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Testing of NHS and Social Care Staff

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:37 pm on 24th June 2020.

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Photo of Munira Wilson Munira Wilson Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Transport), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Health and Social Care) 5:37 pm, 24th June 2020

I join Members from across the House in paying tribute to our NHS and care workers, who have made immense sacrifices and put themselves at great risk on behalf of all of us. We owe them a huge debt of thanks. I mean all the staff in health and social care, including clinical staff, allied healthcare professionals, cleaners, porters, administrators and managers. Whatever their role, we salute them and thank them. However, time and again, they have said to us, “Don’t clap for us every week. Give us the PPE and the testing that we need to stay safe on the frontline.” Sadly, I do not have time today to talk about PPE, and the thrust of the motion is on testing. I would just say that I was surprised to hear the Minister’s comments about care homes and all the testing that has been made available in care homes. The National Audit Office report, published earlier this month, said that 25,000 patients were discharged from hospitals into care homes at the height of the pandemic. We know that since the start of the pandemic close to 14,000 people have died in care homes in England from covid-related causes, yet it took until 8 June to offer tests to care home staff and residents, and even then that did not include learning disability care homes. The case for a full independent public inquiry is, frankly, unquestionable.

There remain issues with testing. I fully agree with Jeremy Hunt,  who is no longer in his place, that we need a huge further scale-up of testing, including weekly or regular testing of health and social care staff. That needs to be part of a robust test, trace and isolate regime, which, sadly, as health leaders and the World Health Organisation have said, is still lacking. We have seen the app in disarray and we know that local authorities still do not have the data and the resources they need to trace effectively. Health leaders have called today for a “lessons learned” exercise so that we are ready for a second surge; I urge the Government to heed their advice and do that exercise quickly so that we are ready.

I wish to use the time I have remaining to talk about mental health, which is referred to specifically in the motion, with regard to two groups: frontline workers and children and young people, who are also referred to in the motion. From talking to trust leaders and leaders in the social care sector, we know that staff are exhausted and traumatised. There is concern about the potential for post-traumatic stress disorder further down the line. We need to see a big package of measures to support our frontline workers. I welcome the fact that a helpline has been put in place. It needs to be available 24/7 to health and social care staff. We also need to look at some of the measures that the military have in place to support staff, with fast-track access to mental health services and standardised access to mental health services up and down the country. That does not currently exist for our frontline health and careworkers.

As children and young people have been out of formal education for many months and away from their friends, there is likely to be an explosion in the need for mental health services for children and young people. Waiting times were already huge—in some cases six months for my constituents. We need a detailed, cross-departmental Government plan that goes well beyond what the NHS long-term plan has in place, to support our children and young people. They are our future, the recovery will be built on their backs and they need to flourish.