Public Health

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:39 pm on 1st December 2020.

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Photo of Jackie Doyle-Price Jackie Doyle-Price Conservative, Thurrock 5:39 pm, 1st December 2020

I share the concerns expressed by many Members about the lack of consistency in the application of tiering and how areas are allocated into it, but also about how particular sectors are subject to social restrictions on the most arbitrary of judgments. I was struck by what Steve McCabe said, because these decisions are being taken on the back of a fag packet, but are destroying whole swathes of the hospitality industry. As a Conservative, it appals me that we are being so cavalier about jobs and wealth creation, and we need to think carefully about that, not least because so many businesses have invested thousands of pounds to make themselves more covid-secure.

The fact of the matter is that if we are not mixing having a meal with our friends or having a pint in a pub, then we are going round to each other’s houses. Our homes are a lot less covid-secure, which brings me back to some of the points that colleagues have made about the relaxation over Christmas. It seems to me that that is far less covid-secure than allowing the hospitality sector to thrive a little more, particularly given that November and December are make or break for so many hospitality and retail businesses.

I am actually very disappointed with where we have got to. It is not surprising that we are here, is it, because it is winter? At this time every winter, the NHS gets taken over by a collective anticipatory anxiety about what will happen over the next three months, because we never know. The NHS has to make the best possible plans without knowing the extent of a flu epidemic, for example. Add covid on top of that and it is not surprising that the NHS is being risk-averse, but it our job, and the job of Ministers, to give challenge and ensure that those decisions are proportionate.

We talk about protecting the NHS, but these decisions have not been about protecting the NHS; they have been about protecting hospitals and bed capacity within them. The NHS is more than hospitals; this is about everybody who works in the NHS, and I will just give a bit of a shout-out to our paramedics and ambulance crews, who, frankly, are bearing the brunt of the fact that so many GPs have still not reopened their surgeries. More and more people are calling 999, and because of isolate, test and trace, our ambulance crews are overstretched. So many are not in self-isolation, and so many are working very long shifts. When we talk about protecting our NHS, it is more than beds in hospitals. Let us make sure we protect the entirety of it.