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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

The hon. Lady makes a very important point, which affects the debate more broadly: those who test positive or are asked to isolate need to be given the financial support to do it, and statutory sick pay in many circumstances will not be enough. There are millions of workers—2 million in this country—who do not qualify for statutory sick pay, and just saying that they can apply online for universal credit is not going to be enough.

We need more radical thinking from the Government. Other countries offer greater financial support to those who are asked to isolate. Other countries even offer hotel rooms to those who are asked to isolate if it is not appropriate for them to isolate at home because of the nature of their housing situation. The Government should be looking into those sorts of things, and I hope the Minister can respond to that.

The point I was making is that regular testing of staff, whether asymptomatic or not, is so important not only for the safety of those staff and patients, but for building confidence in the NHS more generally. The study from Imperial suggested that it would reduce transmission of covid in healthcare settings by up to a third. We believe that this is a constructive suggestion that we are putting to the Government, which they should take on board and explore. It is disappointing that they are seeking to amend the motion to completely strip that out. They are not even prepared to take it away and look into it. They just want to pass a motion congratulating themselves on their handling of the pandemic.

A testing strategy for staff and patients, as we are proposing today, is a demand supported by many across the NHS as key to restarting that NHS work.

“A clear testing strategy is now more important than ever”— says Chris Hopson from NHS Providers.


“need rapid testing available for all staff and patients, whether showing symptoms of COVID-19 or not”— says Cancer Research UK.

“It’s absolutely essential to regain public confidence that we are able to test our staff regularly”—says Derek Alderson of the Royal College of Surgeons. And, of course—Jeremy Hunt will not be surprised that I am going to quote him in this debate—it is a position shared by the former Health Secretary, now the Chair of the Health and Social Care Committee, who in today’s Telegraph makes the case with far greater eloquence than I could ever muster:

“Until we minimise the risk of asymptomatic transmission by introducing weekly testing for all NHS and care staff, we are failing in a basic duty of care to the people most likely to die if they get the virus.”