Only a few days to go: We’re raising £25,000 to keep TheyWorkForYou running and make sure people across the UK can hold their elected representatives to account.

Donate to our crowdfunder

Coronavirus Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:36 pm on 23rd March 2020.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Jeremy Hunt Jeremy Hunt Chair, Health and Social Care Committee, Chair, Health and Social Care Committee 5:36 pm, 23rd March 2020

The Health Secretary is not in his place—understandably—but I want to start with a tribute to him. I think I am the only other person in this House who has sat behind his desk, and I can testify that even without a pandemic it takes years off your life. The Health Secretary has made himself exhaustively available. He has worked tirelessly, and no one could have done more or better to prepare the NHS for the crisis we now face. I also want to thank the shadow Secretary of State for the way that he has risen to the challenge of his role. All of us as parliamentarians are proud of the exchanges that we have had this afternoon and on many occasions.

Ordinarily, our role as MPs is to scrutinise every detail of legislation, to understand it and to try to improve it. There are many questions about this legislation, but we are in a national emergency and every day we delay could cost lives. So I support the Bill 100% and I encourage all colleagues to do the same. A week ago, the Government said we were four weeks behind Italy. That then changed to three weeks behind Italy, and today our mortality rates are just two weeks behind Italy. Our hospitals, especially in London, are filling up. We have had a critical incident at one, and others say they are running out of ICU beds. According to the papers, we have one nurse fighting for her life in an intensive care unit. One London hospital has seven doctors with the virus in just that one hospital. Yet still people are going to shops, parks, beaches and holiday homes as if nothing has changed. It may be too late to avoid following Italy, but to have any chance at all of doing so we must move now to lockdown rules that ban non-essential travel. It is time not just to ask people to do social distancing, but to enforce those social distancing rules—not next week, not this week, but right away. I support the call by the shadow Secretary of State to do that, and it is very important we do so as soon as we possibly can.

The Bill can help in two areas. The first is on protective equipment for staff. Last week, Sir Simon Stevens told the Health and Social Care Committee that there were sufficient national supplies of PPE, but there were distribution problems. Since then, I know that the Government have moved heaven and earth to try to resolve those. All hospitals have had deliveries, and I pay tribute to the Health Secretary and everyone in the Department for achieving that, but there is still a lot of concern on the frontline. The main reason for that is because on 6 March Public Health England downgraded the recommendations as to what PPE doctors should use. That appeared to be at odds with World Health Organisation recommendations. I understand that has now been clarified by Professor Keith Willett in a message sent out on Friday that does bring our advice more into line with WHO guidelines.

Most importantly, the advice now makes it clear that doctors should wear goggles if there is any risk of being sprayed, but obviously doctors would feel vastly more secure with more extensive protection, such as full-length gowns and FFP3 masks. Is not the solution just to order manufacturers to make more of that vital equipment—not just a little more, but massively more? If that needs legal powers, the Bill should give the Government those powers to require every factory that is able to devote itself to the production of that life-saving equipment to do so.

Numerous doctors have died across the world, including Dr Li Wenliang, the courageous Chinese doctor who first tried to blow the whistle on this virus. Twenty-three doctors have died in Italy. This weekend, France lost its first doctor. None of us wants that here. Given the total determination of the Health Secretary to protect our frontline staff, would he urgently look into whether we need to manufacture more of the highest-grade equipment?