Covid-19

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:29 pm on 18th November 2020.

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Photo of Feryal Clark Feryal Clark Labour, Enfield North 5:29 pm, 18th November 2020

Madam Deputy Speaker, I cannot remember the last time I was able to take part in a general debate in the Chamber, so I am delighted to be back here. I want to take you back to 1966. In 1966, Harold Wilson was Prime Minister and England won the World cup. When people talked about the moonshot they were actually talking about people going to the moon. It is 54 years since those events. That time gap matters to today’s debate, because before this year, 1966 was the last time that my constituent, whom I will call Mrs Enfield, was apart from her husband. That is 54 years of a life together: cups of tea; walks in the park; the trials, tribulations and triumphs of a long marriage. Now, along with her family, Mrs Enfield finds herself apart from her husband once again, unable to visit him in hospital after a worsening of his Parkinson’s condition forced him to go there; unable to visit him in the nursing home, to which he was moved after two weeks; and unable to make sense of a system that is doubling the disadvantage experienced by the most vulnerable adults. The video calls that they have been permitted are next to no good, as her husband cannot understand what is happening. The feedback that the family receives is patchy, and they do not know whether their loved one is distressed and confused.

That is not an isolated case. I accept that it is not simple to resolve it, but this is not March. The Government have had eight months to address the most obvious and heartbreaking consequence of the covid-19 restrictions. Our care homes, their staff, the residents and the families who rely on them were let down in the tsunami of the first wave. It is unforgiveable that they have been let down once again, as there has been time to work up safe solutions for those families.

I am sure that, like me, every Member in the House can point to anguished sons and daughters in their constituencies who are victims of well meaning but confused restrictions and regulations. No one blames the care homes or their staff. Confusion reigns, and they are doing the best with the guidance that they have been given. The truth, however, is that those visiting restrictions have created and deepened trauma, with disastrous consequences for elderly and frail people and their families. They are trying to make themselves understood behind a mask; there are shouted conversations, 3 metres away, to mums and dads with dementia; people are trying to mouth and sign conversation through frosted glass in the November rain; and there is confusion and heartbreak as elderly relatives with Alzheimer’s think that they have been abandoned or have done something wrong.

We can make an immediate and safe leap forward by putting decency and common sense back into the heart of care homes by classing designated family members as key workers, offering them tests on the same basis as care-home staff. It can only be right, as Deirdre Barr has recently pointed out on behalf of Dementia UK, that if a hairdresser is permitted to touch her mother’s hair, so should she. The trauma that thousands of families across the country are experiencing could be partially alleviated if the Government acted on that one simple and fair change. Testing for designated visitors would be good for families, care homes and the country as a whole, as we try to reconnect with all our loved ones, no matter where they live.

A lack of fairness, however, has become all too apparent in the way in which the Government have awarded public money for covid contracts to VIP friends and donors. Many of my constituents have expressed anger at those dodgy dealings in recent months. It is neither right nor fair for the Government to bypass usual procurement procedures and gift their friends lucrative contracts, some of which result in the purchase of products that are unsuitable for use—for example, £150 million was spent on masks that could not be used. A transparent procurement process would not only have secured value for money but would have ensured that companies could reach a certain stage of the bidding process only if the product that they offered could do the job as intended. The Government have failed to do that.

My constituents in Enfield North and I want to see a return to fairness—a fair process to be conducted when spending taxpayers’ money to combat the virus and a fair approach to allowing relatives to visit loved ones in care and nursing homes. It has been eight months since the first lockdown. We can and should be better than this.