Public Health: Coronavirus Regulations

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:32 pm on 13th October 2020.

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Photo of Karin Smyth Karin Smyth Shadow Minister (Northern Ireland) 4:32 pm, 13th October 2020

Bristol, in tier 1, has fortunately been able to maintain low transmissions, and hence admissions to hospital and, so far, deaths. We want it to stay that way. My experience of working in the local health system is that this is in large part due to good relationships that have been hard developed over many years, particularly through local resilience forums. There are good relationships with Public Health England and directors of public health. Working together is sustaining some very good work locally, but there is no room for complacency. We recognise that the economy—wealth creation—is crucial to good local health, and we need support from the Government for both those things.

In the short time available, I want to highlight issues around isolating, shielding, and test and trace. As well as reducing social contact, which the Secretary of State talked a lot about, the key to transmission reduction is isolating, but isolation support is woeful and for communities with little money, which face higher unemployment, the situation is worsened. We have to be much more honest about the incentives and the way they work to support people who are isolating. It is hard and the knock-on effects on families are substantial and disruptive. Again, we need local public health people who know their communities to help support those who are isolating. We need much more support for people who are shielding. People do not understand why it is now different from how it was back in March.

Across the House, we all know that the test and trace system is not working. It is causing chaos for the frontline, particularly care home managers and school leaders. There is a balancing act to be done here. Again, we need local support to inform those school leaders and care home managers about how to interpret the guidance. That cannot just be done through the algorithm. It is a disgrace that the test and trace system is not led by a civil servant whom we can hold to account. I do not know how we can hold the Baroness—I do not know whether the courtesies of the House allow me to name her—to account for the system. That must be changed. It is crucial that we can hold people to account.

I accept that the legislation was rushed through in March, and perhaps there was a reason for not using the Civil Contingencies Act 2004 or the public health legislation we are debating today. The Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee has scrutinised this, produced our report and we now need to move to a better way forward. We cannot keep dragging the Government here week after week to do our job, which is to agree to disagree, to scrutinise and to hold to account, based on our experience, the work we do in Committees and our work locally. It would improve the legislation. It would improve local trust, and ultimately that supports the front line and saves lives.