Public Services

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:40 pm on 28th April 2020.

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Photo of Michael Gove Michael Gove Minister for the Cabinet Office and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster 12:40 pm, 28th April 2020

May I join you, Mr Speaker, in welcoming Rachel Reeves back to the Front Bench? She demonstrated, in the detailed and thoughtful questions she asked, what an asset she will be to the Opposition in the months to come. I congratulate her on her elevation to the shadow Cabinet—it is richly deserved.

The hon. Lady rightly points out that this is the 72nd year in which the national health service has existed, and she rightly reminds us all that if ever there was an occasion, a moment or a crisis that reminds us how much we need and cherish our national health service, this is it. I underline my thanks to all those who work in the NHS, just as she did.

The hon. Lady asked specifically about social care, and she cited the figures from the Office for National Statistics that have just been produced. Those figures relate to deaths in the week up to 17 April, and they are indeed deeply concerning. The coronavirus pandemic has affected our communities. We have had outbreaks in hospitals and particularly distressing outbreaks in care homes.

The way in which we record deaths in the NHS depends on each NHS trust reporting daily on deaths. Care home deaths are recorded differently through a model that the Office for National Statistics has used that provides us with a weekly update on deaths overall. We will, of course, look at all ways in which we can ensure that we have the most accurate information, but the method that we have used is the one that the national statistician has underpinned as robust and reliable. While we all want information as rapidly as possible, we also need reliable information to ensure that our response is appropriate and adequate. The hon. Lady suggested that we work with the Care Quality Commission and the Office for National Statistics to see if we can improve the collection of data, and we will of course at all times look to ensure that we have data that is both timely and accurate to make sure that we have the right response.

The hon. Lady also mentioned domestic violence, and it is sadly the case that the number of reported incidents, or the number of calls to domestic violence helplines, have shown that there is an increased risk and danger for many under our lockdown stipulations. She rightly drew attention to the fact that as well as the £2 million that we have devoted to charities, the Government have made available an additional £750 million to them. I know that the Minister for safeguarding, my hon. Friend Victoria Atkins, is talking to the Treasury now about how we can ensure that a proportion of that £750 million can go to those who are at risk of domestic violence.

The hon. Member for Leeds West also asked about vulnerable children. It is absolutely the case that we ensured that schools would remain open so that not just the children of key workers but vulnerable children could attend. However, the proportion of vulnerable children who have been attending school is lower than many of us would want. Detailed work is going on with schools and local authorities to make sure that we can encourage and support more families to ensure that vulnerable children are in school, where they can receive the education and support they need. The Education Secretary will be saying more about that in due course.

It is also the case, as the hon. Lady rightly pointed out, that because of the lockdown measures, there is a risk of increasing educational inequality. Children in homes with access to technology and with parents capable of providing support will find it easier to keep up their learning than those without, which is why we have instituted the virtual academy that I referred to in my statement. It is also why we need to work even harder to ensure that children have the resources they need, and that poorer children and vulnerable children are in school as quickly as possible.

The hon. Lady asked if we would talk to teaching unions and others in education. We will do just that, because part of our effort to ensure that we can have a safe exit from some of the restrictions that we face at the moment will be dialogue with employers, trade unions and others, and her question gives me the opportunity to say how much I appreciated the chance to talk to trade unions in forums organised by Frances O’Grady. In particular, I appreciated the conversation I had with my friend and colleague Len McCluskey, in which he made a number of valuable suggestions about how we as a country could respond more effectively.

The hon. Lady mentioned face masks as part of a broader effort to ensure that we have the right personal protective equipment. As she knows, there is a difference between the high-spec surgical face masks that will be required in NHS and other healthcare settings, and the sorts of face coverings that can ensure that we limit the droplets that each of us might be responsible for producing in particular settings. I can confirm that Lord Agnew, the joint Cabinet Office and Treasury Minister, has launched a domestic effort to ensure that we produce just such masks, and that is part of the broader effort that Lord Deighton is leading on to ensure that we can bolster the production of personal protective equipment.

The hon. Lady asked about the detailed figures on personal protective equipment. The figures that the Government have produced refer to the fact that we have distributed, in the course of this crisis, 143 million masks, 163 million aprons, 1.8 million gowns and 547 million gloves. Depending on the surgical setting, gloves are sometimes delivered in pairs, groups of four, or different consignments. On 26 April, we had delivered over 90 million items of PPE across the health and social care system, and the figure specifically on that day included 1.6 million masks, 5.8 million aprons, 46,000 gowns and 10.5 million gloves.

Of course, it is incumbent on all of us to make sure that we do everything we can to support those on the frontline, and it is in that spirit that I thank the hon. Lady for her questions and look forward to working with her and other colleagues to put our frontline public sector workers first.