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Testing of NHS and Social Care Staff

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:05 pm on 24th June 2020.

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Photo of Stephanie Peacock Stephanie Peacock Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 5:05 pm, 24th June 2020

It is a pleasure to follow Jeremy Hunt, the Chair of the Health and Social Care Committee, who spoke incredibly powerfully.

I would like to begin by placing on the record my thanks to the doctors, nurses and staff at Barnsley Hospital, who have been working tirelessly to keep our community safe. These have been very difficult times, and my thoughts are with families who have lost loved ones, with NHS and care staff who risk their lives every day to look after patients, and with key workers who are making huge sacrifices to keep our country running.

As a community, we have come together in the face of huge adversity. Like my neighbours in Barnsley, I have clapped for our carers. As a community and a country, we have expressed our gratitude to our NHS heroes and all our key workers, and I hope that the Government have been listening. Our applause must be translated into action.

When I met representatives of Barnsley Hospital and Public Health England, they told me that coronavirus has changed how people see care. Fewer people are going to A&E and attending regular check-ups for existing illnesses. At the same time, millions of routine operations, screening tests and treatments have been cancelled or suspended. We need a strategy to deal with the backlog in non-coronavirus care. The motion calls for a fully functioning test and trace system for NHS staff. Without it, the NHS cannot return to offering non-urgent and routine care appointments for everyone, and existing health inequalities in the UK will only get worse.

In Barnsley, winter death rates from flu and respiratory diseases are higher than the national average. I represent a former mining community with a large ageing population of ex-miners. Underlying health conditions brought on by their time down the pits have made them more vulnerable to this deadly disease. A recent survey by the British Lung Foundation, which has already been highlighted, showed that one in four people suffering from COPD has had a regular GP or hospital appointment cancelled.

Last month, 20 coalfield Labour MPs wrote to the Secretary of State, voicing the concerns of former miners who fear that if they die during this outbreak, their death certificates will make no mention of the industrial diseases that have caused them decades of ill health. We are still waiting for the Government to reply. I have heard of former miners who tested negative for covid-19 but had it recorded on their death certificate, purely because that is policy for anyone who dies in a hospital. If a death certificate does not mention a miner’s underlying health condition, their grieving family will be denied the compensation they are entitled to.

Industrial diseases have cut short the lives of far too many miners over the years, so I ask one very simple thing of the Government: please change the advice to medical practitioners so that poor health prior to this outbreak is recorded on death certificates. Covid-19 is not some great leveller. It feeds off existing inequalities and it hits communities with vulnerable people hardest. That needs to change.