Over recent months there has been robust and at times heated debate about the response to the covid-19 pandemic, from testing roll-out to PPE stocks, school closures and lockdown restrictions. We have stood in this House and debated fiercely with one another about the right course of action to take, and I have no doubt that in the months to come, that lively and necessary intensity of debate will continue.
We have seen great successes, and it is a testament to the ingenuity of British businesses that they have been able to adapt existing resources to manufacture vast amounts of PPE, and that small and medium-sized enterprises have had, and will have, greater opportunities to access public sector contracts. We have seen mass testing, reaching 500,000 capacity, due to the hard work and dedication of many individuals and organisations.
However, I think it will be universally agreed on both sides of the House and across the country that this pandemic has shone a light on acts of heroism, dedication, fortitude and inspiration by our wonderful frontline NHS staff and care workers. Amazing doctors and nurses, porters, cleaners, receptionists and pharmacists, our GPs, care assistants and the management across our NHS trusts and care homes have all worked, under extraordinary conditions, to protect us and to nurse those who suffer back to health as best they can. These are the real heroes and heroines of this pandemic.
Many of us will have read reports and articles, and received correspondence from those frontline health workers, showing that some are about to be hit with hospital car parking charges, including a 200% rise at one of the UK’s biggest trusts. That cannot be right. Back in March, the Government rightly introduced, for a temporary period, free hospital car parking for NHS staff. That was absolutely the right thing to do. With Christmas fast approaching, I ask the Government to provide our health and care workers with an early present. Let us extend the free hospital car parking again and make sure that our brave NHS workers continue to battle the virus. We should do all we can to support them in a limited period of time.
I am tempted to go further this Christmas and even suggest extending the free car parking beyond hospitals, and ask the Government and MPs to consider and encourage free car parking in local authority car parks, for this limited period of time, for our NHS and social care staff. NHS staff have been there for us throughout this pandemic, under extraordinary pressure. Let us give them a little perk this Christmas. Little perks matter. Let us make life a little easier for them.