Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:55 pm on 12th January 2021.

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Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health) 4:55 pm, 12th January 2021

I shall say just a few words. As I have listened to the others who have spoken, I have become aware that the fears of my constituency, Strangford, are replicated throughout the UK. We must remember that light dispels the darkness.

I plea for communication, particularly in relation to the teachers who have sometimes been unsure of what has been happening. It would be better if they had an email to tell them in advance what they could then tell parents.

I thank GPs for all that they are doing in relation to the vaccine roll-out. I make a plea again for the pharmacies, because they are well placed and well located and also have the ability to deliver the vaccines, if they get the opportunity.

The postmen and postwomen who have done their duty during their rounds deserve a lot of credit. Their work is necessary and it is essential that we provide them with support.

I thank all the workers who have come out of retirement —the doctors, nurses and careworkers—to carry out admin duties or to muck in and carry out work on the wards, and also those who have been vaccinated. Given the pressure that the NHS is under, it is essential that discussions are held. Perhaps the Minister could give some indication of what discussions have been held with private hospitals to secure beds and assistance throughout the United Kingdom.

On teachers again, last week I made a plea to the Secretary of State directly for teachers to be made a priority case, along with those who continue to work in nurseries and special schools during this strict lockdown. It is important that their role is recognised and that they are prioritised when it comes to the vaccine.

We must ensure that the vulnerable who have additional learning needs receive additional help and support as a matter of urgency. Although it is great to hear of the offer of learning tools, schools must have access to such tools so that they can give them to vulnerable children immediately, not later.

This is not the responsibility of the Minister, Jo Churchill, but I stress that the issue is not just covid-19 but the fact that because of the Northern Ireland protocol we are seeing numerous empty shelves and businesses on the brink. People in Northern Ireland are fearful once again that they will not have the bare essentials. The issue is very clear for us. It is not the Minister’s responsibility, but the complications we have with the protocol add to the situation when it comes to covid-19.

Cancer waiting lists need to be addressed. The Minister is in her place and I know that she is totally committed, so I make that plea again.

We are quickly approaching a year of dealing with coronavirus. For some this has been a year of isolation, for some a year of fear and for some a long time mourning in these strange times. We are approaching the end of the journey, but we are not there yet. We need to bring people through with messages of truth, hope and positivity, and to do as we did at the start of this journey: pull together. The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland—always better together.