MPs continued to question the Government on its response to the coronavirus emergency this week. On Monday (11 May 2020) and Tuesday (12 May 2020), the House of Commons held a general debate on COVID-19. This followed a statement by the Prime Minister on Sunday (10 May 2020), in which he announced a “conditional plan” to reopen society.
The UK now has the highest number of coronavirus-related deaths in Europe. This is a tragic reminder of the severity of this virus and my thoughts remain with the loved ones of those who have sadly died and with those who have contracted the virus.
The Government faces difficult decisions in its response to COVID-19. The priority must be to protect public health, save lives and reduce the risks posed by the spread of coronavirus. People in our constituency and across the country have made great sacrifices to make the lockdown work. I believe it is vital that the Government offers clarity and reassurance, alongside building a national consensus on what happens next.
I am concerned that mistakes were made at the beginning of this pandemic; the Government was slow to implement the lockdown, slow on testing and slow to get personal protective equipment (PPE) to frontline workers. As Ministers begin to relax social distancing, it is imperative that the Government ensures public services, businesses and people are supported and kept safe. People rightly need confidence that it is safe before they go back out to work, travel or use public services.
I will press the Government to implement a fully resourced testing, isolation and tracing programme and expand community testing and tracing. Testing and surveillance are crucial to properly understanding prevalence and we must use the expertise in local public health services and primary care to ensure any strategy is effective.
On the supply of PPE, there are reports that some NHS and care staff are being asked to treat coronavirus patients without the appropriate equipment. The British Medical Association (BMA) reports that almost half of doctors have relied on donated or self-bought PPE and two thirds are concerned that they are still not fully protected. I believe the Government must urgently publish a national plan to ensure supply chains are developed that guarantee PPE to those who need it.
In care homes the spread of coronavirus continues and the death toll is still too high. More needs to be done to improve access to, and ensure priority testing for, care workers. Delivering this means more local testing centres, including allowing care staff to use NHS testing facilities and more mobile testing units.Tackling the virus in care homes must be a priority and the Government should give social care the resources, support and attention it needs to stop the spread.
Our health service is facing an unprecedented challenge and this outbreak has demonstrated beyond all doubt just how important our NHS and social care sector is. I pay tribute to the extraordinary efforts of frontline staff who are responding to the outbreak. It is vital now, and in the coming weeks and months, that testing is upscaled and that all health professionals and frontline staff have access to appropriate PPE and mental health support. Beyond the pandemic, I believe it is right that NHS and care staff are paid at a level which recognises the skill and dedication they bring to their jobs.