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Testing of NHS and Social Care Staff

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:04 pm on 24th June 2020.

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Photo of Jon Ashworth Jon Ashworth Shadow Secretary of State for Health and Social Care 4:04 pm, 24th June 2020

We are calling for weekly routine testing, as have many organisations and the Chair of the Select Committee on Health and Social Care. He penned an excellent article in The Daily Telegraph today, and I hope the hon. Gentleman has had time to study it, because it is superb. May I also take this moment to pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman, because I know he has returned to the frontline? I am sure all of us, from across the House, are grateful for everything he is doing on the frontline.

The other point I wish to make on this growing burden of unmet clinical need is that there is a social gradient in this, as always; there is a higher mortality rate among those who are poorer and more deprived. Through all these different conditions, the poorer someone is, the more likely they are to become ill quicker and die sooner. So we need urgent action from the Government to tackle this, and we believe that regular testing of NHS staff is a key part of that.

We also need a broader plan to tackle the growing burden of sickness and unmet need. Our NHS will need more resources. We have had years of financial starvation in the NHS. The Government’s funding plan of two years ago fell short of the annual 4% increase that experts said was needed before the pandemic, and the settlement of that long-term plan is surely inadequate post pandemic. We must remember that we entered this crisis after 17,000 bed cuts and years of budget cuts to capital settlements, which have left hospitals crumbling, reliant on out-of-date equipment and grappling with a £6.5 billion repair bill. NHS land and buildings have been sold off. Last year, more than 890 hectares of NHS land was put up for sale. So we will need large-scale investment in the real estate of the NHS to allow health services to reconfigure to treat covid and non-covid patients alike.

Ministers will say that the NHS will get what it needs, but the reality on the ground is very different. I am sure the Minister for Care will have studied today’s Health Service Journal ahead of the debate and will have seen trust chief executives complaining that the cash that they were promised has not been delivered. They need this cash now if they are to restructure any of their services ahead of the winter. I hope that she will update the House on when those chief executives are going to get the cash they were promised by her Department.

We will also need real investment in rehabilitation services for those suffering from covid. The more we know about this disease, the more we know that those coming out of hospital are probably doing so with significant long-term chronic conditions. They are going to need support, be it respiratory, neuromuscular or psychological. Community health services are going to see a huge peak in demand now that many have moved out of the community health sector.

Crucially, to reset services—this comes to the point that the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich put to us—we need to ensure that care can be delivered safely, which is why we believe that a mass-testing infrastructure for staff is now so important. We know that around a fifth of covid infections in hospitals are caught in hospital settings. Given the levels of significant asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic transmission, we need a proper targeted testing strategy as well. All healthcare workers should be tested regularly—weekly—because a study from Imperial suggested that that would reduce transmission in healthcare settings by up to a third.