Covid-19

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:10 pm on 18th November 2020.

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Photo of Jo Churchill Jo Churchill The Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Health and Social Care 4:10 pm, 18th November 2020

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. As he will know, the comprehensive spending review will deliver forth, and bids have been put in across the piece. I am sure he will understand that it is not my place to answer, as those decisions are still being made.

We know that some of these figures relate to specific challenges. For example, endoscopy is still a particular challenge because of the aerosol-generating procedure. That is why I was really pleased that Cally Palmer, Professor Peter Johnson and other stakeholders, including charities, have formed the cancer recovery taskforce. They will be laying out a national plan for how we beat this, and also how we optimise the use of new treatment paths. As the hon. Gentleman knows, we are using fewer radiotherapy treatments, or fractions, so that people do not have to attend so much. There is also oral chemotherapy and many other advances that need building in, to ensure that patients get timely and quick treatment.

As the first wave subsided, the NHS rose to the challenge of restoring cancer services: it kept focus and did some amazing reconfiguration work around cancer hubs and rapid diagnostic centres. I recognise that, as the hon. Gentleman says, there is a way to go, but I am aware of how much each day spent waiting for a diagnosis, for treatment or for an answer suspends time and feels like a year for the individual. We will continue to ensure that cancer services are prioritised and we thank those who work in the cancer workforce for everything they are doing.

In September, slightly over 86% saw a cancer specialist within two weeks of a referral from a GP, and 94.5% had treatment within 31 days of a decision to treat. I would really urge people who are worried about cancer or any other major issue, “Please, don’t leave it. Help us to help you.” It is always challenging, and many people have said to me that they do not want to overload the system, but doctors are keen to help.

A vaccine will perhaps be our most potent weapon, once we know that it is safe and effective. However, we do not yet have a vaccine. I must be very clear on that point. We are not quite there yet—we must ensure that we stick to hands, face, space and ventilate our environments by opening windows for short bursts—but progress on this front is encouraging. Last week, we heard about phase 3 trials from Pfizer and BioNTech, stating that their vaccine was more than 90% effective in preventing covid. Today, further data indicates that the vaccine is now thought to be around 94% efficacious for those who are 65-plus, with good data on many other groups. As I say, we are constantly learning. Earlier this week, preliminary trial data from Moderna suggested that its vaccine had an effectiveness of 94.5%. Additionally, we have had the start of Janssen’s phase 3 trials in the UK this week, and we will hopefully have more phase 3 trials reported in the next few weeks.

This is all very positive, but of course, our regulator will not approve any vaccine until it is proven to be clinically safe and effective, and the way to get there is via trials. On that note, I would like to give a shout-out to my hon. Friend Steve Double, who is taking part in the trial, and my hon. Friend Kemi Badenoch, who is also doing so. I know that my hon. Friend Dr Davies and my hon. Friend Kevin Hollinrake have registered, although I do not know whether they are part of it. I am sure several other Members across the House have also stepped up.

We have already struck commercial deals to secure access 355 million doses of seven vaccines, and the Department is working at pace with the NHS to ensure that we will be ready to roll out any that are proven safe and effective immediately. That will be a massive undertaking, and I thank everyone for their hard work thus far.

Mr Deputy Speaker, you were not in the Chair yesterday, but I somewhat embarrassed myself by perhaps displaying more of the parent in me than the Minister. This country’s journey in beating the pandemic, however, has been a little like watching one’s child grow: it is a huge undertaking, it comes without a manual, we are proud of the successes and, when things are trying, we attempt to learn and move on—but the work is never done. Over the past year, so many parts of our country have risen to meet an incredible set of challenges; challenges they are facing every day. Only by ensuring that we have those different lines of defence, and by pulling together in local, regional, national and international ways will we protect those on the frontline and allow family and business life to resume and get back to a different, albeit more normal way of life.