Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:08 pm on 18th November 2020.

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Photo of Mark Eastwood Mark Eastwood Conservative, Dewsbury 5:08 pm, 18th November 2020

There are a couple of areas relating to how we continue to fight the virus that will benefit from some further consideration, and I urge those on the Front Bench to take another look at them and refine the current arrangements and regulations.

In my maiden speech some months ago, I highlighted the heroic efforts of our doctors, nurses, paramedics and NHS support staff in responding to the pandemic. As each day passes, my admiration for them grows even more—for their professionalism, dedication and resilience during these trying times.

At present, local NHS staff are battling with rising bed occupancy at Dewsbury Hospital and Huddersfield Royal Infirmary and with fluctuating staffing levels. Sickness, the requirement to self-isolate, burnout due to the very demanding nature of their work and poor staffing levels have seen wards badly hit. Having spoken to fellow Members, I also understand that this is a big issue affecting hospitals outside my constituency such as, for example, Pinderfields Hospital, Leeds General Infirmary and St James’s Hospital.

In my local Mid Yorkshire Hospitals NHS Trust, at times up to 20% of junior doctors in medical specialities have not been at work, through no fault of their own.  That has the effect of increasing the pressure on those who remain on duty. It is not my intention to be alarmist, but having listened to NHS leaders and those on the frontline, it is clear to me that staffing levels are at risk of being stretched too thin, and the pressure is likely only to increase.

Meanwhile, there many third-year student nurses and fourth-year medical students in universities; they made a large difference in the first wave of the pandemic and could be called on again. A four-week placement of such students in hospitals could alleviate some of the pressures. After speaking to local NHS leaders, I know that they are keen to discuss that idea with the Government. I ask the Minister to consider seriously this temporary measure to help to release the pressure on our local hospitals and to support our amazing teams of doctors and nurses.

It is crucial to ensure that all our children get the education that they need at this time. The second thing that I ask those on the Front Bench to look at again is the guidance relating to school attendance of children with extremely clinically vulnerable parents—an issue that has come to light in my constituency. Although extremely clinically vulnerable children can, rightly, attend school remotely, the current guidance compels extremely clinically vulnerable parents—who may, for example, have a weak immune system—to send their children to school or potentially face a fine.

The parents are in a tough and worrying position, juggling concerns about their own physical and financial health while being required to send their child to school and risk bringing home an infection. The situation could easily be remedied by allowing such pupils to study remotely. In these rare circumstances, schools and colleges are seeking to be as compassionate as possible, but they feel restricted as to how lenient they can be. I hope the Government will consider taking another look at the guidance.

It is not all doom and gloom, though, and there is much to be optimistic about. Rumour has it that there may be several vaccines on the way. The introduction of rapid testing should also help to control the virus until we are in a position to fully roll out a vaccine in the new year, which I hope will mean that we can all get back to some kind of normality.

In summary, I ask that the Minister and the Secretary of State consider my request to release nursing students to help our local hospitals, and that the Department for Education looks at the issue I raised regarding clinically vulnerable parents having to send their children to school during the pandemic.