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Testing of NHS and Social Care Staff

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:48 pm on 24th June 2020.

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Photo of Rushanara Ali Rushanara Ali Labour, Bethnal Green and Bow 5:48 pm, 24th June 2020

This virus has cruelly taken so many lives, and so many of us have lost friends, relatives, neighbours and loved ones across our country. We pay tribute to all those NHS workers and careworkers and others in our country who have paid the ultimate price to protect people.

That is why it is so important that we focus on the areas where we can act to protect our NHS and key workers and that we ensure there are proper, effective and efficient ways of providing them with the testing that is required, so that they do not have to continue with some of the failures that they had to work within: there was a lack of PPE at the beginning of this crisis and they had to make incredibly difficult decisions and work under incredible pressure during the beginning of the crisis. One senior Asian doctor said to me at the beginning of the crisis in my constituency, “We are going to be collateral damage because of some of the things this Government are doing.” We have to make sure we learn quickly and protect people. I hope that Ministers will look at where the mistakes have been made and make sure we learn fast and provide the testing, so that NHS and careworkers do not have to put themselves, and their colleagues, patients and families, at risk by not knowing the results of tests quickly.

We also know about the high death toll among BAME NHS and care workers, and the Government’s own inquiry has highlighted the wider inequalities that my hon. Friend Siobhain McDonagh talked about. We know about the different kinds of family structures—intergenerational families—among BAME health staff, those with higher health inequalities and health risks, which means they face additional challenges. The risk assessments are therefore crucial, and testing falls within that framework. It is vital that we take action and the Government heed the advice about testing. Since the end of March, excess deaths have increased by 44% nationally, but the figure for care homes is much higher, at 93%. That means 27,000 more people have died in care homes than would normally be the case at this time of the year, and that is a scandalously high number. If there is one thing we can do, it is make sure that care workers, who are there to protect those in care homes, are given the testing kits and that the testing is done for them quickly, because they faced considerable neglect at the beginning of this crisis.

A few weeks ago, I asked the Health Secretary, in the Chamber, about providing testing in acute settings. He did not have an answer, but he said he would write to me. Despite numerous reminders, via social media and in writing, I still have not been given an answer, and I hope that the Minister here today can respond to that point about acute settings in hospitals, because it really concerns people in the NHS.

In conclusion, we need to make sure that we learn the lessons quickly, because the risk of a second wave is grave and real. We have to work together to act, and I hope that the Government will therefore heed the advice and ensure that the testing is provided within the timeframe necessary to protect people in the NHS and the care service.