Covid-19

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 8:10 pm on 14th December 2020.

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Photo of Jacob Young Jacob Young Conservative, Redcar 8:10 pm, 14th December 2020

I know that this is outwith the subject of today’s debate, and the Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, my hon. Friend Jo Churchill, is no longer in her place, but I want to put on record my thanks to her for her work on changing the rules around blood donation for gay and bisexual men, as announced today. Her work and that of her predecessor, my hon. Friend Steve Brine, and the many campaigners on this issue means so much to gay and bisexual men. It will, importantly, boost our blood donations, and I thank her for that.

I want to start by expressing my sincere condolences to all those in Redcar and Cleveland who have lost loved ones to this awful disease. I also want to extend my thanks to our local NHS and care staff. Those at James Cook University Hospital and the Primary Care Hospital in Redcar have done so much, and many more lives would have been lost in Teesside without their tireless dedication over the last few months. I also congratulate Margaret Dixon on being the first person in my constituency to receive the covid-19 vaccine.

I wish to speak on two things in this covid debate. The first is the tier review on Wednesday; the second is our care homes and care agency staff. I know that other colleagues will be making similar pleas to the Department of Health and Social Care in the coming days, but I firmly believe that the people of Redcar and Cleveland have done their bit and deserve to move down the tiers this Wednesday. Some will argue that the ability to move up and down tiers should not be treated like a reward and that there should not be a recognition of the fact that areas have brought their cases under control, but what is the point in tiering if there is no ability to move up and down, and if instead we are locked into a tier indefinitely?

When I last spoke on tiering earlier this month, I described how disappointed I was that Redcar and Cleveland had found itself entering tier 3. However, when that original decision was taken, it was clear that it was sensible and proportionate, given the local data that we faced. As the Secretary of State outlined in his written ministerial statement, our cases were very high at 394 per 100,000 across the region, with positivity also very high at 13.3%. The case rate among the over-60s remained high at 292 per 100,000, and NHS admissions had remained high in November.

However, we are now some weeks on from that decision, and our position has improved greatly. Our case rate is down: in the seven days running up to 11 December, it was 131 per 100,000—a third of what it was when the original tiering decision was taken, and down by 7% on the previous week. Our case numbers for the over-60s have almost halved, sitting at around 150 per 100,000, down from 292 when we were placed in tier 3. Our positivity—the percentage of tests where the outcome is positive—is now 6.6%. This too has halved since the original tiering decision, and our local NHS admissions are down by 60% since their peak on 23 November.

As you can see, Madam Deputy Speaker, I am trying to paint a picture here. On every test set out by the Prime Minister on why areas can move up and down tiers, Redcar and Cleveland is performing. In two days, the Secretary of State will announce our new tier position, and I urge him to look at all this data, look at how we have improved and measure us against that. He has outlined today that London is to move into tier 3, and I fully support him in considering tightening restrictions in areas where cases are rising, but it cannot be that there is no reward for places where efforts have paid off. Many businesses in the hospitality sector are now down on their knees, and with that, those families are suffering. This Christmas will sadly not be much comfort to them in these times of uncertainty. Where stricter measures are put in place in order to bring cases down, those same measures must be lifted when they are not absolutely necessary, in order to bring some balance between saving lives from covid and saving lives from the consequences of economic suffocation.

Secondly, I want to touch on care homes. I pay tribute to all our care workers in Redcar and Cleveland. The Government have done a brilliant job in getting us to the stage where all care home staff can now get weekly testing. Still excluded, however, are care agency staff. I raised this matter in the House on 10 November. The response was that we want to step away from using care agency staff who go between multiple care homes during this period. That can still remain a goal, but our focus has to be on including them in the weekly testing regimes. I spoke to one agency manager who admitted that some of her staff had lied about symptoms to qualify for a PCR test, just so they could go to work, know they were safe and not infect care home residents. Will the Minister look at what more can be done to ensure that this issue can be resolved in the very near future? I would also appreciate assurances that care agency workers will not be overlooked in the roll-out of the vaccine, as they are just as much at risk as those who work in dedicated care homes full time.

Across Redcar and Cleveland, most of our care homes are saying that they will not be allowing any visitors before Christmas. I am surprised about that, given the announcements the Government have made on lateral flow testing for care homes and other measures, such as including family and regular visitors in weekly testing. The Minister and I have spoken about that previously. Will she consider looking specifically at Redcar and Cleveland and helping us to discover what the blockages are in the system, to ensure that people can see their loved ones at this important time?

To finish, I want to recap on that all-important data: 131 cases, down two-thirds from 390; over-60 cases, 150, down by almost half from 290; positivity at 6.6%, down by half on 13.3%; and NHS admissions down by 60% since their peak in November. It cannot be that the same people who follow the rules and help to improve case numbers in their community, continue to be punished and their livelihoods destroyed when the risk of infection is now much, much lower. There has to be fairness in the way we deal with this crisis and we need to take into account all other economic, social and health factors that may also cause great damage if ignored. My constituents deserve recognition for the good results on the ground. I hope the Secretary of State and the Minister will look favourably on their circumstances.