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Testing of NHS and Social Care Staff

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:46 pm on 24th June 2020.

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Photo of Richard Thomson Richard Thomson Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Business and Industry) 4:46 pm, 24th June 2020

I thank the hon. Member for that intervention, and I will come to that, if he is patient.

I am not privy to the scientific advice that the Prime Minister has access to, but the apparent ease with which some have been prepared to prioritise short-term economic considerations or individual liberty ahead of the need for collective wellbeing and avoiding a potentially disastrous second wave makes me glad that the rules being followed in Scotland are being decided in Scotland. I very much hope to be wrong, but the potential for a second wave of infection in parts of England seems very real right now, and I get the growing impression that if that is to be avoided, it may be more by luck than by judgment.

It is precisely because of the dedication of NHS and care staff, clear advice and the selflessness and self-discipline of millions of people that progress has been made. In Scotland, Test and Protect is fully in place, and without the boastfulness of saying that it is world-beating, it works and is in place. That has allowed Scotland to enter phase 2 of the route out of lockdown, which will allow NHS boards to begin moving out of a crisis response into the recovery phase, in line with the framework. That means that health boards will be able to start prioritising cancer surgery for those most in need of that treatment and to restart wherever possible urgent elective surgery that had previously been paused, as well as IVF treatment, following the necessary approvals. It means implementing the remobilisation plans for health boards and integrated joint boards, which deal with social care, to increase the provision in order to address the backlog of demands, to handle urgent referrals and to triage routine services. It will also see the reintroduction of some chronic disease management, including pain and diabetes services.

Inevitably, there will be a backlog to be dealt with, but due to the professionalism of the staff, I think we can have confidence that it will be dealt with as we begin the process of recovery. I know how difficult it has been for people who have had procedures or treatments postponed due to the pandemic, but the message is clear: Scotland’s NHS is open, as it always has been, for those who need it. Anyone with medical concerns should not hesitate to contact their GP or NHS 24 or attend hospital if their illness merits it.

Patient and staff welfare must be at the heart of the plan, as it has been through the emergency stage, and testing will be at the heart of that. The routine testing of the NHS workforce in Scotland will be extended from 8 July, as more services resume. That means that staff who work in specialist cancer services, provide long-term care for the elderly or work in residential mental health care will be offered weekly testing from 8 July. That builds on the routine testing, which is already offered to care home staff and aims to protect staff and patients by reducing the spread of the virus in hospitals and other healthcare settings. In addition, Healthcare Improvement Scotland will be resuming its inspection programmes.

We have seen the value of the public services and the ethos of public service. We have seen it in those who have helped to keep our NHS and care settings open, saving lives and providing care for those who have needed it. Many of those who have made the greatest sacrifice are those who have come here from other countries to work in our NHS and our care services. Because of economic and social circumstances, many have been at far greater risk from the virus than it was reasonable for anyone to expect, and we have particularly seen the worrying outcomes of coronavirus in the black, Asian and minority ethnic community. There is likely to be a number of intersecting factors in that, but it is important that they are properly understood and that the measures that come out of that are acted on. I am pleased to say that the Scottish Social Justice Commission will look at the figures that have come out in that respect to look at how we can change to address those issues.

In conclusion, there are things that it would be valuable for us to do. First, we need to value our public servants. It is nowhere near enough to clap: we need to care for our carers and families in life, as well as, sadly, sometimes in death. We should pay them what they are worth, provide them with the equipment that they need, show them that they are valued and give them reasons, whether financially or just in terms of plain decency, to believe that they have respect and that they are valued in what they do.

We need to value the contribution that many from our immigrant communities make to our health and care services. Getting rid of the immigration health surcharge is a very welcome step. The commitment of those workers to the NHS in the country that they now call home is not in doubt, and it is time that the Government considered in what other ways they could work to remove any doubt that there might be about our commitment to them.

Secondly, lest there be any doubt, for all the massive contribution of the private sector in overcoming supply chain challenges, it was a publicly owned, publicly operated, free-at-the-point-of-need health service and public services that rose to the challenge of caring for us in these times, often acting as the carer of last resort. That lesson has never been forgotten in Scotland. I wonder if it is time for this Government to remember that.

Thirdly, the virus has not gone away. There is no vaccine in immediate prospect. If we go too quickly, too far and too fast with easing restrictions, we risk very much undoing the good work that has been done. We need to honour the sacrifices that have been made by so many people by not rushing back to normal too soon. It would be a very bitter pill indeed if we were to do that, if we were to see a second wave and if the work done to date counted for less than it ought to.