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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. Gentleman is absolutely right, and that is why we have brought forward this debate. I think that we all understand why a lot of elective surgery and treatment had to be paused, but now that the lockdown is being eased, Government Ministers need to tell us how they are going to start treatment again, and how people who have been waiting for treatment, whether for cancer or for heart disease, or for a hip replacement, are going to get that important care.

We have a situation in which GPs cannot carry out tests, book tests or refer patients for tests. If someone goes to one of the Deloitte drive-through testing centres, or one of the centres where that role has been subcontracted to someone else, there is no requirement for the results to be sent back to their GP. GPs do not know who in their local area has been tested positive, because that is not going on their health records. This is shambolic. At the same time, the Government have given a £100 million contract to call centres run by Serco and Sitel, where tracers are complaining that it is chaotic and they have nothing to do. I do not know whether the Minister read the testimony, published in the British Medical Journal, of a clinician working in one of the call centres. They wrote:

NHS Professionals employed us as clinical tracers, but we were recruited by Capita…
Sitel provided access to the tracing applications and systems, and these all required different usernames and passwords. Synergy CRM assigned cases…CTAS captured contact tracing information, RingCentral was used for voice calls, and MaxConnect was used for storing knowledge about contacts. All of these systems were accessed through Amazon Workspace.”

This sounds a complete mess. At the same time, the chief executive of Serco is saying that this is an opportunity for it to “cement” its role in the NHS. Serco should not be an excuse for more NHS outsourcing and privatisation. Serco should be kicked out of our NHS, and local public health officials and GPs should be leading the tracing response.

And, of course, the Secretary of State has failed to deliver on his app, with months wasted and £11.8 million confirmed as down the drain by the Minister in the Lords yesterday. We are now in the dismal situation where there is an app for the Secretary of State himself, but there is not even an app for covid. You really could not make it up, Mr Deputy Speaker.

We believe that it is time for the Government to invest in public health services, to put GPs in the driving seat of testing, to give local authorities the localised data that they need and to begin a programme of routine testing of all NHS staff, whether symptomatic or not. We accept and understand that Ministers will have made mistakes throughout this crisis. It was an unprecedented pandemic, but Ministers have been slow, their response has been disorganised and the scale and nature of the pandemic, even though it was at the top of the risk register, at times underestimated.

However, Ministers can learn from their mistakes. They can take the advice of the former Health Secretary and they can take the advice of their former leader and former Foreign Secretary. They can start putting in place a programme for mass testing, starting with NHS staff, because we need it for our national health service. Our constituents are waiting in pain, agony and distress for treatment. It is time to deliver the care they deserve, and I commend our motion, constructively, to the House.