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Covid-19: Armed Forces Support for NHS Trusts

Volume 675: debated on Monday 4 May 2020

What steps his Department is taking with the armed forces to support NHS trusts in their response to the covid-19 outbreak. (902089)

What support the armed forces are providing to civil authorities in response to the covid-19 outbreak. (902109)

As part of the national covid-19 response, Defence has supported NHS trusts in a variety of ways. We have distributed PPE and diagnostic equipment, we supported the planning, construction and staffing of Nightingale hospitals and we provided service personnel to conduct testing at regional and mobile testing sites. We also established a covid support force to assist wider Government, with 2,935 personnel in that force, as of this morning, currently deployed to assist civil authorities.

Given the challenging operational circumstances in which key workers have found themselves in recent weeks, what steps are being taken by the Cabinet Office to recognise those who have gone above and beyond the call of duty, and might those steps manifest themselves in the form of a campaign medal?

We are carefully considering the appropriate ways to reward and recognise those involved in this unprecedented response. There will be a range of ways to mark exceptional contributions once we are through the crisis, including consideration of how the honours system might play a role. Departments continue to consider existing internal mechanisms to reward individuals and teams, with the recent example of Captain Tom Moore being appointed as an honorary colonel.

I am sure that we all agree that the military bring a huge amount to our national effort, including manpower and, much more importantly, their mindset and can-do approach. Yet, rather than using their skills to the full, too many Whitehall Departments are still clinging to the old, discredited ways, involving layers of middlemen, questionable mega-accounting and consultancy firms, and needless delays. For example, the Foreign Office put all its trust in the airlines and left thousands of our people stranded abroad, rather than properly using the RAF’s planes and, more importantly, its planning and chartering skills. As the Department responsible for procurement policy, will the Minister get a grip not only in order to get my constituents home, and to get kit to the NHS and care homes, but also to ensure that we are much better organised to come out of the lockdown?

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his point. Although today we see the military in the media, particularly with regard to how we have stepped up to meet the challenge of testing, the military have been involved from the very beginning. We mobilised a covid support force of 20,000. Yes, we have 2,500 people testing and 4,000 people deployed at the moment. It is for other Government Departments to choose when to use this resource. We receive those demand signals, that produces a response, and we are only too happy to step up and help other Departments where requested.