Yesterday, the Government published the road map that will put us cautiously but, we hope, irreversibly on the path towards reclaiming our freedoms once more. We are able to take these steps because of the resolve of people across the UK and the extraordinary success in vaccinating more than 17.7 million people—one in every three adults across the UK—and I would like to pay tribute to everyone who has played their part.
This coming Sunday is Rare Disease Day 2021. One in 17 people in the UK will be affected by a rare disease, and today people with PKU—phenylketonuria—are awaiting the outcome of a NICE appraisal of Kuvan, but 12 years waiting for Kuvan or other treatments is too long. Does the Secretary of State agree that our rare disease community deserves access to early diagnosis and treatment, and what will he do to make sure that this happens?
The hon. Lady is a long-standing and passionate campaigner for Kuvan, and I pay tribute to the work that she has done. The NICE methods review looks at the question she raises. It is important that we have a clinically-led process for approval of medicines, and I know she agrees with that. The question is ensuring that the details live up to that principle. The methods review will make sure that we take advantage of advances in medical technology, which will, I hope, allow us to bring drugs and treatments to patients of rare diseases who need them more quickly than in the past.
Can I add my support to the previous question about the urgent need to sort out the issue of Kuvan, because I too have constituents suffering very badly from the long wait that they have had?
I wanted to talk to the Secretary of State about support for NHS frontline staff, who have done such a magnificent job this year but worry that, even now, we are not training enough doctors and nurses for the long-term needs of the NHS, and that is the crucial way that we will reduce the pressure on them. So could I ask him: will he be publishing a workforce plan this year, will that have independent projections as to the number of doctors and nurses the NHS will need in every specialty over the next couple of decades and will he commit to funding the number of training places that we need to make sure that we meet those needs of the future?
The good news is that, thanks in part to the work that my right hon. Friend did when he was in my shoes, we now have a record number of doctors in the NHS and he will have been as pleased as I was to see the record number of applicants to nursing places as well, because we need both more doctors and more nurses. I am delighted that, during the pandemic, we have increased numbers very substantially. On nurses, we are on track to meet our manifesto commitment to 50,000 more nurses, and we have seen a significant increase—just under 10,000—in the number of doctors too, so there is significant progress. Of course there is more to be done, and of course we will need to set out the route to that, as he suggests. The time is not quite right now, because right now there are still very urgent needs and pressures, thanks to the pandemic—I am sure that he and the Select Committee understand that—but this is undoubtedly a question that we will return to.
Everybody knows—apart from the Secretary of State, it seems, from this morning’s media—that there were PPE shortages. The National Audit Office reported on it, we saw nurses resorting to bin bags and curtains for makeshift PPE, hundreds of NHS staff died, and his response was to pay a pest control firm £59 million for 25 million masks that could not be used, to pay a hedge fund based in Mauritius £252 million, again for facemasks that were inadequate and to pay a jeweller in Florida £70 million for gowns that could not be used. So will he take this opportunity to apologise, and will he commit to recovering every penny piece of taxpayers’ money from those companies that provided us with duff PPE?
Well, I am going to start by congratulating the hon. Gentleman—the right hon. Gentleman—on his appointment to the Privy Council. I appreciate the work that he has done in support of the Government and in support of the nation during this pandemic. Although occasionally he turns to rhetoric and narrow questions that he knows there are perfectly adequate answers to, he has generally during this pandemic, in the face of temptation—I mean this very genuinely—done the right thing and supported the right messages to people where they need to be made across party lines. So I congratulate him and thank him for that.
On the specifics of the question the right hon. Gentleman raised, of course, where a contract is not delivered against, we do not intend to pay taxpayers’ money, but of course, also, we wanted to make sure that we got as much PPE as we could into the country. While of course there were individual instances that we all know about and that highlight how important it was to buy PPE, there was, as the National Audit Office has confirmed, no national level shortage, and that was because of the incredible work of my team and the amount of effort they put into securing the PPE and doing the right thing.
I dare say the Secretary of State has just finished off my political career with that fulsome praise but, on the substance of the point, I think he confirmed that he will—[Interruption.] When did it start? [Laughter.] I think he was saying in that answer that he will not be trying to recover money that he has paid out for duff PPE, but can I ask him about a different issue, which again comes down to public scrutiny and accountability? In London, a week or a week and a half ago, GP services with 375,000 patients were taken over by the US health insurance corporation Centene. There was no patient consultation; there was no public scrutiny. This is arguably a stealth privatisation, with huge implications for patient care. Will he step in, halt the transfer, ensure it is fully scrutinised and prevent takeovers like this happening in the future?
On the right hon. Gentleman’s first point, such a reasonable and sensible man is, of course, always welcome on these Benches, and I might ask, since his wife is taking the Labour party to court: why doesn’t the whole Ashworth family come and join us on this side?
On the substantive point the right hon. Gentleman raises, of course what matters for patients is the quality of patient care. We have seen again and again, especially throughout the pandemic, that what matters to people is the quality of care. That is what we should look out for, and that is, I know, what doctors, nurses and other staff, in primary care and right across the board, are working so hard to deliver on.
I think my hon. Friend has just made his heartfelt plea and it has certainly landed with me, but I am not surprised because he has made this case to me on behalf of his constituents over and over again and he is quite right to. We are in the process of considering which hospitals will be in the eight additional, on top of the 40 that we committed to in our manifesto. I am grateful for his representations and we will certainly consider Airedale and its full needs for the local community.
We will need to draw many lessons from the pandemic. For instance, my brilliant team who have done all this procurement of PPE have also built an onshore PPE manufacturing capability. With regard to almost all items of PPE, 70% of it is now made onshore in the UK, up from about 2% before the pandemic—likewise for vaccines, where we did not have large-scale vaccine manufacture and we now do, and for a host of other areas, including some of those that the hon. Gentleman mentioned.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The court ruling in question found that we were on average 17 days late with the paperwork, but it did not find against any of the individual contracts. My team worked so hard to deliver the PPE that was needed and so, as the National Audit Office has confirmed and as my hon. Friend set out, there was never a point at which there was a national shortage. There were, of course, localised challenges and we were in the situation of a huge increase in global demand, but I think that we should all thank the civil servants who did such a good job.
As we have repeatedly explained, supply is the rate-limiting factor. The hon. Member will no doubt have seen that there have been international discussions on the rate of supply, and countries around the world are finding supply the rate-limiting factor. Thankfully, thanks to the decisions that this Government took early, we have some of the best access to the supply of vaccine in the world. That is why we have one of the best vaccine delivery programmes in the world.
Of course we assess this, but it is challenging to get to a statistical answer to the question that my right hon. Friend raises. When we have taken action to restrict access to areas where there is evidence of significant transmission, such as the hospitality industry, that confounds the statistical analysis because people cannot go into that environment and therefore the passing on of infection there reduces. This is a matter of evidence and judgment. It is a significant challenge, but the road map is based on our best assessment of the situation, which is based on clinical advice, including the focus on the fact that we know that outdoors is safer than indoors. Hence the early steps, after schools, are focused on opening things up outdoors.
Of course long covid is an incredibly serious condition for some and is part of our considerations and deliberations, but I want to correct something the hon. Member said. The road map sets out indicative dates before which we will not move, but we will be guided by the data, hence the five-week gaps between each step to make sure we have four weeks to see the impact of the step and one week of advance notice for the go/no-go decision. That is based on clinical advice, which I know is shared across the UK.
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend’s work in making sure that all carers, who are properly in priority group 6, get the opportunity to be vaccinated, including those who may be unregistered with the system, but nevertheless are carers. It is very important and I pay tribute to the work of Norfolk County Council. I know that my hon. Friend the Care Minister will be happy to meet my hon. Friend and the county council to discuss what further can be done.