Skip to main content

Covid-19: Next Phase

Volume 677: debated on Tuesday 23 June 2020

What plans he has to ensure that the NHS has the capacity to tackle the next phase of the covid-19 outbreak. (903693)

What progress his Department has made on ensuring the provision of adequate critical care capacity in hospitals during the covid-19 outbreak. (903700)

What progress his Department has made on ensuring the provision of adequate critical care capacity in hospitals during the covid-19 outbreak. (903701)

What plans he has to ensure that the NHS has the capacity to tackle the next phase of the covid-19 outbreak. (903705)

Thanks to unprecedented action, we have protected the NHS. It was not overwhelmed during the peak of this crisis, and all covid-19 patients admitted to hospital were able to receive urgent treatment that they needed. We remain vigilant.

I thank the Minister for his answer, but after the end of the Brexit transition period, all four health services in the UK and Northern Ireland will face increased bureaucracy and increased costs to import drugs from Europe. On top of that, it has been estimated that a trade deal with the United States of America could increase the drugs bill from £18 billion to £45 billion. How will the Secretary of State prevent these extra costs from hampering NHS capacity?

First, there is no reason at all why the exit from the transition period should have the impact that the hon. and learned Lady describes. We have put in place a huge amount of work to ensure that Brexit works positively for our life sciences industry and indeed, as we do now, that we can buy pharmaceutical products from around the world, not just from within the European Union. As for the idea that somehow a trade deal will increase prices of drugs, that is flat wrong.

With the need for additional infection control measures, how can the Secretary of State ensure sufficient staff to support parents to spend time with their babies in special care baby units, when covid-19 is creating additional barriers to parents being with their baby as much as they want and need to be? Moreover, will he look at an emergency form of neonatal leave and pay, or a subsistence fund similar to Scotland’s, to allow parents affected by covid-19 to have the time they need with their baby?

We are putting in a huge amount of support for maternity services and other services across the NHS in England. Of course, when it comes to the hon. Gentleman’s constituents in Glasgow, he will have to ask the SNP Government.

Local construction firms are working around the clock to build the NHS Nightingale hospital in Exeter, based in my constituency of East Devon. I am sure the Secretary of State will agree that we all hope it will never have to be used. Can he assure my constituents that the Nightingale will help the Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital, our community hospitals and our health and wellbeing hub to continue to focus efforts on delivering the superb services that they are well known for across East Devon?

Absolutely. My hon. Friend is a great advocate for Devon, and for East Devon in particular. The Nightingale Hospital in Exeter will have more flexible uses than the previous Nightingales, so, for instance, it will be usable should there be extra winter pressures. This is all part of protecting our NHS. At the heart of our response to this dreadful disease, we protected the NHS, making sure it was always there for everyone. That has been down to, and is a testament to, the work of so many people, who delivered on that requirement.

Yesterday, our local NHS trust, the United Lincolnshire Hospitals NHS Trust, temporarily downgraded and closed emergency admissions at Grantham and District Hospital, in response to covid-19. After many years of uncertainty, there is understandable scepticism about this latest move by the trust. Will the Secretary of State join me in calling on the trust to ensure that these changes are indeed temporary and that covid is not used as cover to make them permanent?

Thanks to my hon. Friend’s assiduous work on behalf of his constituents in Grantham, and at his suggestion, I discussed this issue directly with NHS officials. Grantham’s unit will be open, 24/7, as an urgent treatment centre; this is part of plans to ensure that covid and non-covid services are kept as separate as possible. In addition, thanks to his intervention, we will ensure that that position will be reviewed quarterly.

The NHS in England had more than 40,000 nursing vacancies at the start of the covid pandemic, but student nurses stepped forward to contribute to the response. So why are many of their contracts now being terminated, given that they may well be needed this autumn? Would a better approach not be to increase nursing bursaries to £10,000, as they are in Scotland, where nursing vacancies are half those of England?

We have increased by about 10,000 the number of nurses in the NHS in the past year, and during the crisis that number increased further. We also set out at the start how we are paying student nurses, as they stepped up to the mark, as the hon. Gentleman rightly said. I am delighted that so many of them did, and we are sticking to the agreements that we set out with the student nurses at the start of the crisis.