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Testing of NHS and Social Care Staff

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:52 pm on 24th June 2020.

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Photo of Ben Spencer Ben Spencer Conservative, Runnymede and Weybridge 5:52 pm, 24th June 2020

First, I wish to pay tribute to the work of all our NHS and care staff in Runnymede and Weybridge—thank you. The pandemic has affected us all and the response to it has been from all quarters. NHS leaders such as the NHS Confederation have said that we need “Reset, not just recovery”. The response to this pandemic gives us a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to build back better.

This motion invites us to look to at the future, but in doing so we need to look at the big picture. The lockdown has had a huge impact on lives and livelihoods; it has damaged our economy. The health of our nation is its economy. People often speak about health and the economy as separate issues, but they are not. Be in no doubt: poverty is just as deadly as any coronavirus, but its effects can be slow and silent. Almost every disease is highly associated with poverty and socioeconomic deprivation—I am talking about diabetes, cancer, high blood pressure, strokes, mental illness, and drug and alcohol addiction—with early childhood experiences laying down health risks that play out over a lifetime. As the economy suffers with lack of opportunities and jobs, poverty and socioeconomic deprivation worsen, and, as a result, so does the health of the nation—it just takes much longer to see the effect.

However, that future is by no means inevitable and to avoid it we must reset, not merely recover. Today we need an immense public health response to prevent the illnesses that are caused by this crisis but which will be detected only in years to come. Our response must come from all quarters of government, impacting all society. A few examples are cutting air pollution from our aeroplanes and motorways such as the M25, preventing lung diseases and protecting our planet; protecting green space so that people can exercise, and reduce and prevent childhood and adult obesity; and early interventions in schools preventing adult mental illness. The best example I can give of joined-up working is meals on wheels—a lifeline to many but also preventing malnutrition and illness in older people. You see, adult social care and related support is a public health measure. This is an area that we must take forward and fix.

None of the areas I have mentioned fall directly under the NHS, but all have a profound public health impact on disease, and ultimately a profound impact on the care the NHS needs to offer. We cannot look at the issue of healthcare as we do today and limit it to the NHS. We have to see healthcare as embedded in all our communities and linked to all our other policies as diverse as infrastructure, education and local planning. Only through this can we meet the challenges that healthcare faces, and not purely the challenges that we face from covid. As we reset and restart the NHS, now is the time to unleash it—to unleash healthcare—from its silo.