Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:31 pm on 9th March 2020.

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Photo of Matthew Hancock Matthew Hancock Secretary of State for Health and Social Care 3:31 pm, 9th March 2020

Let me start by concurring with what the hon. Gentleman said about the legislation. It should be taken through on a cross-party basis. I should of course be happy to talk to him about the proposals in that legislation, and also to ensure that the clinicians are able to explain why they are necessary and proportionate. I am grateful for the tone that he has taken throughout, recognising that our responses are led and guided by the science.

The hon. Gentleman asked about the NHS and its preparedness. There are record numbers of nurses and doctors, as I said. The 8,700 increase in the number of nurses over the past year is welcome in this context. We are, as he said, scaling up intensive care beds, and making sure that we have as much availability of ventilation equipment and, crucially, the skilled and trained people to use it, because ventilation equipment, without trained people, is dangerous. On that subject, we are making sure that we have the oxygen needed to go into those ventilation kits, working with oxygen suppliers to make sure that that is available.

The hon. Gentleman also asked whether GPs would have access to the protective equipment that they need, and the answer is yes. We have stockpiles of protective equipment and, again, we will release it at the right time. I am working closely with NHS England to make sure that that happens.

The hon. Gentleman asked about social care. He is absolutely right to draw attention to the importance of making sure that the staff in social care are well enough supported, including if they are sick and, critically, because many people in residential social care are some of the most vulnerable. Those living in the community in receipt of social care are likely to be vulnerable, whether because of prior health conditions or because they are elderly, or both. That is an area of significant attention, and we will update the existing guidance this week with further information for social care providers.

The hon. Gentleman asked about public health budgets which, of course, are going up. He also asked about home working and the cancellation of large events. We are not at this stage proposing the cancellation of mass events, because we are following the scientific advice that that is not what is proposed at this stage. Home working and flexible working are things that, in many cases, are advocated anyway. People will make their own decisions as to when that is appropriate. What we are saying from the Government point of view is that people should follow the public health advice so that, for instance, if they are returning from an affected area and they have symptoms they should stay at home, and that means home working. Over the weekend we added northern Italy to the list of places to which the Foreign Office does not recommend travel except in exceptional circumstances. We recommend that people returning from northern Italy self-isolate if they are symptomatic.

The hon. Gentleman asked about the food supply. We are confident that food supply will continue, even in our reasonable worst-case scenario. We have been talking to the supermarkets for some time about this scenario. I appreciate that on Friday there was discussion about whether every single supermarket executive had been involved in those talks. If any further supermarket executive wants to be involved in those conversations they should get in contact, but those conversations have been ongoing, and it is important, especially as we ask more people to self-isolate and stay at home, that we can ensure that we get supplies that are needed to the people we are asking to stay at home.

The hon. Gentleman asked about statutory sick pay, and I can confirm that we are proposing to put changes to statutory sick pay in the legislation, and I am happy to go through the details with him in the talks that I mentioned at the beginning of my response.

Finally, on Parliament, of course, this is a matter for the whole House. I know that the Commission met this morning, and I think that parliamentary scrutiny of decisions of the magnitude that we are having to take in response to coronavirus and their novel nature is incredibly important, and I will do all that I can to ensure that Parliament remains open.