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Topical Questions

Volume 677: debated on Tuesday 23 June 2020

Yesterday, clinicians set out our advice for those who are shielding because they are clinically extremely vulnerable. The whole House will want to pay tribute to the enormous sacrifice of that group, who are among the most vulnerable to covid-19. Very shortly, the Prime Minister will set out to the House the next steps to get the country back on her feet.

There is no doubt that lockdown has taken its toll on the mental health and wellbeing of many children of all ages, whether by way of social isolation, physical inactivity or a sense of loss. I know that my right hon. Friend is very exercised by that, so, as we understand more about the impact, will he look again at the long-term NHS plan to establish whether it is really able to meet what will be a more acute challenge in the future?

That is a very important question on supporting children’s mental health. We absolutely reiterate the long-term plan ambitions for service transformation and expansion. Indeed, one of the things we have learned during coronavirus is that when it comes to paediatric mental health, telemedicine can actually have a better and more effective impact than face to face. That is a good thing to have learned and will help the roll-out further.

On the app, the Secretary of State told us it was crucial and would be ready by mid-May. Experts warned him it would not work. He spent three months, wasted £12 million and has got nothing to show for it. It is a good job he is a tech-savvy expert on apps; otherwise, this would be a right shambles now, wouldn’t it?

On the contrary, ensuring that we use technology to its best possible effects is incredibly important. I would have thought that the shadow Secretary of State would want to side with and support the efforts of all those, including in the NHS, who are doing the work to ensure that we can get this up and running as quickly as possible.

In the past few days, I have been listening to the Secretary of State’s excuses. He is like the Eric Morecambe of the Commons: he has been playing all the right notes, just not necessarily in the right order. On test and trace, local areas such as Leicester, which has had a spike, still do not have local data; GPs still cannot refer people for testing; and NHS staff are still not tested regularly. He has spent £100 million on a Serco and Sitel call centre where the tracers are saying they have nothing to do. This is not a “world-beating” system; it is more like a wing and a prayer. When are we going to get a functional test, trace and isolate strategy?

The shadow Secretary of State is far better when he supports the Government than when he pretends to oppose them. We have all seen him explaining why the steps that the Government are taking are the sensible ones, why it is important to move from a national lockdown as much as is safely possible to local outbreak control, and why test and trace is important. When he gets on to saying that the money we have spent to protect the NHS and put in place the actions needed to get us out of the lockdown is wasted, I think that that is opposition for opposition’s sake.

Maintaining safe and healthy food standards is essential for public health. As we leave the European Union and sign trade deals around the world, what are Ministers doing to ensure that the system maintains public confidence? (903653)

As we sign trade deals around the world, we will have enhanced animal and food standards in this country, and of course the Food Standards Agency plays a vital role in ensuring that those standards are upheld.

On 21 May, the Prime Minister bowed to pressure and agreed to abolish the immigration health surcharge for NHS workers. However, NHS workers applying to renew their visas are being told by the Home Office that this policy is still being applied and is still in place. Why is this immoral and mean-spirited policy still being applied, in light of the Prime Minister’s clear promise? (903650)

We are putting this policy into action and it will be retrospective to the date of the announcement by the Prime Minister.

Yesterday’s announcement on easing restrictions for those like me who are among the 2.2 million people who have been shielding for months is very welcome. What reassurance can my right hon. Friend give on the scientific evidence that supported the decision to ease restrictions for shielders from 6 July and to finish them on 31 July? (903654)

I am absolutely delighted that my right hon. Friend will be able to follow guidance and take more steps out after 6 July. The decisions on shielding were all based on the best clinical advice. Dr Jenny Harries, the deputy chief medical officer, has led the medical advice on this programme with great élan and wisdom. The reason that we are able to make these changes and recommend these steps to my right hon. Friend and the 2.2 million others in his situation is that we have protected the NHS and got the virus right under control.

My constituent Jonathan e-mailed me to say:“Today for the first time my partner will see our baby and hear their tiny heartbeat. However, I’m writing to you from the car outside as she attends our 12 week scan. I’m banned from attending due to government guidelines.”Jonathan says he is being robbed of enjoying these special moments with Emma, yet they can shop together, travel on public transport and even visit the beach. What does the Secretary of State have to say to expectant fathers like him? (903651)

Of course it has been necessary to have tight controls over visitors in hospitals during this crisis, because people picking up nosocomial infections in hospital has been one part of the epidemic that we need to get under control. My heart goes out to those many people who have made sacrifices, including the hon. Member’s constituent, and of course we always keep this under review.

As we return to normality, we inevitably run a risk of a second wave of the virus. What infection threshold would my right hon. Friend consider sufficient to warrant further lockdown, and what criteria would be applied to determine the geographical ambit of any future lockdown? (903655)

My hon. Friend makes an important point. She may have seen this morning that in Germany, North Rhine-Westphalia has been put back into lockdown because of a local outbreak. So far, the local outbreaks we have seen have essentially been clusters in very small areas, and we have been able to bust those clusters and tackle them. We do, of course, hold the powers to have wider local lockdowns. Those will be based on judgments based on the epidemiological advice and advised by the joint biosecurity centre, working with all the relevant agencies.

The Secretary of State rightly says that black lives matter. The time for action is now, yet latest figures show that black African and black Caribbean people are four times more likely to be detained under the Mental Health Act. When will he bring forward the White Paper on the mental health Bill? Will he please ensure that that legislation enshrines the four principles laid out in the Wessely review, including treating the patient as an individual, so that we can start to tackle racial disparities in mental health treatment? (903652)

We will bring forward that White Paper. The work has been ongoing even while we have been dealing with coronavirus. As far as I am concerned, the Wessely review is one of the finest pieces of work on the treatment of mental ill health that has been done anywhere in the world.

We have just marked Loneliness Awareness Week. Does the Secretary of State agree that combating loneliness is vital in ensuring the health and wellbeing of elderly people? I have seen excellent work at the Rainbow Centre in Penley in my constituency and by the charity I helped to set up, the Concertina Charitable Trust, which provides live music in care homes and day centres. (903657)

Absolutely. When we set up the loneliness strategy in 2018, when I was the Culture Secretary, I had no idea that covid-19 would make it so vital. I very much hope that, in England at least, the measures the Prime Minister is due to set out very shortly might help in that regard. Covid has underlined the importance of loneliness as an issue that we must directly and actively tackle.

At the start of the crisis, as a former emergency planner for the NHS, I thought the Government would trust the local well-established emergency planning systems that were in place and they had my support. However, they have wasted time and money. My hon. Friend the Member for Leicester South (Jonathan Ashworth) is quite right to criticise the Government, because that has led to excess deaths and time lost. It is welcome that we are now supporting the local, but will the Secretary of State tell me why, when his friends at Deloitte have been set up to do the testing at Bristol airport, the complaints process is run through an NHS trust? (903659)

Because this is a big team effort by a combination of public and private sector partners. I pay tribute to Deloitte, without which the testing programme would not be possible. I pay tribute to all the pharmaceutical companies and I pay tribute to Amazon, which has delivered the home testing with remarkable success. Instead of trying to divide, we should unite and bring people together.

Dr David Rosser and his team at the University Hospitals Birmingham NHS foundation trust have done amazing work during the pandemic to make sure that people in Birmingham are safe and cared for. Will the Secretary of State give them all the flexibility and support they need to ensure that services at hospitals like Queen Elizabeth can go back to normal as quickly and as safely as possible? (903662)

Yes. David Rosser is a great leader of a very, very impressive trust. I was speaking to him only last week. There is an important lesson from covid, which is that many of the NHS central rules and much of the bureaucracy was lifted to allow local systems to respond as a health system. That has worked well. We need to learn from that. We need to not only make that permanent, but see where we can go further in that sort of system working.

My borough of Enfield has been allocated the equivalent of £4.58 per head to support the NHS test and trace programme. That is a third of what other London boroughs have received, despite the fact that it has the 12th highest number of covid-19 cases in London. That exacerbates the unfair share of public health grant received by Enfield and fails to take account of its health inequalities. Will the Secretary of State meet me to discuss the allocation of funding for Enfield’s needs? (903660)

We were scrupulously fair in the allocation of funding to local authorities, ensuring, for instance, that the support for social care went according to the number of beds. We have taken a great deal of care to make sure we get this right.

To allow the safe exit of hon. Members participating in this item of business and the safe arrival of those participating in the next, I am now suspending the House for three minutes.

Sitting suspended.