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NHS and Public Bodies: Covid-19 Support

Volume 685: debated on Monday 7 December 2020

What recent preparations his Department has made to support (a) the NHS and (b) other public bodies in their response to the covid-19 outbreak. (909783)

What recent preparations his Department has made to support (a) the NHS and (b) other public bodies in their response to the covid-19 outbreak. (909784)

What recent preparations his Department has made to support (a) the NHS and (b) other public bodies in their response to the covid-19 outbreak. (909797)

As part of the national covid-19 response, Defence has supported NHS trusts in a variety of ways, including the distribution of personal protective equipment and diagnostic equipment; the planning, construction and staffing of Nightingale hospitals; conducting testing; and supporting the vaccine taskforce. We have established a winter support package of 13,500 personnel with specialist capabilities to ensure our continued support to the NHS and other civil authorities throughout the winter period.

I thank the Minister for his response. Will he give a little more detail on how many armed forces personnel are currently deployed on covid-19 tasks and in which specific capacities?

I would be delighted to. There are currently 2,600 personnel committed to covid-19 tasks. The number of tasks is too numerous to list in full in the Chamber, but personnel are deployed on everything from mass testing to the deployment of vaccines and just about everything else besides. The body of the deployment at the moment is in planning, logistics, support to local authorities and ensuring that Defence’s planning and delivery expertise is shared as widely as possible around Government, so that we can ensure that we are poised to respond to whatever else comes during the winter.

I commend the armed forces for the amazing work they have done in supporting the civil authorities. Will my hon. Friend provide an update on any discussions he has had with the Department of Health and Social Care and the NHS about how the armed forces will support the roll-out of mass vaccination?

Defence is working closely with other Departments, particularly the DHSC and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, to assist on vaccine roll-out plans. Some 60 military planners are integrated within the vaccine taskforce, and Defence has deployed 56 personnel to assist in constructing vaccination centres. Defence stands ready to provide further support to the NHS in meeting the challenge of vaccinating the UK against covid-19.

The professionalism and logistical support of the Army have already proved vital in our country’s ability to respond to this pandemic. That was seen most recently in Eastbourne’s mobile testing unit, which allowed key workers to return to work. I was most interested in my hon. Friend’s remarks about how the Army might help to roll out the vaccine, having performed various other important tasks. Could he tell the House how many military liaison officers have been deployed to date to help with these very localised planned operations?

My hon. Friend is right to single out the military liaison officers who have been working alongside local authorities across the country throughout the year. There are 350 of them currently deployed. I know from speaking to my own council chief executive in Somerset, and I have heard from colleagues around the country, just how much their expertise has been valued by local authorities, assisting them with their preparations initially for the distribution of PPE, then for testing and now for vaccines.

There are welcome reports that our armed forces are to support the NHS with the roll-out of the coronavirus vaccine, performing vital work to transform sites across the country into distribution hubs. However, personnel are already stretched, and resourcing is a key concern after a decade of defence decline. Will the Minister update the House with real detail on the steps he is taking to ensure that they have the resources needed to perform their vital work safely?

There are 2,600 service personnel deployed right now. The winter preparedness package is 13,500 people at readiness. We are confident that in generating that package, we have not in any way damaged Defence’s ability to prepare for operations that are required currently or in the next six months. We are very proud of the 13,500 that we have been able to generate. Everything that Defence is doing, we are able to do without threatening defence outputs, and we are delighted to be playing the part that we are in supporting the country at this important time.