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Testing of NHS and Social Care Staff

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:31 pm on 24th June 2020.

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Photo of Helen Whately Helen Whately Minister of State (Department of Health and Social Care) 4:31 pm, 24th June 2020

I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. She makes a really important point. One of the things that I have put much thought into over recent weeks is making sure that our staff of black and Asian minority ethnicities have the protection that they need. Both for the NHS and for the social care system, we have supported the development of risk assessment frameworks to identify the risks, with recommendations on what steps can be taken. I am working with the system to make sure that those are put into practice.

Coming back to the lessons that we are taking forward, one of the things that has been a great success has been the adoption of new technologies such as, for instance, online GP consultations. Some 99% of GP practices now have video consultation capability, while hospitals have been doing virtual out-patient appointments and care homes have been using tablets—the digital kind of tablet!—to keep people in touch with their families. We are also seeing new ways of working to help those on the frontline to make quicker decisions and cut red tape. We will keep driving these important reforms so that we can give everyone a better experience of health and social care.

As the Prime Minister set out yesterday in the House, we have succeeded in slowing the spread of the virus. On 11 May, 1,073 people were admitted to hospital in England, Wales and Northern Ireland with coronavirus, and by 20 June this had fallen by 74% to 283. This has reduced the pressure on the NHS so it has been able to carefully ramp up important services. Hon. Members have raised questions about two specific services in the motion, and I will address them both.

First, coronavirus has had a real impact on many people’s mental health, so there is a lot of concern about mental health services remaining open and available. Our NHS mental health services have remained open for business throughout the pandemic, using digital tools to connect people and provide ongoing support. This has proved especially effective for young people. Throughout the pandemic, we have provided £9.2 million of additional funding for mental health charities. We understand that we may see an increased demand for mental health services in the months ahead, and we are preparing for this, together with the NHS, Public Health England and other partners.

Secondly, hon. Members have raised questions about cancer services—another area where we are working hard to maintain care. For example, we have been operating surgical hubs where providers work together across local cancer services to maintain access to surgery. Although some cancer diagnostics and treatments have been rescheduled to protect vulnerable patients from having to attend hospitals, urgent and essential cancer treatments have continued. The latest data suggests that referrals are back to over 60% of the pre-pandemic levels, partly due to the NHS Help Us Help You campaign. This campaign has an important message that I am keen to repeat today. Anyone who is worried about chest pains, fears that they might be having a heart attack or a stroke, feels a lump and is worried about cancer, or is a parent concerned about their child should please come forward and seek help, as they always would. The NHS will always be there for us if we need it, just as it has been there for all of us throughout this crisis.