Public Health

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:11 pm on 1st December 2020.

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Photo of Steven Baker Steven Baker Conservative, Wycombe 4:11 pm, 1st December 2020

This is a dangerous moment in the life of our country. People feel they have been pushed too far, pushed about too much, and pushed too hard; they have suffered too much. We think first, of course, of the coronavirus patients who have died and their families and friends, and the NHS staff who have cared for them, with all the mental health issues they have suffered. We think of the long-covid patients who have been squeezed out of hospital by coronavirus. Let that be understood—by coronavirus, not by lockdown. We think of businesses that were shut down by the Government and have lost custom, because of coronavirus, not lockdown, but also patients who did not attend hospital because they were afraid to do so. People have experienced alcohol and drug misuse, reduced physical activity, malnutrition, self-harm, domestic violence and suicide. One can talk to anyone in their 20s or 30s who is single and feels they have been missing out on one of the best years of their life.

Quantifying these wellbeing issues is the, I am afraid, dreary task of health economics. People like me have not just been looking for economic analysis; we have been looking for serious analysis of the harms and benefits of the Government’s policies in terms of coronavirus so that we can see seriously, but bearing in mind all the factors at work, the Government’s policy in the context of the right way forward. The Government’s analysis should have compared, let us say, the John Snow memorandum or the Great Barrington declaration with where the Government stand. I have provided the Government with a plan that lies between them and Great Barrington. The point would be to show proportionality, the effects, the achievements that would come, and the benefits, to allow serious judgments. I have here the analysis of a QC provided to me, where he says that the Government’s analysis does not allow the test of proportionality to be answered.

That leaves us with a problem, because the Government are asking us to vote on these measures not knowing whether they are proportionate. Looking at some of the models that were provided to us, such as the DEFRA projection, Government scientists presented it to us and then would not stand over the figures, and it turns out that they were right not to do so.