There have been 13 exchanges between Mary Kelly Foy and Department of Health and Social Care
|Mon 14th December 2020||Covid-19||3 interactions (642 words)|
|Tue 8th December 2020||Covid-19 Vaccine Roll-out||3 interactions (94 words)|
|Thu 12th November 2020||Smokefree England: Covid-19 and PHE Abolition||5 interactions (2,699 words)|
|Tue 10th November 2020||Covid-19 Update||3 interactions (83 words)|
|Mon 2nd November 2020||Covid-19||3 interactions (642 words)|
|Tue 6th October 2020||Oral Answers to Questions||7 interactions (109 words)|
|Mon 28th September 2020||Covid-19||3 interactions (519 words)|
|Mon 21st September 2020||Covid-19 Update||3 interactions (21 words)|
|Tue 14th July 2020||Coronavirus Update||3 interactions (69 words)|
|Mon 8th June 2020||Covid-19: R Rate and Lockdown Measures||3 interactions (84 words)|
|Tue 2nd June 2020||Covid-19 Response||3 interactions (81 words)|
|Mon 18th May 2020||Covid-19 Response||3 interactions (116 words)|
|Wed 4th March 2020||Health Inequalities||3 interactions (1,073 words)|
I am one of a number of colleagues speaking from the Government Benches this evening who was elected for the first time a year ago. On that joyous night, I do not think any of us foresaw quite what we were about to face over the past year. I hope that we have done our best and served our constituencies to the best of our abilities, but it has been a sharp learning curve, and I certainly did not expect to have to start a speech a year on saying that I send my sincerest condolences to those who have lost their lives in my constituency and elsewhere over the past year. It has been a time of tremendous challenge and one that I hope I never have to live through again.
There have been a number of covid debates over the past few months and I have not always been able to get on to the call list, so Members should forgive me as I add my general thank yous to so many people who have stepped up and done amazing things over the past few months. I include, of course, our NHS workers. My constituency is blessed to be served by three fantastic hospitals: Chesterfield Royal Hospital; King’s Mill Hospital; and Bassetlaw Hospital. The overwhelming consensus is that those three hospitals have been absolutely superb and have served my constituents and others with tremendous distinction. The care home staff, many of whom I have spoken to, have done such wonderful things. Let me mention in particular the care home managers who were so forthright and so determined to keep their homes safe. Some of the most emotional phone calls that I have had over the past few months have been with those care home managers who have taken on this project so passionately and so personally.
I pay tribute to the community groups and volunteers who have stepped up and served so selflessly. They have made sure that people have had food to eat and people to talk to and have done such amazing work. I also pay tribute to all those who have shielded and who have sacrificed themselves to keep safe. Then, of course, there are all those who have kept working as well. We so often forget those who have kept going, so I pay tribute to those in manufacturing jobs; to the shopkeepers who have served their communities; to the supermarket staff; to our rubbish collectors; to our council staff; to our postal workers; and to so many others. There are too many to mention and to list, but it has been a profoundly moving experience to hear so many wonderful stories.
This has been a challenge for our nation, the like of which I have not known in my lifetime. It was back in February and March when what was happening with this virus really dawned on us. The news was filled with so many stories about having to start testing, and then having to secure PPE. It is quite amazing how far we have come in that time. The fact is that we now have national producers and manufacturers of PPE, which effectively means that we can be self-sufficient. We have warehouses full of the stuff to protect our NHS workers and it all happened in such a short space of time. Then there is the fact that we can now carry out more than 500,000 tests every single day. I remember when we were carrying out about 1,000 tests and when 100,000 tests seemed a mile away. There are so many people who have been involved in making that happen. Again, the list is too long to mention, but we must not lose sight of how far we have come.
Then, of course, we have the vaccine: to think that we have so many vaccines ready to come down the track, as long as we get the approval; to think that we were the first country in the world to approve a vaccine; and to think that, last week, we started getting that vaccine out to people across this country. What a moment of hope and pride that was for this country.
So much nonsense has been written on social media and allowed to circulate about this vaccine and about its so-called evil effects. I am sure that Bill Gates is over the moon that he controls us all, day in, day out, but we must not let that nonsense put people off from having this vaccine, because it will save lives. Everybody who can have it, should have it. It is incumbent on every Member of this House and every right-minded person to say, “That is absolute nonsense. This vaccine is safe.” It has been tested to the highest possible standards, and we should not circulate anything other than that—sorry, Mr Gates.
We should also remember our economic support and quite how much has been pumped into our economy. The level of Government action and support that we have seen over the past few months is unprecedented. I appreciate that there are Members in every part of this House who will say, “What about x sector, what about y sector?” I have tremendous sympathy with some of those arguments, but we must not lose sight of that bigger picture.
I share many of the concerns raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Gravesham (Adam Holloway), because there are two particular sectors that need highlighting. One is the events industry and the other is pubs and hospitality. I agreed with the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle (Emma Hardy) when she said that pubs are at the heart of northern and midlands communities, and that they play a special role. We are asking certain industries that are reliant on people coming together to suspend that for the moment, which is a tremendous challenge. We need to look at those particular industries again and question whether we are doing all that we can for them.
We had a wonderful moment in Derbyshire on Saturday, when the Government announced the local authorities that will begin community testing. I am incredibly grateful to the Minister. I have spoken to her and several of her colleagues at the Department of Health and Social Care to ensure that we get community testing in Derbyshire. The plan at the moment is that Derbyshire County Council will roll out five testing sites across Bolsover. This is a vital step in making sure that we eradicate the virus locally. Lateral flow tests have an important role in that.
I cannot thank the Department enough for its proactive engagement. I place on the record my thanks to Derbyshire County Council and my fellow Conservative Derbyshire MPs, who worked together consistently and for very many hours over the past few weeks to ensure that our bid was as tight as it could be. The fact that testing is being rolled out in the next couple of weeks says an awful lot about the quality of the bid that was put together. It is a hugely important step for my constituency.
It is hard to overstate how difficult this period has been or the sacrifices my constituents have made to help us get the numbers back down and to help us in our bid to get into tier 2. I doubt there is an MP in the House who does not want to get out of tier 3 if they are in it. I understand that the Government will look at a wide range of data. I spoke to the Minister last week about my hope that the data will be made publicly available and that the decision will be made as transparently as possible. I also understand that the Department is rightly filled with a cautious bias: it understands that Christmas is coming and that that might have a certain impact, so it wants to take the safest possible course of action. However, I am sure I speak for all Derbyshire MPs when I say that we are desperate to get out of tier 3. I imagine that will be heard from other Members.
Finally, I want to touch on the impact this period has had on people’s mental health. It is hard to overstate the impact that taking away people’s daily routine and normal social contact has had. Those intimate moments that people have with their friends and family have been replaced with a climate of fear and uncertainty—fear of catching the disease and becoming ill; fear of what might happen if one of their relatives or friends catches the disease.
It is striking to find how many people I have talked to seem to have been impacted by this period. We are very lucky in that we get to come to this place of work. Many people have not had that and have spent many months being incredibly scared. I spoke to one young lady in my surgery on Friday called Cara, who spoke passionately about her love of ice skating. Not having ice skating in her life had taken away her entire routine, her social group and the structure that she is used to and loves. That is just one example of many conversations of that nature.
Yes, the Government have done remarkably well given all the circumstances; yes, I would like pubs to get more support; yes, the vaccine offers a source of hope that we all need, but I think we will be living with the mental after-effects of this disease for some time to come.
When I spoke in the general debate on covid last month, I accepted that the worsening statistics made it inevitable that England would face national restrictions, but in doing so I had hoped that Stoke-on-Trent would avoid tier 3. Sadly, that was not to be, given the rapid rise in cases and the pressures that our health system faced, and the new tier 3 that we are currently in is still more restrictive than what we had hoped to see.
Despite considerable progress locally, thanks to everyone’s efforts in getting rates down in Stoke-on-Trent, daily case numbers still remain relatively high, and the seven-day rate threatens once more to rise to in excess of 300 per 100,000. It would be a huge shame if the city slipped back, given the great progress we have already made. We must keep our focus on what matters most to each and every one of us, whether our families, our jobs, our mental health, our children, our grandparents or whatever it might be, and that relies on us getting out of tier 3 and defeating covid as soon as possible.
We have achieved so much working together—we have gone from being one of the worst 10 hotspots to being not even in the worst 30—yet as we approach Christmas and community testing and vaccines are being rolled out, a minority of people might be on the verge of throwing away the hard-won advances from the whole city’s efforts. Many families will be relieved that they can see loved ones over the Christmas period—many will not have seen one another for months—and many will want to see one another over this important period, but I urge people to be sensible and not take unnecessary risks.
The clear case we had hoped to see, and which we were close to seeing, for Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire leaving tier 3 now looks unlikely. As a number of hon. Members have already said, we are absolutely desperate to get out of tier 3, but the sad reality is that it looks like we will have to ask for further sacrifices and resolution to control the spread of this awful virus. Our NHS has taken the brunt locally—especially the Royal Stoke—and we will never be able to thank the staff enough for all they have done. We must continue to get the virus under control and help our hospitals, NHS and care workers who have faced unimaginable pressures—often at great risk to themselves—to care for others. The only way we can do that is by keeping covid rates down, reducing the numbers needing hospital treatment and saving lives. We can all play our part in that.
What is especially needed now is to get the last leg of testing systems right and ensure we identify the one in three cases thought to be asymptomatic. I am pleased to see an expansion in lateral flow community testing across Stoke-on-Trent and thank the city council and public health officials who made that possible for their work. They have done an incredible job. However, it is vital that the Government commit to expanding capacity further in Stoke-on-Trent over the Christmas and new year periods.
Alongside that, we are given hope, with the vaccination programme well under way, focused now on those most at risk and frontline health and care workers. It was hugely welcome to hear the deputy chief medical officer, Jonathan Van-Tam, suggest that through phase 1 of the vaccine roll-out up to 99% of covid deaths might be avoided. I know the vaccine roll-out in Stoke-on-Trent is progressing extremely well through the Royal Stoke, and it is starting in primary care facilities in our communities tomorrow. I am pleased to say that includes my own grandfather, Graham Brereton, who tells me he should receive a vaccine later this week.
There is much-needed light at the end of the tunnel, but it is vital to remember that we are still in that tunnel. We must continue to be vigilant and remember hands, face, space and avoid mixing households. Locally, in the weeks ahead we must focus absolutely on community testing and tracing and enforcing the restrictions to give us breathing space until the vaccine is more fully rolled out.
Thanks to the incredible advances of science, we are perhaps just a few months from returning to something resembling normality. I look to the Minister to tell us whether relative normality might be as little as 100 days away. Such a figure, if it is possible to give it, would really focus minds on how much longer the greatest sacrifices will last. We should not be restricting liberty, enterprise, socialising and leisure for a minute more than is necessary, but unfortunately right now—for a relatively short period of time—restrictions remain necessary. We see from Wales the risks of lifting restrictions too quickly, and with restrictions still in place—especially in tier 3—we must do everything possible to support our local businesses and protect jobs and livelihoods. I sympathise incredibly with all businesses forced to close and those that have had their livelihoods put on hold.
Covid has hit so many very hard. The extension of furlough to the end of March was hugely welcome, as was the extension of the self-employment income support scheme. For many businesses in Stoke-on-Trent, there has also been welcome grant support administered through the city council and loans for businesses that need them. Signposting support continues to be a top priority. The hospitality industry has been particularly hard hit, as has the events industry, which my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mark Fletcher) mentioned, and retailers are losing out on what is usually the busiest time of their year.
I was pleased to see the Prime Minister announce an additional £1,000 for wet pubs recently. It will be vital to ensure that businesses indirectly impacted by the closure of hospitality, events and leisure are supported. My right hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire Moorlands (Karen Bradley) and I will be meeting local businesses tomorrow to discuss their needs in the months ahead. I will continue to push for additional support where it is needed, to get our economy back on track.
It is at the local, everyday level that we will control the spread while we wait for the extraordinary science of vaccination, and improving treatment and testing will enable us to erase restrictions. We must be willing to enforce all measures in an even-handed and proportionate way, which I know has been the case across Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire, with Staffordshire police doing an excellent job. In Stoke-on-Trent, successful enforcement action, from iteration of advice to closure and fining of those who have repeatedly broken restrictions, strikes exactly the right balance. That action is necessary and, importantly, is seen to be necessary, with the end goal of mass vaccination clearly now in sight. Regular reviews of which areas belong in which tiers are essential, giving us hope that we can drop down those tiers in the future. I cannot begin to emphasise enough the urgency of opening up again as soon as it is safe to do so, not least for our pubs, restaurants and the leisure industry, and all in our hospitality and those linked to it.
There is huge hope for the future, with the progress of vaccination and more rapid testing. In the meantime, it is vital that we stick with these measures and face short-term sacrifices to give time for them to be rolled out. I will continue to encourage people to get tested and to hold the line in this final leg of our efforts to overcome covid-19.
The UK has put more money into the international search for a vaccine, and the distribution of a vaccine to the countries that otherwise would not be able to afford it, than any other state of any size, and we should be very proud of that. The way that we have managed the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine is to ensure that it is available on a not-for-profit basis, essentially, worldwide. We have taken this approach because, to put it exactly as my hon. Friend did, nobody is safe until everybody is safe. This is a global pandemic and we need to address it globally. That is the only fundamental way to solve this for the long term. In the short term, what we all need to do is keep following the rules.
We consider all those figures, and because we consider them alongside special factors such as whether there is an outbreak, we do not put a specific figure on that, as the hon. Lady well knows. But what we have done is put in more economic support than almost any other country in the world, as the International Monetary Fund has recognised. We have tried as best we possibly can to support people through what has been an incredibly difficult year. We have not been able to save every job, but with the economic measures of support for business and the furlough scheme in place, we have put in very significant support. But the best support that people in the north-east, and elsewhere in the country, can have until this vaccine is rolled out is to continue to follow the restrictions that are necessary and then, if they get the call from the NHS, take that vaccine.
May I start by congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for City of Durham (Mary Kelly Foy) on securing this debate and on her introductory speech? I am going to start in time-honoured speaking fashion by telling you, Minister, what I am going to ask you, and then elucidating on that—
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I will not seek to outdo my hon. Friend in his knowledge of music or, possibly, his expertise in this area, but I will certainly convey that point to my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St Edmunds.
Alongside tackling smoking in pregnancy, a big challenge is to reduce smoking rates in those with mental health problems, as the hon. Member for Blaydon said, which remain significantly higher than the general population at 42%. The NHS long-term plan will also offer a new universal smoking cessation offer, available as part of specialist mental health services for long-term users of those services and in learning disability services. The Minister for Patient Safety, Mental Health and Suicide Prevention, my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Bedfordshire (Ms Dorries) will be looking into that, working in close partnership with my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St Edmunds, because it is important that we have a joined-up approach. The hon. Member for Blaydon highlighted in her speech the excellent practice in some parts of the country and in some parts of the NHS and the fact that that is not replicated everywhere, which goes to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Winchester. It is important that we level up, to coin a phrase, across the country in using and sharing that best practice.
The Government are committed to a smokefree 2030, and we are developing the plans to ensure that is a reality. The plans will build on the good work already under way in the tobacco control plan and the commitments being delivered in the NHS long-term plan, to which, while the pandemic has obviously impacted on the NHS, we remain committed.
I said in my introduction that the UK is a world leader in tobacco control. That is demonstrated by how seriously the Government take our obligations as a signatory and party to the World Health Organisation’s framework convention on tobacco control, the FCTC. Tackling the harms caused by smoking is a global effort, with 8 million deaths a year worldwide linked to tobacco, 80% of which are low and middle-income country deaths.
The Government have invested up to £15 million in official development assistance funding to support the WHO’s FCTC 2030 five-year project, supporting up to 24 countries to improve their tobacco control and improve their population’s health. The project has received considerable praise from global public health and development communities and helped to raise the UK’s profile and strengthen our global reach. I am proud to say that the Department recently received a UN Inter-Agency Task Force on the Prevention and Control of Noncommunicable Diseases award for 2020 for the project. The project is in its final year and we are considering plans to extend it, depending on the Department’s spending review settlement for official development assistance. In a second, I shall address the point about the spending review raised by the hon. Member for City of Durham—I shall be very brief, as I am conscious that I need to leave a couple of minutes for her to reply at the end.
We continue to review the evidence on e-cigarettes, including their harms and usefulness in aiding smoking cessation. Although they are not risk-free, there is growing evidence that they can help people stop smoking, and they are particularly effective when combined with expert support from a local stop smoking service. The Government’s approach to the regulation of e-cigarettes has been and will remain pragmatic and evidence-based. The current regulatory framework aims to reduce the risk of harm to children, protect against the re-normalisation of tobacco use, provide assurance on relative safety for users and provide legal certainty for businesses. We will continue our work to appraise the evidence on new products, including e-cigarettes, and their role in helping smokers quit.
I note comments about proposals for future regulatory changes to help smokers quit smoking. Post transition period, this country will no longer have to comply with the EU’s tobacco products directive, and there will be opportunities to consider in the future regulatory changes that can help people quit smoking and address the harms from tobacco. Although there are no current plans for divergence, I would reassure the House that any future changes will be based on robust evidence in the interests of public health and will maintain this country’s ambitious and world-leading approach in this area.
The Department will be carrying out a post-implementation review of the Tobacco and Related Products Regulations 2016 and the standardised packaging of tobacco products by 20 May 2021 to see whether the regulations have met their objectives. Part of this review process will involve a public consultation to start before the end of the year for people to submit their views and evidence, and I hope that gives some greater clarity about timescales.
The Department has already conducted another post-implementation review and public consultation on various tobacco legislation, as the hon. Member for City of Durham mentioned, and we will publish a Government response shortly. I understand that the aim is to do so before the end of this year, although obviously a lot of work is being put into tackling the pandemic.
I hear what Members have said about the importance of public health grants and local authorities. Like the shadow Minister, I am a former cabinet member for public health. He would not, I suspect, like me to be tempted to try to fulfil the role of the Chancellor of the Exchequer by pre-empting the spending review. As for Public Health England and the future, we are engaging with stakeholders and will consider the best future arrangements for the wide range of non-health protection functions that currently sit in PHE. Our commitment to smokefree 2030 and to working collaboratively to maintain our ambitious agenda and our high standards in this area is undiminished; indeed, it is enhanced.
I understand the yearning for certainty. All I can say to my hon. Friend, in honesty, is that I want us to get back to normal as quickly as possible, and yesterday’s news is a big step forward, but it is not the only step. There are more steps that are needed. The scientists are now offering views on that sort of timetable, but the Government’s view is that we must make this happen as quickly as possible and be ready to roll out as fast as any safe vaccine can be manufactured, but we will not put safety at risk. That is a lodestar of the programme and therefore we have to await the clinical safety sign-off before we can take this to the next stage.
We are of course concerned about that and will put in enormous efforts to try to ensure that the take-up of the vaccine is as equal as possible. The starting principle is that we will roll out the vaccine according to clinical need across the whole UK, across all four nations, working of course through the devolved NHSs, which are going to be critical to actually delivering the vaccine in the devolved nations. But the procurement of this vaccine is a UK programme—we have been working very closely together—and in terms of the roll-out among deprived communities and harder-to-reach communities, we have a particular emphasis on trying to make sure that we get as equal a roll-out as possible. The starting point must be clinical need.
I understand that I am quickly building a reputation in this House for being somewhat grumpy and contrarian—[Hon. Members: “Building?”] Or indeed cementing the pinnacle of it. I can understand why those on the Front Bench may regard me as one of the characters from “The Muppet Show”; perhaps Statler and Waldorf—some cantankerous muppet perched high up in the gallery.
My brief remarks this evening, believe it or not, are meant to act as an encouragement to the Government in the work that they are doing, but I must begin by quoting the phrase, “We’re all in this together.” I have never found that phrase particularly convincing, not least because it is often expressed by those who tend to be all right regardless of the circumstances. During this pandemic, I fear that it is ringing hollow, despite the many valiant efforts of intervention made by the Government. I am afraid there is a great divide in the country—I say this with the best humour possible—between well-paid white-collar public sector workers such as us, who make the decisions and on whom there will be no economic effect, and those of our constituents who are suffering great financial hardship. There is considerable and understandable resentment from those who have, as a result of whatever technicality, been left behind.
Regrettably, the Government’s invidious policy choice in tackling this covid pandemic will inevitably impoverish society for a generation. The only means we have of limiting that impoverishment is finding a way out of a cycle of lockdowns. I think of those who are worse off than ourselves—those who are poorly housed; those who are insecurely employed; those who are victims of abuse; those with long-term mental health conditions; and indeed a younger generation entering a job market where they have little prospect of finding a job worthy of their qualifications and abilities.
There is understandable talk about and need for the Government to be positive and to boost morale—that is not something that one of my speeches could ever be accused of; I have never sought to boost morale particularly—but I gently suggest that “adequate” is a level of expectation that the country could understand and appreciate. My greatest concern of all is that there is a level of over-promising, and the greatest over-promise risks being the promise of a vaccine. We need to inculcate personal responsibility again in the population. It is an interesting observation that the more measures, rules and laws we pass, the less the sense of compliance, as things appear to be done to rather than with others.
There is much talk of this four-week semi-lockdown, if I can call it that. It is a four-week period that must be used wisely; as has been said, it is a time to sort out test and trace, but frankly I think it is also a time for the Government to reboot themselves—both their policy and their operation—and I dare say for us all to take that attitude too.
It has been a rather sombre debate this evening, and the subject matter is very serious, but I hope the House does not mind if I inject a bit of positivity for the next four minutes. I will start by highlighting the enormous financial package that has supported businesses, organisations, charities, arts and culture—a package that has sustained services run by our local councils, and has helped our health providers continue to care for us. In my constituency, over £92.5 million of bounce back and business interruption loans have been taken up so far. The ability to furlough staff and take advantage of the self-employed grants has been lauded by everyone I have spoken to, and I am pleased that the Chancellor has extended furlough and announced the doubling of the self-employed income support scheme today, as we look to implement national restrictions to help support our NHS and save lives.
The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government has been generous in its support for my two local councils, with funding so far of over £1.8 million for Guildford Borough Council and over £1.5 million for Waverley Borough Council. These figures sit within the generous support there has been at county level to deliver councils’ statutory services. Rough sleeping is an issue that I have been focused on locally, and the several tranches of funding to address it, including the recent £770,000 for long-term accommodation as the days get colder, are hugely welcome. The Royal Surrey County Hospital has received £500,000 to prepare for winter, and well prepared they are under the excellent direction of chief executive Louise Stead, with a new 20-bed ward specifically for a second wave of the virus and medical professionals who have learned much during the first wave that will benefit patients in this autumn wave of cases.
I could go on and on, because the support has gone on and on, but it is important to recognise the fact that we in Guildford, Cranleigh and our villages were already well prepared for the impact of lockdown earlier this year, because we had in place a thriving voluntary network. These volunteers, including Voluntary Action South West Surrey and Cranleigh’s Street Champions—put together by Liz Townsend, the chairman of Cranleigh Parish Council, with support from many who continually volunteer in Cranleigh—must be recognised. The response to my Unsung Hero campaign was heart-warming: Debbie Foster in Fairlands received over 25 nominations for mobilising volunteers, and Adrian Whitehead delivered 100 medical prescriptions a week in Fairlands from his mobility scooter.
Special recognition must be given to Nick Wyschna and his wife Charlotte, who run the Guildford Fringe, for their drive to pull together excellent online comedy shows and live performances to bring the community together in fundraising efforts for the Royal Surrey County Hospital Charity and the Wysch Foundation, which works to make arts accessible to everyone. These Facebook live events were very successful and well supported, and I see that the Guildford Fringe has already adapted quickly and moved a performance online for the end of this week. Siobhan Fox and Scott Kerr, both pilots anxiously waiting to hear what would become of their jobs, put their own worries aside to serve refreshments as volunteers at the Royal Surrey County Hospital.
During lockdown, there was fantastic and incredibly helpful cross-party engagement. We work well when we work together, and that was my experience; it is the best way to deliver quickly for residents. Hope is so important right now. There is fatigue and anxiety, and we are concerned for those we know and love, for their jobs and their mental health. We cannot ignore any of these issues and we do not. This Government and all of us in our communities are defined not by the easy times, but by the times when we have to dig into those extra pockets of reserves that we never knew we had, to keep going, and to keep fighting and not giving up. I pay tribute to the incredible energy and courage of everyone involved in tackling this pandemic, including my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health, all the Health Ministers, our chief medical officer, his deputies, the chief scientific advisers and those working at all levels of our NHS for the work that they have done and continue to do for us all. It truly is a national health service, which is why it is right—right now—to introduce national restrictions to ensure that all health needs can be cared for.
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I thank the hon. Member for her question and for the work that she does with the APPG, which I joined recently for a very valuable conversation. Supporting care homes through the pandemic and in the months ahead is absolutely our, and my, priority. One part of that is ensuring that they have the testing that they need. We are getting regular repeat testing to care homes. I acknowledge that the turnaround times have not been what we would have liked them to be, but those turnaround times are coming down and we are seeing a rapid improvement in performance.
I thank the hon. Member for her question. I am sure she will know that local authorities received £400 million to support them with local outbreak management. It is really important to have this coming together of the national system and the local system, where local authorities are indeed playing an important part, using their local knowledge to follow up with contact tracing, particularly for some of the contacts that are proving harder to reach.
We have heard a lot about testing. I have been talking to the Secretary of State about testing for some months now, because I have a company in my constituency—SureScreen —that has developed an antigen test and an antibody test, but for some reason Public Health England will not speak to it. It can do 1 million tests a week, ramping up to 2 million a week. These are 15-minute tests. I have written to and talked to the Secretary of State about it, but nothing has come back—nothing at all. I do think that there is something wrong when a company can do this at a very reasonable cost and we are struggling with testing. We should be using every company that we possibly can.
I have supported the Government on the new measures that we have put in place as a country, but I feel that this Parliament should be sovereign and we should make some decisions. It is no good the Government, the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State just saying out there, “We’re going to do this.” We need to ratify it and we need to agree with it. I probably would agree with it, but I would like to have a say in what we are doing. I have had dozens of constituents say, “Enough is enough. We want to be able to go and see our grandchildren.” We are now talking about Christmas being cancelled for students and for people who cannot go into groups of more than six. That means that I will not see my grandchildren because it will be a group bigger than six—but I want to. There are many pensioners who wish to see their family rather than live a long life. They would like to be able to make that choice. This Government have a responsibility to listen to those people, some of whom feel passionate because they fought in the war, or their parents fought in the war, for the freedoms that we want.
We are not, in this Parliament, given the opportunity to decide whether we think that these decisions have been made correctly. They may well have been, but I would like to see the evidence. I have not seen any evidence other than on the broadcasts—no more than any other member of the public. It is important that we do see and hear the evidence so that we can make a well-judged decision. After all, when we go to war we make a decision, but this is a war against a pandemic.
The Government really do need to think again and to accept the Brady amendment. They need to work with all the people who signed it—I am one of them—to be able to go forward so that the public feel that their representatives are representing them. I am trying to represent my constituents in many different ways, and this would be one of them when I could say to the Prime Minister, to the Secretary of State and to the Minister what I believe and what I feel. I feel passionately that we should be having a say. I urge the Government to accept the Brady amendment now, and in the future to look forward and say, “Actually, Parliament can make a decision.” Although we are told we have to make these decisions quickly—I accept it has to be relatively quick—we can change the business in this House so that we can all take part.
We have previously been recalled back for debates. It may be that we would not want to be called back every Saturday to make a decision, but we could be when there are big changes such as those of the last couple of weeks. This big change is affecting millions and millions of people, not least students. I feel passionately about those students who have left home for the first time and gone to college. They want to party and do all those things, and I accept that, but to be told they probably cannot go home at Christmas to see own family is outrageous. I would say to those students, “Probably defy what the Government say. Go home and see your family.”
I supported the Government in the decisions they took in March, at the start of the covid-19 outbreak, when scientific understanding of this virus was not at the point that it is today. Tough decisions had to be made as to how to protect human life, because we were still learning how the virus could be transmitted and who was most vulnerable to becoming critically ill if they were infected. I commend Ministers for acting as they did and when they did, as well as everyone who has gone the extra mile during this terrible time, in Northampton and elsewhere.
The steps the Government took in the spring stopped the NHS being overwhelmed and saved lives. However, no Member of this House could be in any doubt that they also had a significant impact on our country in terms of the economy, society, the policing of our civil liberties and the devastating effect on people’s mental health. As data published by NHS England on a daily basis outlines, the number of people testing positive for covid-19 is rising, yet the death rate is staying low. “Yes, at the moment,” will be the response, and I acknowledge that, but I urge that that remain the key statistic either for further steps or for reeling back.
It is therefore imperative at this time that all areas of our lives affected by current restrictions be taken into account. Changing the Government’s response in line with the rates of infections if there are significantly lower death rates should not be viewed, as some might like to shout from the rooftops, as a U-turn. Changing tack in response to the statistics is rather a response to the reality of the situation we currently find ourselves in or may come to find ourselves in. That is not a humiliation or a repudiation, but adapting to circumstances.
I am concerned about the impact on the economy, not only in terms of people’s livelihoods—I thank the Chancellor for the unprecedented support he has given there—but in terms of the economy being able to provide for public services, particularly in non-covid health, notably cancer and mental health services. In addition, I am concerned about the impact there has already been on people attending vital appointments at their local hospitals and receiving urgent medical treatment. Earlier today, a constituent sent me an interesting link to an open letter by 394 medical doctors and over 1,300 healthcare professionals in Belgium, touching on this exact point: a cure must not be worse than the disease.
In essence, the dystopian nature of some of these restrictions has already caused a considerable deal of damage in society. I recognise the difficult balance and approach the Government had to take, but if we look at some other countries—Sweden, yes, but others too—it becomes evident that there are alternative approaches to controlling the virus without as significant an impact on civil liberties or as damaging an effect on the economy, with shielding the elderly and vulnerable more specifically than via general lockdowns being the approach.
I turn from the current challenges and dilemmas, the current agonising choices, blizzard of statistics and analysis of infection rates versus death rates, to a time—we hope and pray it will be soon—when we emerge from this, hopefully with a vaccine, I want to be very clear that any temptation on the part of the Government to attempt to keep any aspect of the restrictions, even if they have been determined to have been beneficial in some way, must be totally rejected. Any restrictive measure that has been implemented to fight coronavirus must go when a vaccine has been developed and distributed among much of the population.
At that point, a bonfire of restrictions must be metaphorically set alight. My inbox has seen a huge increase in people who now share that position with me. That goes back to my point on the damage—necessary though it may have been felt to be, and not to denigrate that—that these restrictions have done to society as a whole. This has been a national trauma, and it has eroded our nation’s civil liberties to a level that we have not seen in this country during peacetime. It is therefore crucial that every opportunity for public and parliamentary scrutiny is availed of.
The incubation period before which the virus can present itself is still estimated to require 14 days of self-isolation. If we could bring that figure down, I would be the first to be pleased to do so. As with our decision to take to 10 days the period for which somebody who has tested positive must self-isolate, this is a critical point, and we must rely on the scientific evidence. If my right hon. Friend has further scientific evidence, I would be happy to look at it.
We have put in place the extra £500, in addition to other income that people are getting, to support people on low incomes to self-isolate. If someone who is on a low income has symptoms and wants to know whether they have the virus, the result of having a positive test is that they will get the extra £500, and then of course they have to self-isolate. I am confident that people will come forward and do not only the right thing for society but the right thing for them, to find out the cause of their illness if they have symptoms.
Yes. I want to reassure people in Dudley and beyond that the NHS is open. If people need NHS treatment, they should go to the NHS. In the first instance, they should go to their GP by phone or telemedicine, or call 111 or go to NHS 111 online. If people are asked to go to hospital or into a surgery, they absolutely should, and it is safe for them to do so.
It is vital that all those things are brought together at both a national and local level, and they are. The actions that have been taken under the NHS test and trace programme, whether national or local, and the interaction of the two, are testament to the fact that we are increasingly integrating national and local work and ensuring that the best high-quality data available is shared.
Of course it is important to ensure that people are fully informed about the reasons why we may need to take action in a particular local area, and that is an important part of the consideration. Ensuring that local bodies—for instance local directors of public health—are fully engaged, is an important way of doing that. In Wales, where my right hon. Friend has his constituency, that is done through the devolved nations, with their responsibilities locally for public health.
That is an incredibly important point, because there has been a disproportionate impact on transport workers, particularly those who, by the nature of their work, have to be in close contact with others, for example taxi drivers. That factor was not taken into account in the Public Health England analysis. It is exactly what we mean when we say that we must understand the different causes of the disparities in the data on the impacts according to people’s ethnic background. Disentangling how much is due to occupation and how much is due to other factors is an important part of the analysis that we need to undertake to be able to take action such as protecting those who work in the transport sector.
The hon. Lady is quite right to report the views of local public health staff, who are right to raise the question. I am pleased to say that the turnaround speed has significantly improved in the past couple of weeks, and now 83% of tests are returned from the drive-through centres within 24 hours. There is continued work to speed that up and get the proportion even higher, and the Prime Minister has very kindly set me a goal of ensuring that all tests from the drive-through centres are returned within 24 hours.
Yes, I will. The NHS restart is incredibly important in Lincolnshire and across the country. I know Lincolnshire well, and it is very important that we restart other services that have had to be paused for understandable reasons. Not only is Lincolnshire the home to many dedicated health and social care staff—I pay tribute to all those who work in the NHS in Lincolnshire—but my grandmother was a nurse at the Pilgrim Hospital in Boston and our great deputy chief medical officer, Professor Jonathan Van-Tam, is himself a resident of Lincolnshire. Lincolnshire has many great things to offer in the sphere of health, and we must ensure that that is about not just covid but health services across the board.
The hon. Lady is absolutely right; this is an incredibly important subject, both, as she says, during the crisis and thereafter. We have a study under way, which Public Health England is conducting, on the impact of all sorts of different conditions on the likelihood that covid-19 will hit someone hard. It is true that there is a link to levels of deprivation, in the same way as one of the strongest factors, other than age, is obesity—that needs to be investigated. We have also seen a bigger impact on people from minority ethnic backgrounds. All these things need to be studied. Levelling up and closing that health inequality gap is an incredibly important part of the Government’s agenda for recovering from this terrible disease.
I congratulate the hon. Member for City of Durham (Mary Kelly Foy) on her maiden speech. It was interesting; funnily enough I did not agree with a considerable amount of it, although that is to be expected.
I am the second working medical professional to speak, following my hon. Friend the Member for Central Suffolk and North Ipswich (Dr Poulter). We are both from the same party and speak with some knowledge of the difficulties that we face. The moment that this sort of debate comes up, health professionals from our own particular field have a go at us.
I was delighted that the Minister referred to child dental health, on which I feel a push from behind every time there is a health debate. When I first came to this country, I worked in a really deprived area of east London. Trying to treat children there was like trying to fill a bath with the plug out. The statistics for child dental health are still grim today: 23.3% of five-year-olds have tooth decay, rising to 33.7% in deprived areas. The rate drops to 13.6% in less deprived areas, but it is still bad. Tooth decay is the single greatest reason for hospital admissions for five to nine-year-olds. Last year, 25,702 children went to hospital because of tooth decay. Worse than that, 45,000 children and young people aged up to 19 went to hospital because of tooth decay.
The estimated cost of treating these children in hospital is about £50 million annually. Virtually all children will require a general anaesthetic. Every anaesthetic, especially for little ones, carries a risk—an unnecessary one. The cost is made worse because those cases occupy trained health professionals and hospital facilities that could be used for other NHS services. It makes me very cross because dental caries, as the Minister has said, are virtually entirely preventable. Put simply, the cause is acid from sugar and dental plaque. Britons eat about 700 grams of sugar a week—an average of 140 teaspoons. That intake is not spread evenly; it is higher in the north and lower in the south-east. As Members might expect, teenagers have the highest intake of all age groups, consuming, probably, about 50% more.
The Government are taking action and the sugar tax is helping. Sara Hurley, the chief dental officer, along with many charities and organisations, has a drive to teach children, even down to day nursery children, how to brush their teeth. It is helping but, as the Minister mentioned, far and away the best proven method to reduce tooth decay among children—and even, to some degree, among adults—is the fluoridation of the water supply. Fluoride increases the resistance of tooth enamel to decay dramatically. In the United Kingdom, approximately 330,000 people have naturally occurring fluoride in their water supply. Traditionally, another 5.8 million in different parts are supplied with fluoridated water. But that covers only 10% of the total population. The cover in the United States is about 74% and rising. In Canada, it is 44% and rising, in Australia, it is 80% and rising, and even little New Zealand has managed 70% and rising.
We do have fluoridation legislation, but it is left to local authorities to instigate the process and to compel water companies to fluoridate their water supplies. There is no financial advantage for local authorities if they take such action, but the savings that come through to the NHS are considerable.
The second problem with the legislation is that few local authority boundaries are coterminous with the boundaries of the water companies, which means that the direction and implementation get difficult, complex and sometimes nigh on impossible. To my mind, the simple and sensible answer would be for the application to be put into the hands of the Department of Health and Social Care so that the policy could be applied step by step across the country, going for the most deprived areas first. That is a big ask and it will require a brave Government, but from reflecting on the Labour party’s previous position on fluoridation, I would hope for Labour’s support.
Whenever I raise the issue of fluoridation, the green ink flies. Letters come in and broomsticks whizz around my house as people come up with extraordinary contrary points. The latest Department of Health figures show that the odds of experiencing dental health decay in fluoridated areas were reduced by 23% in five-year-old children in the less deprived areas, and by 52% in those living in the most deprived areas.
Water fluoridation reduces hospital admissions for dental extractions for children by 59%, and in deprived areas by as much as 68%. We have the opportunity to be world leading, to give our children this chance, and to combat health decay and children going to hospital.