Covid-19 (Public Services Committee Report) - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 3:12 pm on 22nd July 2021.

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Photo of Lord Bilimoria Lord Bilimoria Crossbench 3:12 pm, 22nd July 2021

My Lords, the House of Lords Public Services Committee was established to consider the operation and future of public services, including health and education. It started work in February 2020, and the committee recognised very quickly, following the outbreak of Covid-19, that

“the pandemic would have an enormous impact on the delivery of public services in the years to come.”

Therefore, it set up an inquiry to examine what the experience of the coronavirus outbreak can tell us about the future role, priorities and shape of public services. The committee found five key weaknesses in public service provision, which it argued made the response to the pandemic more challenging. One of them was

“insufficient support for prevention and early intervention services,” which I will come to.

The committee made various recommendations, and one of those that I want to focus on was:

“Recognising and supporting charities, community groups, volunteers, and the private sector as key public service providers.”

If one word stands out throughout the pandemic, it is “collaboration.” Last year, at the beginning of the pandemic, I was privileged to be appointed a trustee of the National Bereavement Partnership right from its outset. It has carried out inspirational work throughout the pandemic under the leadership of our inspirational CEO Michaela Willis. The National Bereavement Partnership has made a difference to the emotional well-being of callers. These are people who call in with very sad and tragic situations. The National Bereavement Partnership provides emotional support and therapeutic intervention and is a conduit between other services, enabling long-term well-being. It adds value to NHS services; it saves the Government money; and it keeps people out of the mental health system. So here we are where the public sector and charities work hand in hand to the benefit of each other.

When it comes to prevention and early intervention, the committee cited evidence highlighting the disproportionate impact of Covid-19 on BAME communities, including:

“almost a third of all patients critically ill with COVID-19 in hospitals were from BAME backgrounds—despite making up just 13 per cent of the UK population— that is, almost double the proportion of the population being critically ill—

“and … people of Bangladeshi background in England were twice as likely as white British people to die if they contracted COVID-19.”

The committee recommended that the Government take an approach to public health that focused on preventing health inequalities over the longer term.

The pandemic has highlighted the potential of the NHS to drive forward large-scale change and new approaches in a short period of time. There are so many examples of this. The vaccines are a great example; we have a world-leading vaccine programme with Kate Bingham, a private sector individual, appointed by the Government in May last year. On 8 December, we had the first vaccination. We had six vaccines on order and 400 million doses for a population of 67 million. Today, almost 90% of the adult population have had their first dose and almost 70% have been double-jabbed.

Again, this could not have happened with the public sector on its own; it is due to the public sector working with the private sector, with Oxford University, with the university sector, and with the Serum Institute of India in Pune, the largest vaccine manufacturer in the world, which now has a 1 billion-dose contract with the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine. Of course, it is international collaboration: AstraZeneca is a Swedish-British company headquartered in Cambridge.

The way we worked with the ventilator challenge was amazing. We got 20 years’ worth of essential ventilators in 12 weeks. So was the way we created the Nightingale hospitals, such as the 4,000-bed centre at the ExCeL centre—the first where you had the private sector, the Armed Forces, universities and the NHS all working together.

All this underlines the importance of the health and life sciences sector. As president of the CBI, we have launched our economic strategy for the next decade, called Seize the Moment. Within that, one of the pillars is:

“A healthier nation, with health the foundation of wellbeing and economic growth”,

which is absolutely crucial.

“COVID-19 has put the health of the nation under the spotlight. Firms have stepped up, with a significantly increased emphasis on the health and wellbeing of their employees. And, for us as a country, the crisis has been a wake-up call, bringing the pervasive impacts of health inequalities into stark focus, underlining the importance of health to people’s personal and professional success, and reinforcing just how vital our life sciences capability is to the UK’s progress now and in the future.”

Poor health is expensive: 63% of years lost to poor health are in the working-age population. This costs the UK £300 billion in lost economic output annually, excluding health costs. So, life sciences and health can be a major driver of economic success for the UK, with the global market in pharmaceuticals and medtech worth £1.2 trillion in 2020; and it is expected to see a strong growth of around 5% a year through to 2030. The secret, again, is collaboration between the public sector, charities and the private sector.

People talk about building back better. Well, I chaired a CBI event with the mayor of Athens, and he said, “We do not talk about building back better; we talk about building forward better.” So, let us build forward better.