Coronavirus

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:38 pm on 17th June 2020.

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Photo of Jon Ashworth Jon Ashworth Shadow Secretary of State for Health and Social Care 12:38 pm, 17th June 2020

I am grateful, Mr Speaker. I welcome the news from the Secretary of State about Dexamethasone. As he said, this is an important moment and good news, and I congratulate all those involved. It is a reminder that we can be immensely proud of our science base in this country. I note what the Secretary of State said about vaccinations. A vaccine is crucial, and I hope he will join me—I am sure he will—in saying that when a vaccine is available, we must have no truck with those who spread poisonous anti-vax propaganda on social media. Vaccinations save lives, and ultimately that will be the exit strategy from this dreadful, horrific disease.

The good news is tempered by the high death rate. The Prime Minister likes to boast of flattening the sombrero, and it is certainly true that deaths from hospitalisations are coming down, but we still have 58,000 excess deaths across England and 13,000 in care homes; and 300 health and care staff have sadly lost their lives. All our NHS staff deserve great praise, so may I ask the Health Secretary about a specific matter that has emerged in the past couple of days? Why are student nurses who joined the frontline six months ago as part of the coronavirus effort now seeing their paid placement schemes terminated early, leaving them with no income? That is no way to treat student nursing staff.

This week, the World Health Organisation has warned that the UK remains in a “very active phase of the pandemic”.

The right hon. Gentleman will accept that if a second wave comes, especially if it coincides with flu season, that would be completely disastrous. Can he reassure the House that the decisions that he and the Prime Minister are making on easing lockdown measures, such as the mooted relaxation of the 2-metre rule and the opening of non-essential retail this week, will not precipitate a deadly second wave of the virus? Would he update us on the latest thinking on that by the Home Department? In the past, the right hon. Gentleman has said that he is prepared to institute local lockdowns, but local authorities continue to say that they do not have the resources or powers to enforce that. Can he update us on when he will give local authorities powers to enforce those lockdowns?

Yesterday, the Health Service Journal said that for people in the shielding group, shielding will come to an end at the end of July. We were promised a full update on shielding on 15 June, two days ago. Can the right hon. Gentleman update the House now on what is happening and what the future is for the shielding group with regards to getting their medicines and supplies and whether they will be able to leave their homes by the end of July?

We have always said that testing, tracing and isolating is crucial to the safe easing of the lockdown. On testing, local authorities say that they are still not getting the specific test data that they need. Indeed, the Deloitte contract, as confirmed in a written answer from the Minister for Patient Safety, Mental Health and Suicide Prevention, did not specify that it needed to report test results to GPs and local directors of public health. We need to fix that.

Why is the right hon. Gentleman still not publishing the number of people who have been tested, and can he explain something that is puzzling many of us? The tracing figures that he revealed—we are grateful for them—suggested that 8,000 people went into the contact tracing system in England, but in that week, the Government testing figures said that there were around 12,500 positive cases in the UK. Even if we can make an assumption about how many of those cases are in England, that still suggests that there are around 2,000, perhaps 3,000, cases not being traced and contacted. Can he explain why that is and what he is going to do to fix it?

Finally, we have now seen Public Health England recommendations on the impact of covid on those from black, Asian and minority ethnic communities. Those recommendations are welcome. Many of them, such as mandated ethnicity data collection and recordings on death certificates, should have been done years ago, but when will those recommendations be implemented? Black people are nearly four times as likely to die from covid as white people, and over 90% of doctors who have died during the pandemic were from black, Asian and minority ethnic communities, so surely this is a matter of urgency. We cannot wait, and we need those recommendations to be implemented straight away.