Public Health

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:29 pm on 1st December 2020.

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Photo of Huw Merriman Huw Merriman Chair, Transport Committee, Chair, Transport Committee 6:29 pm, 1st December 2020

This vote is incredibly difficult for all of us who will have to make a decision. On the one hand, I of course wish to support my Government as they grapple with the difficult challenge of deciding on the least damaging path to take; I want to protect people from getting covid and I want to help the NHS to care for those who do get it. On the other hand, I look at the damage that could be caused to the life chances, livelihoods and life expectancy of constituents, which drives me to ask serious questions of continuing along the path to where these measures will lead.

When considering this issue and how to vote this evening, I look at the evidence and ask myself the same questions I posed in respect of previous votes: can my local NHS cope and have we properly assessed the impact of the restrictions so that we know which path will be the least destructive?

We, in East Sussex, have had very low covid rates this year compared with those of other parts of the country; we did see an increase in November, but the rates are down in the last week by 26%. Today’s figures for the local NHS show that we have 37 covid in-patients across our hospitals in East Sussex, and pressure on county NHS beds is reported to be the same as this time last year. We are seeing fewer general admissions and fewer elective surgery admissions; I do appreciate that hospitals are, however, at a greater risk from covid work- load. The NHS system in East Sussex coped fantastically earlier this year, and it has learned lessons which allows it to more effectively manage covid cases. I do not doubt that the situation for those working in hospitals is very challenging; I thank them, I have the utmost respect for them, and I have admiration for all who work in the NHS, but I do believe the evidence shows they are currently able to cope.

Then we come to the question of whether we have properly assessed which path is the least destructive. I have read the Government’s health, economic and social impact assessment, and among other worrying patterns it describes 1 million more people being unemployed by June 2021, state secondary school attendance at 78%, and, in September, non-emergency hospital admissions at 30% below pre-covid levels. The Government’s assessment does not tell us what the cost of this will be. It must, however, mean an increased risk to the people of this country from poverty; from death as a result of cancer, which already accounts for 165,000 deaths a year; from suicide, which is the biggest killer for those under 50; from poor mental health and loneliness; from failed life chances for our young people; and from domestic abuse.

As I said, neither is a path that we want to follow; either will lead to tragedy and sadness, but I believe there is more danger in following this path than alternative approaches, so I will vote against these measures this evening.