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I, too, would like to thank and praise the efforts of all frontline workers, in particular from the NHS and local government, on test and trace, and throughout the coronavirus epidemic.
It has now become clear that the Government were quite slow to implement testing for everyone, including NHS workers. Thankfully, the teaching hospitals in Sheffield were a lot quicker to provide tests for their staff—nearly 10 days before it was recommended. They used their in-house expertise to provide tests early to keep health workers on the frontline before the spike in the pandemic. It is not enough for the Government to leave that to individual hospitals. We need Ministers to properly resource a national routine testing regime for all NHS workers that can keep staff safe, keep patients safe, prevent the spread of infection, keep health workers and support staff at work, and get the NHS back on track.
There is a stark difference between how my teaching hospital in Sheffield approached its use of in-house expertise and the Government’s wider approach to testing and tracking. We have heard about the complicated system involving multiple private companies. It is still unclear to me why Serco was given the track and trace contract. It has no expertise in this area, has already had to apologise for breaching data protection rules and was previously fined £1 million for failures to deliver on other contracts.
Rather than private companies with little or no medical and testing experience, we should learn from the healthcare professionals and public health experts who are working hard to respond to local public health emergencies. That means ensuring realtime testing data is shared with public health directors—a frustration that I know is felt up and down the country—or whoever, whether GPs or local authorities, is responsible for dealing with local outbreak responses. It means supporting local campaigns, charities and mutual aid groups to provide soft intelligence to help to monitor outbreaks.
That also means thinking through the needs of individual communities, such as those that do not have English as their first language. The testing and tracking system is vital and a huge part of our national response to the covid-19 crisis, but we also need clearly communicated social distancing measures, workplace health and safety audits, and robust supply lines of PPE. The Government have been slow to act and we now need to ensure that the tracking system we put in place is informed by expert opinion, properly integrated with response teams on the ground and sensitive to the needs of communities.
On care homes, we have seen outbreaks in one in three, which is shocking. When we found out that earlier on in the crisis that there was a cap on tests in care homes, we could see that managers may have been placed in the difficult position of choosing between testing residents and staff. Testing of patients discharged to care homes must not be forgotten. We must make sure that that remains in place for the long term.
We need to make sure that we encourage those who are about to become parents to access maternity services if they have any concerns about a reduction in movement. We have seen a sad and desperately tragic increase in stillborn births and in complications in births, so that is really very important. Finally, we need to make sure there is not a bottleneck in diagnosis and that the longer-term implications of covid-19, such as fibrosis, are in the horizon planning too.