislehurst (Sir Robert Neill) and the right hon. Member for Wokingham (John Redwood) about oversight, and we as an Opposition would support a further review, in shorter order, of these regulations and further debate to make sure that they are as effective as possible.
The right hon. Members for East Antrim (Sammy Wilson) and for New Forest West (Sir Desmond Swayne) and the hon. Member for Romford (Andrew Rosindell) all made points about the scientists. I would perhaps fall on Margaret Thatcher’s maxim, “Advisers advise, Ministers decide”. Ultimately, if those colleagues are dissatisfied with the actions of the Government, it is for Ministers alone to account for them rather than the scientists, who are giving their best endeavours, even if we do not agree with them.
I thought it was interesting that not a single colleague mentioned that we are exactly where we were one week ago. I was in this place, the Minister was in her place and you were in your place, Mr Deputy Speaker, as we were discussing regulations. That failed. That seems funny, but actually, it is not funny at all when we think about it. I asked the Minister three times to say that the Government thought that their final attempt to salvage the tier system would work. I had no such commitment made, so perhaps it is not a surprise that it fell over, even if it is a surprise that it fell over as quickly as it did. That is a characterisation of a failure to grip this virus, as my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford North (Wes Streeting) said. The Government have been just so slow and always short, trying to do the bare minimum and never, frankly, doing enough.
In a similar vein, it was quite disappointing that the Secretary of State’s contribution—his 23 minutes—could have been an intro to a general debate on vaccines, because that was all he spoke about. Of course, the vaccine is important and is our way through this, but actually, it is a failure to grasp at ministerial level that there are many things other than the vaccine, that they have control and say over and that they simply have not done well enough on.
This lockdown, which we will no doubt support tonight, will not make our problems go away. Lockdowns do not solve anything. They buy us time to solve things, so in the limited time remaining, I will highlight some of those that I think that the Secretary of State ought to have referred to, and I hope that the Minister will in her winding-up speech.
On economic support, again, there was not a word for those many millions excluded from support so far. They have gone a long time now without support. They deserve more than the glib comment that they had from the Prime Minister this morning. I hope the Minister might do a little bit better. The Chancellor should be here giving us a chance to scrutinise those plans. He was very keen to at the beginning, but we have not seen him now for a very long time.
Test, trace and isolate remains a significant gap in our fence. What fools we all look now given that, when the virus was at its lowest ebb in the summer, that system was not sorted out. Instead, while the testing number at the beginning of the system remains a very good one, turnaround time does not hit its targets, tracing never hits its targets and we know that not enough people isolate because the support for them is not good enough. The fact that we have failed to fix those problems reflects very poorly on the Government.
On the border, I am always loth to make international comparisons, certainly beyond Europe, but our daily death total today is more than the entire death total during the pandemic in Australia. There are ways in which we are similar and ways in which we are different from them, but I think we should reflect on the fact that on 20 March, they closed their border. Anyone returning home during that time had a two-week quarantine, but that was it. Now, we are still talking about test to release and other such measures at the border. It is an extraordinary failure.
To finish, I will make a couple of points on vaccination. The development and procurement of vaccine has been a success of this Government—I have said that multiple times in this place, and will continue to do so—but whether they have a successful vaccination programme remains to be seen. There is frustration on both sides of the House that we do not yet have the sense that this will be a 24/7 service, or that we are unleashing all those people who have volunteered to contribute. It is surprising to see pharmacies on the front page of national newspapers—that is the length that pharmacies feel that they have to go to get the attention of the Government. If the Government are sure they do not need that extra support and will still deliver on time, they should be clear about that.
May I have some particular clarity from the Minister? We have been hearing the Secretary of State and the Prime Minister now saying—they have changed their form of words in the past three or four days—that everyone in categories 1 to 4 will be “offered” the vaccine by the middle of February. What does that mean? What does it mean for the modelling? Before, we thought that by the middle of February we wanted everyone in those categories to be vaccinated—within, of course, the limits of people choosing not to take it up. What this cannot be is a paper exercise; it has to be the fullest—
The Minister seems to dispute that, so I hope that she will take the time in her contribution to do so.
The vaccination programme represents a deal with the British people. We are asking the British people to ensure significant hardship for a significant period—that is the British people’s side of the bargain. The Government’s side of the bargain is an effective, safe and timely vaccination programme. They have to deliver on that.
I will finish in that spirit, with a simple message to my constituents and constituents across the country: stay at home, protect the NHS and vaccinate Britain.
The Business of the House motion just agreed to by the House provides for the motions on the five statutory instruments on today’s Order Paper, each relating to public health, to be debated together for up to three hours. Those are SI Nos. 1518, 1533, 1572, 1611 and 1646. At the end of the debate, I will put the Question on each motion separately. A large number of Members want to contribute to the debate, so we will start with a five-minute time limit.
With this we shall debate the following motions:
That the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (All Tiers) (England) (Amendment) Regulations 2020 (S.I., 2020, No. 1533), dated 14 December 2020, a copy of which was laid before this House on 14 December, be approved.
That the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (All Tiers) (England) (Amendment) (No. 2) Regulations 2020 (S.I., 2020, No. 1572), dated 17 December 2020, a copy of which was laid before this House on 17 December, be approved.
That the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (All Tiers and Obligations of Undertakings) (England) (Amendment) Regulations 2020 (S.I., 2020, No. 1611), dated 20 December 2020, a copy of which were laid before this House on 21 December, be approved.
That the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (All Tiers) (England) (Amendment) (No. 3) Regulations 2020 (S.I., 2020, No. 1646), dated 24 December 2020, a copy of which were laid before this House on 29 December, be approved.
The great disappointment felt by many colleagues, who appreciate that the Government are under enormous pressure, is that the House rose on the Thursday, and the decision was made pretty much the next day. It is a great shame that the House was not recalled on the Friday, or possibly even the Saturday before Xmas, to scrutinise the new regulations. That is where the sense of disappointment lies. Most families are more than capable of making the right decisions for their relatives without being instructed to do that in law.
Can my hon. Friend help me? Statutory instrument 1572 required the people of Christchurch to move from tier 1 to tier 2, and it came into effect on 19 December. Today, the Secretary of State has announced that the people of Christchurch should be moving into tier 4, with effect from midnight tonight. What has happened between 19 December and today to force the people of Christchurch to lose all that liberty?
As I said, we will start with a five-minute time limit on Back-Bench Members. I remind hon. Members that, when a speaking limit is in effect for Back Benchers, a countdown clock will be visible on the screens of right hon. and hon. Members participating virtually and on the screens in the Chamber. For right hon. and hon. Members participating physically, the usual clock will operate.
Break in Debate
This has been an excellent debate. We have heard lots of different views and perspectives about how to wrestle with this knotty crisis—the great national question of the day—but I do not mistake the disagreement and points of difference for a lack of faith or a lack of love of community or country. All hon. Members and right hon. Members have attacked the question with a commitment to wanting the best for our country, even if sometimes we disagree on the conclusions.
That is particularly important today. Today has been a momentous day and the past 12 hours and five minutes of parliamentary business will be remembered—perhaps that is one for your book, Mr Deputy Speaker, and please be kind if I do anything to earn a place in there. Who knows how I could do that? There will be some for whom today is a day of great joy, and there will be some for whom today is a day of pain. Whatever people feel about what has happened here today, we have to come together. We have had four years—longer, really—of significant disagreement and division and what we have seen in the pandemic is that the UK is at its best when it is united and comes together. I hope that we will move forward from today in that spirit, and tackling the virus reminds us why we ought to do that.
Let me reflect on the contributions from colleagues. My hon. Friend the Member for Worsley and Eccles South (Barbara Keeley) made the point about ensuring that NHS staff are vaccinated. As I said in my opening speech, that is important because it is the right thing to do and because of the sacrifices they make and the risks they run on our behalf, but also because of the need for a resilient workforce.
My hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle (Emma Hardy) made a very important point: when the right support is not in place, whether that is for the individual to self-isolate or for businesses to shut their doors in challenging times, it undermines people’s confidence and faith in the overall process. That is why the Government’s economic support package needs to move hand in hand with increased regulation to protect public health.
My hon. Friends the Members for Hackney South and Shoreditch (Meg Hillier) and for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Steve McCabe) both referenced an important theme about honesty. I will reiterate what I said to the Minister—the British people are ready for candour. If we are in tier 4 from now until the vaccine, now is definitely the time to tell us.
I am not going to itemise all the Government Back-Bench colleagues who spoke—there were too many. We really ought to do something about that at the next election; at least I can commit to that. I particularly want to mention the speech made by the right hon. Member for South West Wiltshire (Dr Murrison), because he referred directly to my speech and suggested that when I talked about SI No. 1646 I was a bit churlish. I do not think I was; I was a bit saddened by that. I shadowed the right hon. Gentleman when he was a Minister for international development and I was never churlish then, and I was not churlish now. My point about SI No. 1646 was that we were concerned—and said so at the time—that the three-tier restrictions would not go far enough, but in that SI in particular it is not clear how to get out of a tier. I have not heard anything in the subsequent speeches, and I doubt we will hear anything from the Minister, that gives a clear set of criteria even around the five metrics for exiting tiers. That remains a significant problem for public confidence in the process.
I wanted to pull out two quick themes from Government Back-Bench contributions. The first is about tiers. In the contributions from the right hon. Member for New Forest West (Sir Desmond Swayne) and the hon. Members for Bolton West (Chris Green), for Thirsk and Malton (Kevin Hollinrake) and for Buckingham (Greg Smith), they all put admirable scrutiny and pressure on their Minister, as I have heard them do before, and I know that she will be keen to respond. I would be keen to enlist that support for matters beyond tiers. Tiers are a symptom, not a cause, of the challenges of the restrictions of liberty we are making today. Tiers are put in place when we lose control of the virus. Some of that can be accounted for by the mutant strain, which is 56% more potent, but the issues existed before then. We needed tiers before that, and tiers that constantly increased in strength, because we do not have the fundamentals right, particularly on test and trace. I implore those Members to apply that level of scrutiny and pressure on their Ministers on that, too, because it would make a real difference.
The second theme was vaccines. Many colleagues, including the right hon. Member for Forest of Dean (Mr Harper) and the hon. Members for Mid Derbyshire (Mrs Latham), for Runnymede and Weybridge (Dr Spencer), for Dudley South (Mike Wood), for Aylesbury (Rob Butler), for South Cambridgeshire (Anthony Browne) and for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Aaron Bell)—everyone, in fact, but particularly those Members—expressed joy about the plan. The right hon. Member for Forest of Dean made a particularly detailed and powerful case for the levels he felt that the Government should be aspiring to. I hope the Minister will engage with that directly and say whether it is realistic. If it is not, can she say why not and what a more realistic level is?
I want to reiterate the point on schools that was made by a number of colleagues. Not that Members would ever look at social media during a colleague’s contribution, but if they did, they will have seen that there is significant anxiety as a result of the announcement by the Secretary of State for Education this afternoon. It just will not do to say that some schools will be open and that some schools will not be open and then not to publish the list, and then when the list is eventually published, it is incomplete. This has caused a significant amount of anxiety. We must not forget that we are—what—five days away from those schools opening. Parents need to know. Schools need to know. It really will not do and I hope the Minister might be able to give some clarity on that and, if not, a sense of when the Government will return to finish off that job.
I just want to finish by reiterating three key questions to the Minister. I know that she will have an awful lot to cover, so I wanted to make sure that I left her the lion’s share of the winding-up time—whether she will thank me for that I do not know. First, we do need to hear the Government say with both clarity and commitment that, based on the best scientific evidence available, they believe that the tier system is sufficient to control the spread of the virus. This is their third go at a tier system. The first two failed and we are here today because the third one is not working either. We need to hear that explicitly, because otherwise we will have to take more significant action later. We might as well be honest about that now.
Secondly, when will we see the roll-out plan for the vaccine so that we can help to build confidence and perhaps to improve it through parliamentary scrutiny? The plan should include NHS staff as a priority, but, in general, it needs to ensure that we get through the entire population. It is a wonderful and joyous moment to know that we will have access to enough vaccines for everyone who wants one. It is a wonderful moment. Now our responsibility is to demonstrate that we can get them out for people in the quickest and safest possible manner.
Finally, there should be no extra health regulations without extra support for business. Where is that support package? When will we see it? When asked that question earlier—I think by a Back-Bench colleague of mine—the Secretary of State for Health said, “Well, I’m not a Treasury Minister, I am a Health Minister.” Nobody thinks that that is how it works here. We cannot afford for it to work in that way. The two need to move in lockstep, so can we have clarity about when we will see that support package? I will sit down now, Mr Deputy Speaker. It has been a very good debate, but I hope that the Minister can now give clarity on the points that I have raised.
Can I look into that point a bit? I thank the Opposition spokesman for giving us so much time to deal with the things we did not have time to deal with in our limited remarks. On the point about looking at the data—I listened carefully to a number of colleagues, and I had this in my constituency—I genuinely do not understand how my constituency was put into tier 3 starting at midnight on Boxing day, and after only three days had elapsed a decision was taken to move it to tier 4. What data had changed? Nothing significant happened between those two dates. Other colleagues went through three tiers in a matter of days. The problem is that that does not engender confidence among our constituents that the decisions are being taken for understandable reasons. Will the Minister say a little bit more about the decision-making process so that we can take that back to our constituents to try to give them a little more confidence?
The Minister is being generous in giving way. I wish to ask about one issue that cropped up today at the Prime Minister’s press conference, and something that Professor Van-Tam said about what we do and do not know about the vaccine’s ability to reduce the transmission of the virus. My understanding is that once we have vaccinated those who are at most risk, and reduced the risk of people dying or being hospitalised, we will then be in a much better place. He seemed to imply that if the vaccine does not reduce the transmission of the virus, that will somehow prolong the restrictions we have to keep in place, but I do not follow why that would be. Can the Minister clarify the Government’s position on that? I think that once we have vaccinated the at-risk groups, we can remove the restrictions. Am I wrong?
I want to get clarity on the point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Forest of Dean (Mr Harper). If the reason for the restrictions on our constituents’ lives is to prevent people from getting infected, getting very sick and being hospitalised, and thereby to protect the NHS, once we have vaccinated the people who could get very sick and use the NHS, we will no longer have the problem of protecting the NHS, so we should be able to lift the restrictions. Even if the Minister cannot clarify that that is the Government’s position, does it not seem like the logical consequence, or am I just completely daft?
It is good to see you in the Chair, Ms Ghani.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for City of Chester (Christian Matheson) on securing this important debate. Among the most important duties of a Member of Parliament is to speak up for the voiceless, and he has done a proud service today. I join him in paying tribute to the campaigning efforts of his constituent Angela, an exceptional woman whom I have been lucky enough to meet.
One of the overriding messages that we have heard in 2020 is that we are all in this together. Whether people have found it comforting or frightening, it has characterised our national response, but it is not really accurate. My hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Olivia Blake) is right to raise the abject failures that have taken place in some aspects of provision for those with learning disabilities. The twin crises that we have faced and continue to address—the health and economic emergencies caused by the covid pandemic—impact people differently. We have learned so much about the groups who are more susceptible to serious illness and death from covid—older people, those who are overweight, those with comorbidities and, because of housing conditions and frontline jobs, ethnic minorities. We are still learning about who is suffering most from the economic impact—young people and those in precarious employment and the hospitality sector. Those differential impacts were raised powerfully by my hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Rushanara Ali).
Above all, vulnerable people suffer the most, including those with learning disabilities. Even before the pandemic, they faced serious health challenges. In 2017 the Equality and Human Rights Commission found that 42% die prematurely. Last year, the learning disability mortality review found a median life expectancy of 61 for men and 59 for women, which is more than 20 years less than the national average. People with learning disabilities are four times more likely to die of a treatable health condition. That was the situation before covid.
What we have heard today has been shocking but not surprising. We understand why guidance for ambulances and hospitals was written in haste in March, but clearly it did not fully consider the needs of people with learning disabilities—with all the consequences that we have heard today. The ambulance services’ guidance must be amended. As we have heard, it has been interpreted to mean that people over the age of 16 cannot be accompanied to hospital or bring documents with them. That leaves people with learning disabilities terrifyingly exposed, given the challenges that they face in communicating their medical needs. I hope that the Minister can now confirm that that is being changed.
What I have described has certainly contributed to the lack of reasonable adjustments being made, as has the number of learning disability nurses who have been redeployed—I have seen the figure of 34%. That has left people with learning disabilities even more exposed, as their needs are not met. Will the Minister set out what she is doing to restore and expand that crucial expertise?
The number of people with learning disabilities who were given “Do not attempt to resuscitate” notices was appalling, partly because initial guidance led to many being wrongly defined as frail. Although that guidance was reversed, many individuals may still have such notices on their records, without their knowledge, and that could have tragic consequences for their future healthcare. What is the Minister doing about that?
The Minister will recognise the wider challenge of remote consultations, which are particularly difficult for people with learning disabilities in situations where non-verbal cues and body language cannot be seen. They also increase the chance of diagnostic overshadowing, where behaviour is attributed to a learning disability rather than being considered a symptom. That has apparently been an issue with NHS 111. The NHS long-term plan is to remove one third of face-to-face appointments for out-patients, which includes the use of more remote consultations. Will the Minister assure us that people with learning disabilities will be prioritised for in-person consultations, and can she explain what guidance is being put in place for autistic people in in-patient care settings to go home for Christmas? Autism charities have warned that autistic people in residential care will have to self-isolate for 14 days when they come back from visiting their families this Christmas. That is not fair on those who need routine and support. The Government must make their guidance autism-friendly.
That all shows the need to consider the most vulnerable when making important decisions. Equality impact assessments must be made by central Government. That is something that local authorities are routinely obliged to do. Was such an impact assessment made on the guidance for ambulances and hospitals and, if so, what steps were taken to mitigate impacts? If not, what discussions were had with Mencap before the policies were introduced?
People with learning disabilities have suffered and died disproportionately in this pandemic, so can the Minister explain why only those with severe and profound learning disabilities have been prioritised for vaccination, rather than everyone in that highly vulnerable group? When will unpaid carers receive the vaccine?
Following the Government’s easements, which reduced statutory adult social care support, 69% of people with a learning disability reported in a Mencap survey that their social care support had been cut or reduced during the pandemic. What will the Minister do to ensure the support that those families and individuals badly need? The Government have an obligation to support the most vulnerable citizens first. I look forward to hearing the Minister’s reply.
Could the Minister tell us now or in writing about how the actions she is taking to reduce the disproportionate impact of death rates for those with learning disabilities is being addressed with facts, so that we can see the progress that the actions of her Department have led to, given the number of deaths in the second wave? It is not clear whether those interventions are working, and it would be reassuring to see how those actions are helping.
I am grateful to you, Ms Ghani, and to all hon. Members for contributing to this debate. I think it was the hon. Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Dr Cameron) who talked about the range of different examples that we have heard today, from employment opportunities, local government cuts and the importance of technology, and she is absolutely right.
I also thank the Minister for directly answering quite a few of the questions that were posed to her. In preparing for this debate, it has been made clear to me that there is a sense of frustration among people with learning disabilities, their carers and their families, who are looking for continued progress. I simply ask the Minister and her colleagues that this debate is considered not as a destination, but as a staging post on the way to genuine equality.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered the effect of the covid-19 outbreak on people with learning disabilities.
I am grateful to all hon. Members who have spoken in this debate. Taken together, the contributions have served as an important reminder of just how far the frontline of the fight against this pandemic stretches. I would highlight in particular the passionate speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle (Emma Hardy), who highlighted the plight of small businesses across her constituency, especially in the hospitality sector, and my hon. Friend the Member for City of Durham (Mary Kelly Foy), who spoke about the urgent issue of vaccine distribution to nations in the global south.
We owe our deepest gratitude to all those who spend their days and nights caring for others, working to keep our local economies functioning, our communities safe and our public services working, including our NHS and care workers, who continue to work long, gruelling hours, struggling for months without adequate PPE in a heroic response to the virus. Time and time again, our teachers, support staff and childcare workers create safe and supportive environments for children to thrive, even under such huge pressures. Other key workers, including many on short-term or zero-hours contracts, work to keep the country running. Testing site workers and contact tracers, often under-trained and ill-equipped, have done a huge amount of work, as have so many others across the country during this difficult time.
I know that every Member across the House wants to support and recognise all those working on the frontline of coronavirus. It is essential that their commitment and sacrifice is met with a fair, effective and far more joined-up approach than what the Government are currently delivering. That is the minimum they deserve.
Labour pays tribute to the work carried out by doctors and scientists across the world to develop vaccines against covid-19. Every Member across the House will have shared in the jubilation as Margaret Keenan became the first person in the world to receive the Pfizer covid-19 jab following its clinical approval last week.
In the meantime, as the vaccination programme is rolled out, there is still a huge task to reduce transmission. Labour has warned for months of the need for an effective test, track and trace system, but unfortunately the Government failed to use the window provided by the second national lockdown to fix the Serco test and trace system, and it remains an area where they are failing.
Labour is clear that our local mayors and council leaders should be in the driving seat to deliver an effective localised test, track and trace system. Our local councils have been a lifeline for so many during this difficult time, and are crucial not only in facing the virus down, but in rebuilding and recovering from the pandemic, yet too often some parts of the UK are left behind by the Government. On too many occasions, local leaders have not been given a seat at the table while the national Serco test and trace system flounders. Local responses will very according to the prevalence and transmission rate of the virus, but local leaders must know clearly what is expected of them and must be provided with the funding to deliver for the communities that they have been elected to serve.
The combination of Serco test and trace and the three-tier system failed to limit the spread of disease in September and October, and we ended up in a second national lockdown. Nobody wants a repeat of that. That is why we are calling on the Government to ensure that past mistakes are not repeated, that systems are reformed and strengthened and that no area is left behind.
This afternoon, we learned that London and parts of Essex and Hertfordshire will be placed into tier 3 on Wednesday. That is devastating news for many businesses, driven by alarming rates of disease transmission. The measures are sadly necessary, but they will succeed only if the Government work constructively with local leaders and put in place the right measures to support businesses and those who need to self-isolate.
We have seen the Government’s response too often being driven by who they know, not who is best placed to deliver. Multimillion-pound contracts have been handed to a small number of large firms, many of which are not integrated into our local communities and are not beholden to the same standards of scrutiny as Government Departments or local authorities. Not only that, but outsourced contracts and the cronyism too often associated with them have marred the Government’s response. That must be addressed.
Today, we learned of yet another example: Fleetwood Strategy, a brand-new company whose founder worked on the Tories’ election campaign, which was handed a £124,000 contract with no competition. We need much more transparency and more proof that experienced and qualified British businesses are being openly engaged. That is absolutely crucial for a joined-up and well-co-ordinated covid-19 response and for restoring the trust that is sorely lacking.
The Government must also see our schools, teachers and support staff as an indispensable part of our communities. Schools must be properly supported, with the right measures in place, including mass testing, to ensure that any spread of infection is swiftly contained. Local leaders in the north looked on in astonishment last week when councils in London and Essex were offered the mass testing for schools that they had been denied. The same councils in London and Essex were in turn bewildered at the lack of support provided for them to deliver the tests that they had been allocated. There are still schools struggling to access laptops for children who do not have them, so that they can learn from home when they need to self-isolate, at the same time as many children are being sent home due to infections in school or staff shortages. The Children’s Commissioner, Ofsted and others have been clear that covid-19 has widened the disadvantage gap between children. The failure to ensure that every child has the basic equipment they need to be able to continue their education remotely when needed is a source of huge anger and frustration in many communities, and that, combined with the failure to roll out the catch-up tutoring programme in any meaningful way, means that the Government are allowing coronavirus to compound educational disadvantage.
Tackling covid-19 is a huge global challenge. Appallingly, the UK has the worst death rate in Europe and the deepest recession of any G7 country as a consequence, so the Government must now learn the lessons from other countries. The Government’s response must be far more joined up. Countries that have managed the most effective infection control introduced locally led contact tracing, deeply embedded in communities. Ensuring that people who need to self-isolate do so means putting in place income support so that no one has to choose between doing the right thing for public health and putting food on the table However, we are still in a position where local authorities across England feel disconnected from central Government and where the national contact tracing system is still not anywhere near locally integrated enough to curb the spread of infection effectively.
All of us want the response to covid to be successful and all of us are unequivocally delighted at the news of our scientists’ success in developing effective vaccines, but we still face very grave challenges. That is why Labour has proposed overhauling the failing support for self-isolation. The Government’s own chief scientific adviser has said that testing
“only matters if people isolate as well”.
The Government must expand eligibility for the £500 test and trace support payment to users of the NHS covid-19 app and reduce the isolation period by using rapid testing. They must urgently conduct and publish an assessment of the financial barriers to self-isolation, including the level of statutory sick pay. They must end the top-down centralised model of test, trace and isolate once and for all, putting local teams in charge, and they must ensure routine testing for all high-risk workplaces and high-transmission areas. For our national response to work, a more connected and community-based response is crucial. I urge the Government to listen today and meet that challenge head-on.
We can all look forward to the vaccination roll-out. It is vital that everyone who is offered a vaccine takes it and protects themself and those closest to them, but we also know that the roll-out of the approved vaccines will take months, and that still, every single day, hundreds of people across the UK are dying from covid, and many more are suffering from its longer-term effects. We cannot and must not continue on the same path, with the Government clinging to outsourced contracts that have failed time and again to deliver. The Government must fix Track and Trace, support people to do the right thing, help vital sectors of our economy such as hospitality and the performing arts to survive beyond the pandemic, and work with our councils and communities to break the stranglehold of this virus and enable the recovery to begin.
The care agency that I referred to said that it has about 160 members of staff on its books, of whom 80 are in work regularly. Of those 80, 60 are included in testing in some care homes; it is that final 20 who are not getting regular tests. I was told that the same was true for other agency workers, too.
The Minister will be aware that one of the issues raised during her call with the areas going into tier 3 was the need for boots on the ground—for people to help to administer the vaccine. The health force in Hull and areas like it is diminished because many are self-isolating, others are suffering from covid and it is an exhausted workforce. Will additional personnel resources be made available to help deliver the vaccine?
Absolutely. This is one of the difficulties in this field. We have worked with the United Kingdom Acquired Brain Injury Forum, and Chloe Hayward is wonderful. Headway is also a wonderful organisation, although like many charities in this field, it is having a really difficult time this year. Despite that, the truth is that because there are many different routes to a brain injury, it does not always acquire the same currency as cancer or other medical conditions, and yet it affects at least 1.4 million people in the United Kingdom. That is one of the things we need to tackle.
Specialist early supported discharge and community neurorehabilitation teams were redeployed in large numbers during the first lockdown earlier this year, and many were furloughed. In some cases, they have still not been brought back, and in lots of parts of the country there simply are no services available in this situation. What happens is that the person with the acute condition—the acute set of problems—is not treated but sent out of hospital, because the bed is needed in this second lockdown. That person is sent directly into adult social care, with a phenomenally expensive care package. I am not against the expensive care package—that is what we have to provide—but the point is that neurorehabilitation would be far more cost-effective; there would be far better outcomes for the individual patient; and it would be far more sensible for Government if we could get the system sorted out. In the second lockdown—who knows whether we are having a third lockdown, or a tier situation, or whatever it is?—the truth is that lots of neuro patients are being discharged early. That is just a fact, and I think that it will give us a long problem, not only for the individuals and their families but in lots of local authorities and community services.
What am I talking about here? What is the real issue? I will end in a moment, Ms Eagle. As I have said, brain injury comes in many forms. Young brains are often particularly affected. Kids under the age of five from poorer families are four times more likely to have a significant brain injury—as are teenage kids from poorer backgrounds—than those from wealthier backgrounds. There is a knock-on implication for the Ministry of Justice, and so on. Sometimes it is the executive function that is affected, so people may find it difficult to inhibit some of their immediate instincts. Sometimes it is memory that does not work, or it may be language or elements of personality. For some people, the issue is phenomenal fatigue—not just the kind of thing where someone had a big night out the night before and cannot really be bothered to come into a Westminster Hall debate, but a real fatigue that brings people to the point of absolute despair and an inability to feel like living. For many children in particular, sometimes nine or 12 months after the event, there is neurocognitive stall—basically, the brain seems to go on strike and refuse to work as anybody would want it to.
The thing is that neurorehabilitation works. I do not mean just any old rehabilitation; I mean neurorehabilitation, which uses specialist staff who deal with these issues all the time and know about how the brain and the mind work together and how people can be rehabilitated. That works when it is there from the beginning, when it is available consistently for a sustained period and when the connections between acute and community services are absolutely clear. When it works at its best, it is such a joy, because we see kids who were completely dependent on their parents, and on a whole team of people from social services, suddenly able to smile again and able to discover their own freedom and ability to get on with their lives independently of others. We see older people who are able to regain many of the physical and mental skills that they had before, and to regain some of their personality. That is such a beautiful and rewarding thing to behold, and it is why I hope that the Minister will be able to give me everything that I want.
I am grateful for the nice comments that the Minister has made, but one of the problems with the guidance is that it does not feel very enforceable, and until the money goes with the guidance, as it were, I think it is unlikely that people will invest in this. It feels sometimes—not to use a cliché—a bit too Cinderella-like. I just wonder whether there is a means of twisting it into enforceability.
I am grateful. I fully get that one of the dangers of having a postcode lottery is that trying to overturn it can mean ending up with no freedom locally, and all the rest of it; but I just say again that the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster really needs to get everyone together. There are real benefits that we could deliver to people, as well as financial savings across the piece.
There are almost 2,000 people living with dementia in Lewisham and for those in residential care, a lack of social interaction through visits can cause their condition to deteriorate. Testing for family and friends is the way forward, but the Government’s pilot for this was launched only this week and just 20 care homes are included. With the festive period rapidly approaching, why was this not done months ago, and is it not just another example of the Government delivering too little, too late?
I am afraid the Government’s pilot scheme simply fails to understand the scale or urgency of the task. The average time someone spends in a care home before they pass away is two years, so after eight months of not being able to visit, families do not have a moment to lose. If the Government believe that weekly tests make it safe for care home staff to go to work, why not just do the same for families? Will the Minister now agree that a proportion of the 157,000 tests that are currently spare capacity every day will be ring-fenced for family visits so that we can safely bring all families back together in time for Christmas?
Break in Debate
I know that my hon. Friend has already touched on this subject, but she will be aware that since April, many people have not been able to visit relatives and loved ones in care homes, so will she please tell the House again what is being done to improve testing and to roll out the flu vaccine to ensure that these visits can resume safely after the latest lockdown?
The new megalabs will open in 2021, one of which will be just down the road in Leamington Spa. This is very welcome news for the care sector in Stourbridge, which needs fast access to testing to carry out its amazing work, and let us not forget that these megalabs will bring thousands of jobs to the midlands. The UK is already No. 1 in Europe for testing capacity. With these new labs on stream, that capacity will double. Will my hon. Friend commit to prioritising the social care sector in this new capacity?
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Graham. I am so pleased that my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham East and Saddleworth (Debbie Abrahams) has secured this important debate. I thank all hon. Members who have spoken so powerfully on behalf of their constituents.
The pandemic has taken an unimaginable toll on people living with dementia, the staff who care for them and the families who love and do so much to support them. There have been a staggering 23,000 excess deaths in care homes in England during the pandemic so far, more than 15,000 due to covid-19. When we consider that, as others have said, 70% of all care home residents have dementia, the sheer scale of the impact of this awful virus is brutally clear.
We must remember that people with dementia do not just live in care homes and nursing homes. Some 60% are cared for in the community and their own homes, and they have too often been overlooked.
We need to learn the lessons from what has happened so far. We desperately need long-term reforms that transform all care services, whether that is care homes or care in people’s own homes, so that we have a system truly fit for the future. The virus has brutally exposed the fundamental flaws in our care system that many of us have been talking about for a long while. The most obvious is that, for too long, frontline care workers, who are so essential in caring for people with dementia, have not been properly valued or supported and they have not been properly paid.
We can see that in the way that at the start of the pandemic, many frontline care workers just did not get the personal protective equipment they needed. I heard many stories of care homes saying that their masks and other equipment had been requisitioned by the NHS. I want NHS staff to have proper PPE, but that shows that, on the ground, social care is still not seen as equally important. We also saw that in testing. It took a very long while to get the regular testing that care home workers need. Domiciliary care workers are still not getting weekly tests. That is a real issue, as we see how much this virus is spreading in the community.
The third issue is—let us be honest—around the pay, terms and conditions of frontline care staff. They do some of the most important work in this society, which is looking after the people that we love most, but many of them barely even make the minimum wage, because they are not paid for travel times. The key thing that stands out for me is that the Office for National Statistics has clearly found that care homes that pay full pay when people are off sick, that are not so reliant on agency staff and that do not have such high turnover rates because of low pay, have lower infection rates. We really need to learn the lesson from that for the future.
I hope that the Minister will set out what she plans to do about these issues. Where are we now at with tests for domiciliary care staff? We have heard that NHS and care workers will be a priority for vaccines. Can she tell us whether that will include domiciliary care workers as well?
All hon. Members have spoken about the importance of families in caring for people with dementia. We cannot deliver good quality care for people with dementia without not just the involvement of families, but their active participation and support. That is not just because we all want our families to be there for us when we get sick and frail; it is because when someone has Alzheimer’s or dementia, their family is their memory. They are the ones who really know that person—the music they like, the songs they used to sing, the books they read, the films they love. No matter how hard paid care staff work, which they do, they just cannot know the person to the same degree, but the families get precious little help and support and they are too often ignored in the debate.
We know that, even before the virus struck, there were 9 million unpaid family carers in the UK. Since the virus began, 4.5 million more people have taken on caring responsibilities, which is three times the size of the NHS workforce. Many carers were already being pushed absolutely to breaking point before covid-19. One of the worst statistics that I have ever seen from Carers UK is that about half of unpaid family carers had not had a break from caring for five years, and yet those very people are on average taking on an extra 10 hours of caring a week, which is having a really bad impact on their physical and mental health.
So, I hope the Minister will set out what action the Government will take to help family carers. Will there be more funding for them to have breaks? How can we get day-care services back? And how will we actually identify all these new unpaid family carers, because, quite frankly, most people who are carers do not think that they are carers; they are just a son, daughter, husband or wife who looks after the person they love. But they desperately need information, advice and support.
Also, as practically every single hon. Member has said, we need to do more to help families who have loved ones in care homes. We had a big debate about this in Westminster Hall yesterday. I will repeat myself a little bit, because it is such a massively important issue. Indeed, in my 10 years as an MP, I have never been contacted by people who are not in politics about any issue as much as I have been about this one. It really is so important, because for eight months people have not been able to see their mums, dads, husbands or wives. What they do know is that those loved ones are fading fast, which causes enormous anguish, because if someone feels that they are letting down their mum, dad, husband or their wife, it will scar them for life. I know that that is what I would feel if I could not see my mum or dad.
I understand why Ministers are really worried about the risk that covid-19 will come back into care homes after the catastrophic loss of life we saw during the first wave of the virus, but we need to understand the situation. The Government’s own independent scientific advisers—the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies, or SAGE—said in a report published on 21 September that the risk of family members transmitting the virus in care homes is low. And 60 organisations, including the Social Care Institute for Excellence, the British Geriatrics Society, the National Care Forum, Alzheimer’s Society and Age UK, all agree, saying that there is no evidenceAll those groups support calls, as does Labour—and indeed many hon. Members who have spoken today—for at least a single family member to be designated as a key worker, so that they can get the testing they need and we can safely start visits again. We first called for this in mid-June and again in September. I hope that the Government really take action. Their latest guidelines—about floor-to-ceiling screens, or having visits outside— are not good enough. Also, they will not work; a screen does not work for someone with dementia. In case anybody had not realised, it is also now dark, cold and wet outside, so outside visits will not work.
Yesterday, the Minister for Care said that a pilot will start on Monday in four local authority areas, with 30 care homes, to test family members. I had a lot of calls about that overnight. Where are these local authority areas? How long will the pilot last? The bottom line is that I do not think a pilot is good enough. The average length of stay of someone in a care home before they die is two years. We have had eight months of lockdown. This is the last Christmas for some people. We must get everybody—all families—getting those regular tests, so that visits can start again.
In conclusion, I have argued for almost two decades now for the desperate need for long-term reforms to social care. In July 2019, in his first speech on the steps of Downing Street, the Prime Minister said:
“I am announcing now that we will fix the crisis in social care once and for all, with a clear plan we have prepared”—
I emphasise those words, “we have prepared”—
“to give every older person the dignity and security they deserve.”
Yet more than 15 months later, that “plan” is nowhere to be seen; in fact, we seem to be going backwards.
The Health Minister in the House of Lords, Lord Bethell, said on 28 October:
“I have to be realistic. We are in the midst of a Covid winter, when there are enormous challenges in keeping the show on the road…It just would not be right to launch an important and industry-changing reform process when the focus of everyone in social care is the protection of the vulnerable and our loved ones.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 28 October 2020; Vol. 807, c. 226.]
The opposite is true; this is precisely the time when we need those reforms to give people, families and care workers hope that there will be a better system, and that when we have come through this awful pandemic we will not go back to the same stretched, miserable, awful system that too many people have had to cope with. Families, care workers and the system as a whole are at breaking point. In the 21st century, in one of the richest countries in the world, that is not good enough. It is the challenge of our generation to sort this problem, and I hope that when the Minister responds, she will set out how we will do so.
I start with heartfelt thanks to everybody who has contributed to the debate. It is so nice to be in such a high-quality debate where we all work together, and where we see and agree on the issues. Now, it is about moving forward on the solutions. There was much consensus, particularly on how we make sure that families can visit their loved ones in care homes. I have huge regard for the Minister. She has real empathy, and I am grateful to her for turning it into action, but I ask her to make a commitment. If the trial is starting next week, will she come to the House and make a statement at the end of this month, so that we know the results of that trial and when in December it will be rolled out? My hon. Friend the Member for Leicester West (Liz Kendall) makes an excellent point that this may be some people’s last Christmas. For everybody concerned, please can we do our utmost to make sure that this happens?
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms McVey. I, too, congratulate the hon. Member for Beaconsfield (Joy Morrissey) on securing this important debate and on her brilliantly powerful speech. I am particularly grateful that she focused on working-age adults with disabilities who have all too often been ignored in this debate so far.
Since mid-June, I have been calling for a way forward that will keep residents safe and get family visits going again. I will come on to that later, but I start by paying tribute to all those who have been working so hard to bring families back together: the local authorities that have championed face-to-face visits throughout lockdown, including Leeds, Sheffield and my own Leicester City Council, and the organisations that have campaigned on the issue, such as Age UK, the Alzheimer’s Society, the National Care Forum, the Care and Support Alliance and the National Care Association.
In particular, I thank and pay tribute to Jenny Morrison and Diane Mayhew from Rights for Residents. After their own terrible experiences, they started their campaign to give a voice to all the other care home residents and families who have been prevented from seeing their loved ones since the first lockdown started more than eight months ago. They have had a phenomenal reaction to their campaign, and rightly so, because the issue really matters. It matters because of the anguish it causes families to be separated from the people they love most and because of the increasing evidence that the physical and mental isolation that results from restricting family visits is causing serious harm to a large number of care home residents. In a recent survey by the Alzheimer’s Society, 80% of care home managers said that lack of social contact is causing deterioration in the physical and mental health of residents with dementia. That is unacceptable.
All hon. Members present have spoken on behalf of constituents who have contacted them about the desperate agony they are going through and their real fears for their mums, dads, husbands and wives. I have also been contacted. A woman called Trudy got in touch to say,
“Today I’ve had to try to comfort my terminally ill mum in a video call, she’s scared and she needs us. Not on a screen or behind a screen—but with us stroking her hand. It is destroying us that the end of her life is like this. It’s destroying my family. I feel I am breaking every promise we ever made on looking after her.”
My constituent John rightly asked me,
“What quality of life do residents have if they can’t go anywhere, see any of their family and friends or have meaningful relationships? My family are absolutely distraught by the fact that we are not being allowed to see our family member but are having to hear them sobbing on the telephone and being told by staff how agitated they are and how ‘lockdown’ is affecting them and causing their condition to deteriorate. We can’t get this time back with our family member and time is precious”.
That point is really important, because the average length of stay in a care home for an older person is two years. After eight months of visitor restrictions and lockdown, there is simply not enough time for many of those living in care homes to wait and watch for a pilot scheme or another set of guidelines.
We need action now, because husbands, wives, sons and daughters are not just making social calls to their loved ones in care homes; they are playing a fundamental role in the everyday care of the person they love. Residents and their loved ones have human rights, both as individuals and as a community, and a ban on visiting arguably denies them those rights, as the Minister will know.
What should the Government do? I always hope to be practical in putting forward solutions. I and the 60 organisations that recently wrote an open letter to the Minister and the Secretary of State about this issue understand why the Government are so worried about the risk of covid-19 in care homes, given the catastrophic suffering and loss of life during the first wave of the pandemic, but the Minister will know that the Government’s own independent scientific advisers, the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies, and its working group on social care said in evidence published on 21 September that the risk of family transmitting the virus from visitors to residents was low. Those 60 organisations, which include the Royal Society for Public Health, the British Geriatrics Society and the Social Care Institute for Excellence, which is responsible for promoting good-quality care, say that
“there is no evidence that a blanket ban on visiting, or near ban, is the right response. It is also the case that homes are much better equipped now to manage any risk. There is much greater knowledge of transmission and infection prevention and control practices than there was in March. Homes should be fully supported to enable visiting.”
Opposition Members—indeed, Members on both sides of the House—agree, which is why Labour has been calling for families to get the regular testing and PPE that they need since 17 June, when I first wrote to the Health Secretary warning about the impact of isolation on care home residents. I wrote again to the Health Secretary on 14 September, specifically calling for families to be designated as key workers, so that they can get the regular testing that they need to safely visit, alongside the regular testing of care home staff. That, as the Minister will know, is precisely the approach advocated by the 60 organisations that recently wrote the open letter.
The Government still have not really listened. Their latest guidance says that indoor care home visits will need floor-to-ceiling screens, which will keep residents and their families separated throughout. Alternatively, families can meet outside a care home window. I am afraid that that guidance fails on many levels. It fails to understand that it will not be possible for many care homes to put such screens in place. Even if they could, having a screen will not work for many residents, especially if they have Alzheimer’s or dementia. That is before making the frankly obvious point that the winter weather and dark afternoons make outdoor visits very difficult indeed.
It is little wonder that the Alzheimer’s Society says it is “devastated” by the new guidance. Its chief executive officer says that
“this attempt to protect people will kill them… The prison style screens the government proposes—with people speaking through phones—are frankly ridiculous when you consider someone with advanced dementia can often be bed-bound and struggling to speak.”
Age UK agrees, saying:
“In practice we fear it will result in many care homes halting meaningful visiting altogether, because they will be unable to comply with the requirements laid down.”
I know that the Minister will say that we are going to have a pilot to test families, but when will that pilot start and how long will it take? It has been eight months since lockdown began. Why has this not been a greater priority and why has more progress not been made? The bottom line is that a pilot is not good enough or quick enough. We need those visits now. Will the Minister finally agree to prioritise family members for testing, including with the new lateral flow tests that are being used to mass test people in Liverpool and students across the country?
I understand that those tests have low numbers of false negatives and can be turned around in 20 or 30 minutes, making them a good option for testing families with loved ones in care homes, as my director of social care in Leicester is calling for. I know that families, including my own, are desperate to get their children back from university for Christmas, but what about families who have not seen their loved ones for eight months? They want to know where they are in all the extra testing that is going on.
We all know this pandemic has had unimaginable consequences for care workers and for families and their loved ones. Care workers have made immense sacrifices to look after our loved ones, and they deserve not just our praise and admiration, but to be properly valued and paid. However, we have to understand that families are an integral part of the care system too. I believe you cannot have good-quality social care without the real involvement and active participation of families. People who have dementia lose their memory; their families are their memory, and the best possible quality help and support cannot be given without families. I hope the Minister will listen to the concerns that I and other hon. Members have raised and I look forward to her response.
I thank the Minister for her kindness and humanity, and for how she and her Department reached out to me personally. That demonstrates her care and her compassion both for this subject and for those working age adults with complex needs and disabilities whose voices might not have been heard over the years. I appreciate her one-on-one attention and the engagement she has dedicated to the topic. I am incredibly grateful.
I want to highlight the excellent contributions of all hon. Members today. Although we come from different parties, we are united in wanting to highlight the needs of the most vulnerable and wanting to thank our care workers.
I also thank the Scottish National party spokesperson, the hon. Member for North Ayrshire and Arran (Patricia Gibson), for her incredible weighing up of the impossible situation that every Government, every Member of Parliament and every public health official finds themselves in. We did not even know what the devastating effects of the virus would be. It attacks the elderly and those who are already in care. We have the impossible situation of their mental wellbeing versus the actual preserving of life. No matter what party we are from and no matter our background, this is one of the most difficult challenges that any generation of politicians has ever had to face. I thank her for reminding us of the humanity involved.
Motion lapsed (Standing Order No. 10(6)).
Absolutely. I am thankful for that intervention, which exemplifies our debate and the change in the narrative that all of us across this House wish to see. We should be promoting the excellent work of those individuals and groups with Down’s syndrome who are achieving so much in society.
Up About Down is a campaign run by the Windsor Essex Down Syndrome Association, a fantastic charity that has being raising awareness about Down’s syndrome through positive and accurate information since it was founded in 1990. It is all about changing the narrative surrounding Down’s syndrome; it is about looking beyond medical prognoses and seeing the individual stories and successes of individuals with Down’s syndrome who live happy and fulfilled lives and who are crucial contributors to local communities, economies and industries. It is absolutely in that spirit that I bring this debate before the House.
In 2019, an article was published that caught my eye, entitled “10 brilliant breakthroughs by people with Down Syndrome”. It highlighted Zack Gottsagen, a theatre major graduate of the Dreyfoos School of the Arts who starred in
“a modern Mark Twain style adventure story, The Peanut Butter Falcon, which tells the story of Zak…a young man with Down syndrome, who runs away from a residential nursing home to follow his dream of attending the professional wrestling school of his idol”.
The article also highlighted Heba Atef, who
“became the first-ever Egyptian flight attendant with Down syndrome to embark on a special flight from Cairo to Khartoum…the ‘Journey of Humanity’ took place under the sponsorship of the UN International Committee and was specifically tailored for people with special needs.”
The article notes that the Swindon Advertiser reports that
“a scaffolder living with Down’s syndrome was named Britain’s number one apprentice. His boss, the owner of Coles Scaffolding company Martyn Coles, said Todd had great determination. ‘He comes in every day and proves people wrong. Winning the award just shows he can do it.’”
Emmett Kyoshi, a teenage artist living with Down’s syndrome in Chicago, hosted his third art exhibition in 2019,
“showing the world that the extra chromosome he was born with is anything but a disability.”
Then there are Madeline Stuart—the world’s first catwalk model with Down’s syndrome—and Francesca Rausi, who have been credited for proving society’s perception of beauty wrong. They had the opportunity of walking at New York Fashion Week and meeting some of Hollywood’s biggest stars; again, they changed the narrative.
Closer to home, Positive about Down Syndrome told me about Tom, who lives in London and has two part-time jobs as a barman and catering assistant and is also an award-winning weightlifter; Bethany who works for West Mercia police; and Hayley from Essex, who loves singing and acting and is part of a drama group performing at the London Palladium. These few accounts represent the stories of so many: those students with Down’s syndrome who are in college or university; those who have jobs and hobbies; those who are moving home, winning awards, falling in love, getting married and achieving great things.
For each of these stories, there are also children who have dreams and aspirations. I heard about Rebecca, who wants to perform on stage; Ben, who wants to be a postman; Jessica, who wants to be a pop star; Jack, who wants to play football for Nottingham Forest or Manchester United; Hollie, who wants to be a vet; James, who wants to be a police officer; and Samantha, who wants to be a make-up artist. I am sure that I speak for every parent when I say that we support and absolutely share in the dreams of our children every single day.
A sense of fulfilment and purpose that people with Down’s syndrome have from their work is a common thread connecting many of the accounts that I have mentioned. With that in mind, I draw particular attention to the work of the Down’s Syndrome Association and the importance of its WorkFit scheme. The WorkFit scheme was set up to train and assess employers who want to include those with Down’s syndrome in their workforce. All employers registered with WorkFit receive training, which includes their duties under the Equality Act 2010, and practical advice on how to make reasonable adjustments. The Down’s Syndrome Association is in constant dialogue with companies and organisations that have employees placed with them through WorkFit, to answer any queries they may have, and to work through any challenging situations. The programme was set up in December 2011, and to date it has placed 416 individuals with Down’s syndrome in a range of full-time, part-time and volunteer roles, as well as in adapted internships.
In recent weeks the Government announced the kickstart scheme, and I want to ask the Minister whether young people with learning disabilities, or disabilities, could perhaps be further supported through that scheme, or through an internship or apprenticeship. The excellent Speaker’s internship scheme for people with disabilities was developed in 2016, and perhaps there is more that hon. Members could do to support the training, inclusion, skilling and work of those who have Down’s syndrome.
I am delighted to chair the new all-party group for inclusive entrepreneurship, which was established to remove barriers and raise the profile of entrepreneurs with protected characteristics, particularly disabilities. We must also change the narrative more broadly from disability to ability, and from being solely about employees to people having the potential to become employers. Will the Minister consult colleagues in government, and find out whether there are particular supports and schemes for which those with disabilities can perhaps be given funding or additional support for adaptations, so that they can start their own businesses with their skills, talents and abilities?
A study by Mencap found that 62% of adults with learning disabilities in the UK want to work, although only 6% have a paid job. We need to address that, and we must all play our role in our constituencies, and by working across the House and across parties, to ensure an inclusive employment programme for everyone across the UK. In this time of covid a recession could occur, and many jobs are already at risk. We would not wish one of the outcomes of covid to be a further tragic impact on those with disabilities.
Government mantras of “building back better” and “levelling up” can and should include people with disabilities and Down’s syndrome, making every aspect of society richly diverse and productive. I will conclude with a quote from a young lady, Kate Powell, which was provided to me by the Down’s Syndrome Association:
“Being a person with Down’s Syndrome makes me proud. I am a person to make a difference to a lot of people. That’s me. We may find things difficult, everyone does. We should tell people about Down’s Syndrome—the more people the better. Being a person with Down’s Syndrome I can do anything in life. We may need help to do the things we want to do in life. It is good to see people with Down’s Syndrome achieving their dreams. That’s my dream.”
That, Madam Deputy Speaker, should represent all our dreams.
When I was born in 1949, the life expectancy of someone with Down’s syndrome was 12 years. The life expectancy now, we hope, is somewhere in the 60s or 70s. I am sure the Minister will agree that we have to find a way to employ these people properly, and not just because, as some people would say, they are disabled; in my view, they are not.
I appreciate that this is a really sensitive topic, but we know that coming into the world is a real challenge for somebody with Down’s syndrome. Will the Minister go away and look again at the conversations that are had with parents who are diagnosed in pregnancy with somebody with Down’s syndrome and see how we can change that conversation, so that people can understand the positivity of bringing up a child and raising someone into adulthood with Down’s syndrome?
Briefly, the Minister touched on the point that the regulations amend previous regulations that have been in force for some time. Something which, I suspect, Opposition Members will raise is the incidence rate, based on testing. As my hon. Friend the Member for Redcar (Jacob Young) said, there are other measures on hospitalisations and other things. Can the Minister set out some of the evidence that demonstrates that the measures that have been introduced in the Liverpool area are likely to have some prospect of working, because that will be important in reassuring our constituents that the Government have got a grip on the situation?
Does the Minister agree that as the virus is coming roaring back, particularly in areas such as my constituency, now is the wrong time to be getting rid of the furlough, and that if we are going to have extra restrictions, we also really need much greater extra support so that we can compensate and look after business owners and individuals that have to self-isolate or close?
I thank my hon. Friend for her Department’s approach to the Teesside restrictions—for not including Teesside as one whole, homogenous bloc, as some people wanted, but viewing the individual parts, such as Middlesbrough, Hartlepool, Redcar and Cleveland, as separate entities.
I thank the Minister for setting this out so clearly and concisely because this is really difficult. The International Trade Secretary said on the radio this morning that we need to suppress this virus until the vaccine comes. The problem I have—today we are discussing these areas, but we could be discussing any area, including my area, next—is that, if the vaccine comes, when the vaccine comes, we then have all sorts of challenges around roll-out, efficacy and the long-term stay of that vaccine. Is the Government’s view that we need to suppress this virus until the vaccine comes and then science is going to ride to our rescue, or is there a bigger plan, a next plan, to think about how we live with this virus for the long term, which the Prime Minister and the Chancellor keep referring to?
On the subject of this SI, what does the Minister think the impact was of the eat out to help out scheme in places such as Bolton? When it was introduced, the rate per 100,000 was more than 10 times that of central London. Does she believe it has had an impact, and if so, what?
Colleagues will be aware that this is an extremely short debate. To have any chance of getting everyone in—the Minister can come back at the end to respond to points that have been made—I will impose a three-minute time limit on Back-Bench speeches.
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In the brief time available, I would like to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne North (Catherine McKinnell) and make several points. This is tough, and it is difficult for many residents to understand the different shades of restrictions and so on. We should not underestimate the effect on those people who cannot see as many people as they used to see, even in the recent past. It is particularly hard on people with relatives in care homes, who are finding it really difficult not to see members of their family.
The seven local authorities in the north of the north-east, if I can put it that way, took a proactive approach to try to counteract the spread, prevent further infection and keep the rate down, but there were asks when they came to Government with that, as well as proposed restrictions to help us manage and come out of further measures in as healthy an economic state as possible. The first ask was to have a test and trace system locally, run by local authorities. There was a call for a localised track and trace service, because our public health teams, our local NHS and our councils know our area and are best placed to follow through on that action, so it is really important that we follow that. Secondly, those local authorities asked for support for businesses most affected, as we have heard—hospitality, retail, leisure, pubs and restaurants, which have all been affected by the 10 pm curfew and, as other hon. Members have said, by the fear of going out. We need extra measures and funding effectively to manage the situation locally and to make sure that we can come out with viable jobs in place.
On Tuesday, I asked the Secretary of State about local test and trace. In his reply, he said that the Government had given £10 million for local track and trace services, but our councils do not appear to have heard about that. Can the Minister confirm that that £10 million has been made available? It is particularly important in the light of the fiasco of the unreported test results last week that we have a really effective test and trace service, so can the Minister confirm that £10 million is there?
As a co-chair of the all-party parliamentary group on adult social care, I meet weekly with a working group drawn from across the care sector. Providers on that group report that they are still experiencing delays in receiving weekly test results, still have no routine access to weekly testing for domiciliary care workers or staff working in supported living environments and urgently need regular testing for family members to alleviate the terrible isolation of care home residents from their loved ones. When will the care sector have all the access to testing that it needs on a reliable basis to stop the second wave of coronavirus delivering the utter tragedy and devastation of the first to the care sector?
This week, the president of the Association of Directors of Public Health said that the funding is just not there for local authorities to effectively run local contact tracing. Where it has been done, at a cost to the local authority, evidence shows that local teams were more likely to be successful in contacting people compared with the national tiers 2 and 3. Can the Minister tell me why the Government keep insisting that the current track and trace system is working when public health professionals are telling them the opposite?
Schools in my constituency are having to close, disrupting children’s education and the work of their parents. Serco’s test and trace has been an unmitigated disaster. It is more than an extraordinary waste of public money; it is a public health crisis. To make matters worse, Ministers signed off on a wholly inappropriate Excel spreadsheet, blowing billions and leaving thousands of contacts untraced. When I asked the Secretary of State last week when he was going to take personal responsibility, he simply boasted that the system was working brilliantly. When does the Minister think her boss, the Secretary of State, will begin to take personal responsibility for this fiasco?
In the light of the fact that infection levels in York have risen from 63.1 cases per 100,000 to 143.9 cases per 100,000 in just the past seven days, the local public health team is working with the university and local labs, and together they have put together a programme where they can test, process the testing and do contact tracing. This is a testing service that works for York, with test results the next day and tracers who understand local population flows. Will the Minister put the necessary resources in place to enable them to do their work and allow this to happen, because this is surely the game changer we need to beat this virus?
With covid, speed is of the essence, but people are struggling to get a test due to limited capacity at the Lighthouse labs. New labs were due to open in Newport in August and in Loughborough last month, but both are delayed. As NHS labs are having to take on more testing, can the Minister say what additional funding will be provided specifically to increase NHS lab capacity?
Scotland’s public health-based tracing service has reached over 95% of contacts, yet four months on, the Serco system in England has still only reached 61%. As finding contacts and getting them to isolate is critical to reducing covid spread, should not tracing in England now be based more on local public health teams?
I am not going to ask about the current problems with test and trace, because it is clear from what we have heard already that the Government have no answers on that. Instead, I will ask about the so-called moonshot tests and Dido Harding’s comments that some people will have to pay for them. When the Prime Minister was given a chance in the Chamber, a fortnight ago, to deny that was on the table, he did not take it. We have real concerns about creating a two-tier system for tests where some people have to pay. It undermines a fundamental principle of the NHS and will do nothing to stop the spread of the virus. Will the Minister give us a definitive answer today? Are some people going to have to pay to access the moonshot tests, yes or no?
I thank the Secretary of State and Ministers for their focus on Dorset County Hospital in the recent investment announcements, but in my West Dorset constituency, I have totally unacceptable waiting times of up to two years for EHCPs for children and their parents. That is totally unacceptable. They face the most difficult of situations and, I am afraid, are losing hope. Will the Minister help me in supporting these desperate children and parents who need to get their EHCPs done?
Break in Debate
What steps he is taking with the Secretary of State for Education to ensure that university students with (a) cystic fibrosis and (b) other long-term health conditions who are required to self-isolate on campus as a result of the covid-19 outbreak have access to essential (i) medication, (ii) dietary provision and (iii) medical care. 
Self-isolating students throughout the country, and their understandably worried parents, are reporting problems with accessing food, drinks, exercise and other support. That is completely unacceptable for any student, but for those with cystic fibrosis, who often need high calorie requirements to stay well, access to regular food supplies is absolutely essential for their health. What is the Minister doing to ensure that students with CF who are required to self-isolate at university and have previously shielded are able to access priority supermarket delivery slots? Many will have relied on their parents’ accounts when they were at home. What other action is she taking, in partnership with universities and the Department for Education, to ensure that every student with CF who finds themselves in lockdown is supported on their healthcare needs?
What steps his Department is taking to increase covid-19 laboratory testing capacity. 
Break in Debate
I have been contacted by Ann Penrose, who is 91, in good health and in a care home in Ashbourne, Derbyshire Dales. She asked her family to contact Boris, but sadly she got me. Does the Minister agree that the time has come to look very carefully at what is happening in care homes to review the existing measures, routines and guidelines, bearing in mind that we are testing so much now? We need to have a bit more humanity. We are in danger of throwing the baby out with the bathwater. These people need their families, yes, in a safe environment, but they do need to have access to families and, at times, to their pets.
I thank the Minister for the social care winter plan announced two weeks ago. Can she tell me when this half a billion pound infection control fund will be released to councils covering constituencies such as mine in Congleton, in order to help protect residents and staff over the winter?
As always, I commend the Department and the Secretary of State on their work during the pandemic. Although not every part of the response has been perfect—and we never expected that it would be—I am convinced that the Department has done its utmost to protect the public. I do have some concerns, however, about the transmission between care homes. What measures has the Department taken to prevent cross-contamination of covid between care homes, particularly from staff who work in multiple locations?
Care homes are rightly the focus of our attention at the current time, but I know that the Minister is reviewing the future of social care. Does she agree that our focus in that regard should be on more community-based services, not solely on residential provision? Will she also set my mind at ease by ruling out the creation of a new national care service run from Whitehall?
Families with loved ones in care homes are desperate to start visiting again, but are banned from doing so in swathes of the country with extra restrictions. The Government’s own carers advisory group says that visits are essential for residents’ health, and that, to make them safe, relatives should be treated like key workers—with regular testing. Will the Minister now please put that testing in place and lift the blanket ban on care home visits in lockdown areas, so that we can help to bring all families back together again?
The regulations were obviously made and brought into force ahead of the commitment that the Secretary of State made to the House last week. Given that the regulations that we are debating today cover the whole of England and are obviously of very great significance, will the Minister confirm that regulations of this nature would in future be covered by the Secretary of State’s commitment and would be brought for debate and decision in this House before they came into force? Would that also apply to, for example, the self-isolation regulations, which have not yet been debated by this House and which are also significant? I want to ensure that we are following through on the commitments that the Government made last week, and that this House will get to debate measures that cover the whole country and are of great significance.
I think the Minister knows what I am going to ask. I asked it last Monday in the general debate and her colleague, the Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St Edmunds (Jo Churchill), chose not to respond in the wind-up, so I will ask it again: what is the rationale for including children under the age of those who have to wear masks in the rule of six? I am asking not about the fact that it is happening, but the rationale.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for indulging me a second time. The point of our arguing for that was insisting that Ministers had to set out their arguments and the evidence. I understand that one of the key ways of transmitting the virus is social contact, and that as the regulations have been in force for three weeks, they would lapse if this House did not debate and vote on them in the next four days, but what evidence is there that the measures are actually having an effect on reducing the rise in cases of the virus? Having looked at the data, I do not see any evidence that they are having any practical effect. We want to see action—yes—but we want the right action to be taken which will have the effect that we all wish to see.
I am grateful to the Minister for what she has said. What she seemed to be saying was that it is too soon to tell. It is very clear from the test and trace data that the primary location for infection is in people’s households and among visitors to households. Clearly, the rule of six may have an impact on visitors to households. May I ask her to make sure that the Government publish the data as they track it out each week?
The Minister also talked about compliance. The Government keep referring to how well people are complying with regulations—or not. They do not publish any data on that. Will the Government publish the compliance data to which they have access, so that we can all see the extent to which people are complying with the rules? There is no point making rules if no one is following them. That is an important matter for this House to be aware of when it is assenting to them.
I am very grateful to the Minister for giving way. We are three weeks in and we know that a different model is being applied in Scotland. At what point would she expect to be able to form a judgment as to whether the Scottish approach, excluding young children from the rule of six, is less effective, as effective, or more effective than that in England?
Order. The Minister has completed her speech. She is due to come back at the end of the debate, although hon. and right hon. Members who wish to speak must bear that in mind if they wish her to speak again, because this is just a 90-minute debate.
Break in Debate
I am grateful to my hon. Friend.
My hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale West (Sir Graham Brady) pressed the Minister on this: if the evidence is not available as to whether these regulations have been effective so far, perhaps she could give an indication of what sort of time period the Government are looking at. I think everyone in the House wants the Government to be successful in driving down the rate of infection, but I pick up the point raised by the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Tim Farron). If the Government bring in a measure because they think it is going to work and it simply does not—we are learning things about this virus all the time—it is not only not harmful but positively sensible for the Government to say, “This one didn’t work. We tried it. We are going to stop doing this, and we will take a different course that we think will be more successful.” That sort of attitude would secure a great deal of support from the House and, I think, from the public.
Perhaps the Minister could say a little about when we should see this kicking in. I raise this because tomorrow we will debate the specific local lockdown regulations for the north-west and the north-east. Mr Deputy Speaker, you have a particular interest in this matter, given the location of your constituency. Some of these regulations in some parts of the country have been in force for quite considerable periods of time, and, apart from in one place, there is no evidence that they are having an effect on bearing down on the virus. In that case, all they are doing is causing economic damage without actually delivering a health benefit. At that point, the Government should reflect on whether the regulations are working and think again.
I draw my remarks to a close. I hope for those reassurances about the other two sets of regulations I talked about. We will expect them to be debated on the Floor of the House if the Government remain true to the Secretary of State’s commitment last week, which I welcome. I welcome the fact that it is being brought into force tomorrow, as we debate the north-west and north-east regulations. I look forward to the Minister saying a little more about evidence. I am grateful that she is going to have around 12 minutes to do so, which gives us an opportunity to probe her a little further.
Nobody is suggesting that we let the virus rip; radical as I may be, I cited some supportive passages in my remarks. The Minister says that the virus is deadly. We all accept it is deadly for people who have prior risk factors, which raise the infection fatality rate, but is it not the truth that for a great many people who are younger and without prior conditions this is not an especially deadly disease? We knew that at the beginning; we know it today. It is deadly for a certain section of our society, and it is them we are looking after. Can we please be honest about that?
I just wanted to challenge the Minister on this let it rip point, as the Secretary of State has done that as well. I ask the Minister to take it from me that we all want the Government to be successful, but if every time somebody asks a question or posits a different strategy, we are accused of wanting to “let it rip” and kill tens of thousands of people, this debate will not remain good tempered. Please accept that we are all trying to get this right. We are all willing to be generous, because, as the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Tim Farron) said, this is difficult, but I ask the Minister please not to say that Members of this House who suggest a different strategy in order to be successful want to let the disease rip and kills tens of thousands of people. We do not, and we will not be pleased if that is what we are accused of doing.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and that neatly leads me on to the APPG’s second proposal. I appreciate that the NHS is rather busy at the moment with public health messaging of one kind or another, but awareness of AS remains low and support for an awareness campaign would help to significantly raise the visibility of the condition not only among the public, but among GPs.
Thirdly, the APPG suggests encouraging the routine adoption of minimum service specifications across the NHS to help to reassure patients, particularly in the context of covid-19 and the difficulties many patients face in accessing key services during the recent lockdown. I would welcome any opportunity to meet Ministers separately to discuss those proposals in detail, if that were possible.
I will leave the last word to Zoë Clark, who addressed the APPG’s last physical meeting in January. She told attendees how, after getting AS symptoms aged 20, incorrect diagnoses and the impact of her condition left her socially isolated and unable to live independently, at a time when she was trying to complete a demanding four-year master’s degree in osteopathy. She said that living with undiagnosed AS was a frightening time and she ended up having to largely sacrifice her social life, due to the difficulties of balancing her degree with the pain and fatigue she regularly experienced.
No one should have to wait eight and a half years to find out what is wrong with them. I hope that we can begin to put that right.