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Testing of NHS and Social Care Staff

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:48 pm on 24th June 2020.

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Photo of Jo Churchill Jo Churchill The Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Health and Social Care 6:48 pm, 24th June 2020

Like all other Members from all parts of the House and from all four nations, I add my thanks to all those in the NHS and across social care, although actually it is broader than that. There are those in primary care, our community health teams, those who have adapted the way they work in addiction services and so on, because all these things have had to change at pace.

When we started to get the news towards the end of January that this was a pandemic, we started to realise that we were dealing with a completely unprecedented time, and all those people stepped forward. We have heard repeatedly this afternoon that more people stepped forward to make this a journey of collaboration and innovation. We have seen changes right across the national health service and the services that we have had to build to make decisive changes.

I gently say that 12 weeks ago, as we went into lockdown, many of those services were very different: the delivery of PPE to just over 200 national health trusts has now ramped up to 58,000 providers; we have developed Clipper and local resilience forums to help us with the distribution of PPE throughout these extremely complex changes; and a large amount of work has been done on vaccines and testing. All these things are a tribute to collaboration and we need to thank the innovation of not only private industry, as my hon. Friend Robert Courts mentioned, but the Army. This truly has been an effort of public service, and as we have come together—as we have done across the House—we have achieved so much more.

How do we carry on achieving more? There was a challenge before we went into the crisis, and the decision to postpone non-urgent elective treatment was the right one, because it allowed us to have the capacity required to help us to manage increased demand in the NHS. Throughout the outbreak, we have ensured that patients who require urgent treatment have been able to access it and, like many Members, we encourage people not to delay in coming forward for treatment as they normally would, should they require it. NHS has a firm “Help Us Help You” message.

We heard of how, as my hon. Friend Selaine Saxby put it—I do not think I can put it better—we achieve much more by working together and focusing on what we do best. How do we drive down waiting times and have routine services return as quickly as possible to their normal provision? We must ensure that that is done in a safe and managed way to maintain capacity but avoid any further surge in covid. As outlined in the guidance already issued to the NHS, the restarting of routine electives should prioritise long waiters first and make full use of all contracted independent-sector hospital and diagnostic capacity.

Cancer was mentioned by severable Members. Urgent cancer care and treatment has continued throughout the pandemic. We know how important it is that referrals, diagnostics and cancer treatment reach pre-pandemic levels as soon as possible. Urgent action should now be taken by hospitals on the two-week-wait referrals, and they should provide two-week-wait out-patient diagnostic appointments at pre-covid-19 levels. That is easy to say but really hard to achieve.

The work done by protected hubs and to ensure that rapid diagnostic centres have been pushed out has been important. During the outbreak, the Secretary of State and I have regularly met the national cancer director, Dame Cally Palmer, to discuss progress not only on how we were dealing with cancer during the crisis, but on restoring cancer services as quickly as possible. We will keep a laser focus on that.

The NHS has continued to deliver over and above. Guidance has been issued and further guidance to restore urgent non-covid services in a safe way while ensuring that surge capacity can be stood up again, should it be needed, is already being planned. Preparations for going forward have already begun: we are learning lessons from where we have been but also driving ourselves to where we need to go. My hon. Friend Dr Spencer said that we should think about what we can learn, how we can reset and how we can make sure that as we go forward we can take the best of what has changed, develop it and weave it in.