I have just waxed lyrical about the value of Scotland working with the UK Government and of Northern Ireland working with the UK Government, and my hon. Friend almost chastises me for not mentioning Wales. Of course working with Wales is incredibly important—look at the Wockhardt fill-finish plant. The number of people who have been vaccinated in this country with a product that is manufactured in Wales measures in the tens of millions, including me. We should all be very proud of that, and I look forward to working with my new Welsh counterpart, the Minister for Health in Wales, and making sure that we use all capabilities across these islands to get us back on the road to recovery.
It is really clear that we are removing restrictions. I am delighted that we are able to remove restrictions, such as the absolute restrictions on close physical contact, and rely more on people’s personal responsibility. In order to do that, we are providing the best possible advice that we can, such as to hug, but cautiously. Everybody knows what that means: it means outside is better than inside, it means making sure it is in ventilated spaces and it means that those who have had the vaccine, and in particular two vaccines, are safer than those who have not.
It is incumbent on us all to communicate these messages from our scientists and to make sure that people understand them. I am pretty sure that the British public get that. Given how brilliantly people have responded to requests during the pandemic, I am highly confident that this approach will be successful and that people will be cautious, but enjoy the new freedoms that we are thankfully able to give.
I would be very happy to ensure that the children of Bite Back 2030 meet the Minister for public health, my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St Edmunds (Jo Churchill), who leads on these matters, and my hon. Friend is right to raise that incredibly important point.
Yes, absolutely, and we will be writing to all those who are shielding to set out the details so that they get a personal copy of those guidelines. What I would say is that the rates of covid now are much lower than when we paused shielding in the past, so this is not just because of the vaccination programme—which of course has benefited many people who are shielding, and we know that the first dose brings huge safety and benefit already—but is also because the rates of covid are so much lower.
Yesterday, the Government published the road map that will put us cautiously but, we hope, irreversibly on the path towards reclaiming our freedoms once more. We are able to take these steps because of the resolve of people across the UK and the extraordinary success in vaccinating more than 17.7 million people—one in every three adults across the UK—and I would like to pay tribute to everyone who has played their part.
The hon. Lady is a long-standing and passionate campaigner for Kuvan, and I pay tribute to the work that she has done. The NICE methods review looks at the question she raises. It is important that we have a clinically-led process for approval of medicines, and I know she agrees with that. The question is ensuring that the details live up to that principle. The methods review will make sure that we take advantage of advances in medical technology, which will, I hope, allow us to bring drugs and treatments to patients of rare diseases who need them more quickly than in the past.
Yes. Across England, we have set the goal of having a vaccination centre within 10 miles of where anybody lives. It is harder in more rural parts, such as my hon. Friend’s constituency, of course. We are absolutely willing to support the Welsh NHS in delivery locally. In fact, the British armed services are involved in support of the roll-out across Wales, as they are in England. I am happy to meet my hon. Friend to discuss what more we can do to ensure that people can get the vaccination as easily and closely as possible in her sparse and very beautiful constituency.
Yes on both counts. We looked at Leicestershire in great detail and I wish that we could have taken the county and the city out of tier 3. Unfortunately the data did not support that conclusion. I am grateful to everybody across Leicestershire, because I know that this has been a long, hard slog with measures in place for a long time.
We are absolutely determined to build back better. That needs to involve tackling long-term underlying health inequalities. A huge programme of work will be needed to do that, after the pandemic has demonstrated those inequalities.
People in Gateshead have done a great job of getting the case rate down. Like other areas, it is still in tier 3—we are not quite there yet. I know that my team and the hon. Lady’s local director of public health have been talking about getting Gateshead and the rest of the north-east into tier 2 when we can. I hope that we can do that, but for now, let us be cautious and keep this under control.
Yes, my hon. Friend is absolutely right. Just as when students go home for Christmas, we are able to use the massive testing capacity that we have built up to ensure that they do so safely, so we propose to use testing to allow students to return safely. It is rather like the previous answer I just gave about being able to use testing instead of isolation in schools. I say gently to the hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr Perkins) who, as he sat down, muttered about this: it is far better to work together, and it is only because of the massive testing capacity that has been built up through the actions of this Government that this is possible. We have the biggest testing capacity in Europe and we can use it for keeping people safe in schools and for allowing people to go safely to and from universities. This is exactly the sort of empowerment that we now have as a result of the huge testing programme that we have built.
I am very happy to ensure that the JCVI takes all the appropriate considerations into account. However, it is not my decision to look at again. My decision is that we should follow the clinical advice. I think we should respect the JCVI, which is hugely expert in the clinical advice it gives.
We carefully considered this issue, consulted on it and discussed it widely. Christmas is a national holiday, as well as being very much a Christian celebration. That is reflected, for instance, in the fact that we have two days of bank holidays. We consulted members of different faiths around precisely the question that my hon. Friend rightly raises, and there was a strong degree of support for having something special in place for Christmas for everybody, even though we have not been able to put that in place for Hanukkah or for other celebrations of other faiths.
I agree, of course, with what Professor Jonathan Van-Tam said. He is a very fine scientist and a brilliant man. Right now, no one is looking for political differences for politics’ sake. What people are looking for is for people to come together to make the right decisions in the national interest or the local interest, and to take these decisions as locally as possible to make sure that we support people as much as possible: take action where it is necessary, but make sure that we do not take action where it is not necessary.
We are working very closely with the local leadership in the north-east and with colleagues. It was very good to see the hon. Lady on a Zoom call recently to discuss this. It is important that we take the action if it is necessary, but there are early signs that the number of cases in the north-east is starting to flatten. In the first instance, that is happening among younger people, and I am still worried about the number of cases among the over-60s, who, of course, are the people who are most likely to end up in hospital or worse. So we will keep a very close eye on the situation, but we have no imminent plans to make a change. If the clinical advice were to change and we needed to move urgently, then, of course, we would seek to do that with the support of the local area.
My right hon. Friend makes an important point and, in a way, highlights that it is not just the case rate that matters; it is also the rate of change of the case rate, the over-60s case rate and the impact on hospitals. In the case of London, cases are over 100 per 100,000, which is a worrying level, but I really hope that the measures, and the people of London and all those who work here, can bring the case rate down so we can get out of it as fast as possible. Team London is, in fact, working on a proposed strategy for coming out of level 2, but the first thing that everybody in London has to do is follow the rules to get the rate of increase down, because it is only then that we can even start to consider the next steps.
We have put in the extra resource that the hon. Lady mentions, which is important. Not only has the extra resource gone in, but we are hiring people to do the work and building the buildings in which it can be done. She raises an important point about the need to recover the backlog. I am really glad that in areas such as cancer and many others, the backlog is being worked through, but there is still more work to do.
We are doing a huge amount of work to trial these next-generation tests at the same time as expanding the current testing capability. For instance, if we have to have a test, would it not be easier if we just needed some of our saliva rather than to having to put the swab all the way up our nose and down the back of our throat? These sorts of improvements in technology are in the pipeline and we are working incredibly hard to bring them to bear as soon as possible.
Yes. We put an extra £10 million into the local authorities in the north-east to support contact tracing and we are also stitching together the data feeds between the national system and each of the individual local authorities in the north-east. We will keep working hard on that project. I will keep listening to the needs of the local authorities in the north-east and across the rest of the country.
My hon. Friend makes an important point. He represents the oldest constituency in the country, so this is an important matter for him and his constituents. This comes back to the central point that it is critical to get the right balance between the measures we take nationally and those we take locally, according to local rates of infection.
Of course I am working to exactly that end. If somebody has the symptoms of coronavirus, they should self-isolate even if they cannot get a test. I understand how frustrating that is, and I am working as hard as I can to try to get those turnaround times as fast as possible.
Yes, absolutely. As I mentioned in my statement, I want to see the A&E in Chorley reopen as soon as is safely possible. My hon. Friend is right that we have put in a huge amount of support, and we all want to see it reopening. I look forward to the day—I hope soon—when we can announce that that has happened.
Yes, I will happily work with the hon. Lady on that question. It is a challenge, because of the problem of intergenerational transmission of the virus—I am sure she understands that side of it—so it is an important balance that we need to strike.
If people have symptoms of coronavirus, they should self-isolate and get a test. We have heard examples—of course we have—of people having challenges getting tests. I am very glad, though, that in two of the cases that my hon. Friend outlined, home tests have been sent. In the third case, there was clearly a technical problem, given that the barcode is emailed to people who supply their email address. People with covid symptoms need to self-isolate and then, if somebody gets a positive test result, their households also have to self-isolate. These policies are absolutely critical to the control of the virus.
Yes, absolutely. The hon. Lady is right to raise this. We are putting more support into mental health services, but there is a challenge, especially with people who were not able to access mental health services during the lockdown and therefore their condition got worse and more acute. This is an area that I am working on closely. I have had meetings with the Royal College of Psychiatrists throughout the crisis. I would also like to correct or amend a response I gave in a previous exchange, about which the hon. Lady has written to me, when I said that the number of suicides had fallen. The fact is that the number of suicides reported has fallen, but there are concerns about how many were able to be reported because of delays with coroners. I just want to put on record my correction to that fact, in acknowledgement of the problems in reporting. I reported on the figures as fact, but we should report that those figures are the reported facts.
Very soon. As the UK Secretary of State, I urge all people in Scotland to download the app. I know that the Scottish Government’s app is technically excellent and I strongly endorse it, as I will strongly endorse people in England to download the English app, people in Wales to download the Welsh app and people in Northern Ireland to download the Northern Ireland app to support the whole of the UK to do everything we all can to tackle this problem.
Yes. I want to protect all the residents of Ilkley from the disease. As we have got the number of new infections right down to between 5,000 and 6,000 each day, according to the ONS—a long way below where it was at the peak—and as the number of deaths has fallen, I want to keep that down. Where there is evidence of a specific cluster or flare-up, we will take local action that will help to protect the residents of Ilkley, elsewhere in Yorkshire and throughout the country, so that we can then safely release other lockdown measures while keeping the community safe.
I will say three things in response to my right hon. Friend’s questions. On special schools, one of the carve-outs in the closure of schools was keeping open schools for those who are vulnerable, including those with special educational needs. The Bill includes a power to enable us to move from that position, but we do not propose to exercise it unless absolutely necessary. The position therefore is that if someone wishes to send their child to a special school, that is fine. It was one of the specific carve-outs. In the same way, if a key worker needs to send their child to school and cannot look after them at home, schools are available.
My right hon. Friend asked about care. I want to make it clear that for people who are volunteering in response to covid-19 and those who are caring, even if their responsibilities are unpaid or informal, they are okay to do that and should do that. They should stay more than 2 metres away from others wherever possible, but that has to be a practical instruction, because of course we need to care for people. As I said in the statement, travel allows for caring, and I want to make it clear that volunteering in the response to covid-19 is a legitimate reason to travel. For example, the increasing numbers of volunteers in the NHS are important. Although it is not paid work, it is work in the national effort to respond to covid-19.
My third point is that the Patient Safety, Suicide Prevention and Mental Health Minister is sitting next to me and close to me, because she has recovered and all the evidence shows that people cannot catch covid-19 twice, at least not in quick succession. I welcome her back to her place.
I am grateful for the constructive tone in which the hon. Gentleman asked the questions. This is an example of the House working well, because he and I have sometimes had cross words across this Chamber, but he has asked these two questions quite rightly. The advice given on 111 has to be dependent on the circumstances presented to the clinician giving that advice on the other end of the phone. It is really important that I do not fetter their discretion, but if he comes to me with details of the individual case and wants me to double-check that his constituent got the right advice, I am happy to do so.
On the second point, the deputy chief medical officer had a discussion with the Prime Minister today that was videoed and put on Facebook, and in that she was clear on this question about masks. There is not an advantage in wearing a mask if you are healthy—that is the advice from the medics here—but there is an advantage in respect of keeping others safe if someone who is ill wears a mask. There are also examples of when medical staff will need to wear the right type of mask to keep them safe. But the general advice is: don’t wear a mask unless you are advised to by PHE; or if you are ill, it is perfectly reasonable to wear a mask to stop infecting others—that is an act of generosity.
Absolutely. I agree very much with the hon. Lady about the importance of sign language and the signing of this session. I thank the House authorities for arranging it.
Yes, new guidance on care homes will be put out this week. If the hon. Lady passes on the details of her individual case to the Minister for Care, I am sure that my hon. Friend will be happy to look at it.
The hon. Gentleman makes an incredibly important point. General practice, where 90% of all NHS appointments take place, needs to reach every part of this country, including his beautiful constituency, which is, as he says, very sparse. Of course we need to ensure that the practices there are sustainable, and again this is an area in which technology can be of particular help. There is great enthusiasm for using technology so that the travelling times of patients and sometimes of GPs can be reduced.
I will rattle through as fast as I can, Mr Deputy Speaker, but I also want to take as many interventions as I can, if that is okay. [Interruption.] No, okay, no interventions. That is an unusual request from the House, if I may say so. [Laughter.]
Putting social care on a sustainable footing, where everybody is treated with dignity and respect, is one of the biggest challenges we face as a society. The Prime Minister has said that we will bring forward a plan for social care this year. These are complex questions and the point my hon. Friend raises is very important.
The draft legislation on the long-term plan Bill aims to help us to: speed up the delivery of the long-term plan; reduce bureaucracy; and help to harness the potential of genomics and other new technologies. I hope the House will support it.
The third piece of proposed legislation is the medicines and medical devices Bill. We are at an important moment in the life sciences. This country can and will be at the forefront as the NHS gets access to new medicines and new treatments earlier, so patients can benefit from scientific breakthroughs sooner.