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Coronavirus Response

Volume 678: debated on Monday 20 July 2020

With permission, Mr Deputy Speaker, I would like to make a statement on our action against coronavirus.

Thanks to the perseverance of the British people and the hard work of those on the frontline, this virus is on the back foot. For over three weeks now, the number of new cases each day has been below 1,000, and daily hospital admissions are down to 142. Because of this success in slowing the spread of the virus, on Friday, the Prime Minister was able to set out a conditional timetable for the further easings of the restrictions.

Throughout the reopening, we have acted carefully and cautiously, always vigilant, and we have been able to deliver on our plan. We have protected the NHS. We have cautiously replaced the national lockdown with local action. Thanks to our action against hundreds of local outbreaks, and thanks to NHS Test and Trace working well, NHS Test and Trace has now asked 180,000 people to self-isolate—that is up to 180,000 potential chains of transmission broken by this brilliant new service. What is more, in the hundreds of thousands of tests it delivers every single day, the vast—vast—majority test negative. That provides assurance to hundreds of thousands of people who can go back to work and sleep easy.

NHS Test and Trace is a brand new service. Putting together a massive service of this kind, at this pace, has been a remarkable job—almost unprecedented. I would like to thank the remarkable leadership of Baroness Harding for spearheading the programme and Tom Riordan, who has driven our vital work with local authorities. Everybody in this country who loves freedom should join me in thanking all those who work in NHS Test and Trace, in Public Health England, and in local public health operations for successfully delivering on our plan of moving from a national lockdown to local action. The plan is working.

I would like, if I may, to set out the next stages in this plan. We refuse to be complacent about the threat posed by the virus, and we will not hesitate to put the brakes on if we need to. Our goal is that this should be done through as targeted local action as possible, like we did in Leicester, where we can now start to ease the restrictions. On Friday, we published our framework for containing and controlling future outbreaks in England. From Saturday, local authorities have had new powers in their areas so that they can act with more vigour in response to outbreaks. They can now close specific premises, shut outdoor public spaces, and cancel events. Later this week, we will publish indicative draft regulations that clearly set out the suite of legislative powers that Ministers may need to use to intervene at a local level.

As I pledged to the House on Thursday, we are publishing more data and sharing more data with local bodies. I bow to no one in my enthusiasm for the good use of data in decision making. Properly used, data is one of the best epidemiological weapons that we have. From last month, local directors of public health have had postcode-level data about outbreaks in their area. From today, as I committed to the House last week, we are going further and putting enhanced levels of data in the hands of local directors of public health too. Of course, high-quality testing is the main source of our data, and having set targets radically to expand testing over the past few months—which have had exactly the desired effect, as each one has been met—so we are now setting the target for the nation of half a million antigen tests a day by the end of October, ahead of winter. I am sure that, as a nation, we will meet this challenge too.

The need for extra testing is not, of course, the only challenge that winter will bring. We know that the NHS will face the usual annual winter pressures, and on top of that, we do not yet know how the virus will interact with the cold weather. So we will make sure that the NHS has the support it needs. We have massively increased the number of ventilators available to patients across the UK, up from 9,000 before the pandemic to nearly 30,000 now; we have now had an agreed supply of 30 billion pieces of personal protective equipment; and we will be rolling out the biggest ever flu vaccination programme in our country’s history.

To support this, I have agreed with the Chancellor of the Exchequer the funding necessary to protect the NHS this winter too. We have already announced £30 billion for health and social care, and we will now provide a further £3 billion on top of the £1.5 billion capital funding announced a fortnight ago. This applies to the NHS in England. Those in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will also receive extra funding. This means that the NHS can keep using the extra hospital capacity in the independent sector and that we can maintain the Nightingale hospitals, which have provided so much reassurance throughout the pandemic, at least until the end of March. We have protected the NHS through this crisis, and that support will help us to protect it in the months ahead.

We all know that in the long term, the best solution to this crisis would be a vaccine, and I am delighted to say that Britain continues to lead the world on that. Two leading vaccine developments are taking place in this country, at Oxford and Imperial, and both are supported by Government funding and the British life science industry. Today, Oxford published an encouraging report in The Lancet, showing that its phase 1 and 2 trials are proceeding well. The trial shows that the Oxford vaccine produces a strong immunity response in patients, in both antibody production and T-cell responses, and that no safety concerns have been identified. That promising news takes us one step closer to finding a vaccine that could save lives around the world.

The UK is not just developing world-leading vaccines; we are also putting more money into the global work for a vaccine than any other country. With like-minded partners we are working to ensure that whoever’s vaccine is approved first, the whole world can have access. We reject narrow nationalism. We support a global effort, because this virus respects no borders, and we are all on the same side.

This morning I held a global conference call with other health leaders, including from Germany, Australia, Canada, Switzerland, the United States, and others, to discuss the need for global licensing access for any successful vaccine. Here at home, as well as our investment in research, we are working hard to build a portfolio of the most promising new vaccines, no matter where they are from. We have already secured 100 million doses of the Oxford vaccine, if it succeeds, and today I can tell the House that the Government have secured early access to 90 million further vaccine doses—30 million from an agreement between BioNTech and Pfizer, and 60 million from Valneva. We are getting the deals in place, so that once we know a vaccine is safe and effective, we can make it available for British citizens as soon as humanly possible.

Another long-term solution to eliminating this virus and its negative effects is through developing effective treatments, and it was British scientists, backed by UK Government funding, who led the first robust clinical trial to find a treatment that was proved to reduce the risk of dying from covid: dexamethasone. We now have preliminary results from a clinical trial of another treatment known as SNG001, which was created by the Southampton -based biotech firm Synairgen. Initial findings based on a small cohort suggest that SNG001 may substantially reduce the chance of someone developing severe disease, and it could cut hospital admission time by a third. The data still need to be peer reviewed, and we are supporting a further large-scale trial, but the preliminary results are a positive sign.

In the fight against this virus, our world-renowned universities, researchers and scientists are indispensable, so that we can develop the vaccines and treatments that will tackle this virus for the long term. We have a plan, our plan is working, and the measures I have set out today will help to protect the NHS, support our treatments and vaccines, and take our country forward together. I commend this statement to the House.

I thank the Secretary of State for advance sight of his statement. Before I move to the substance of his remarks, will he tell the House whether it is true that the chief nursing officer was dropped from the Downing Street press conferences because she refused to stick to the No. 10 line on supporting Dominic Cummings? Did the Secretary of State really acquiesce in the silencing of the chief nursing officer at the height of this pandemic?

We in this House would all be immensely proud if a British vaccine and British drug led the world away from this deadly disease, and this is encouraging and exciting news. Will the Secretary of State ensure that there is equitable access to a vaccine when it is developed? He has my commitment that when a vaccine is available, I will stand shoulder to shoulder with him in taking on poisonous anti-vax propaganda. However, we also have to understand that there have been many false dawns in the history of infectious disease, so what happens if a vaccine does not become available? What scenario planning is the Health Secretary doing, should we be confronted with that awful prospect?

On Friday, the Prime Minister suggested that it could all be over by Christmas and that people must start returning to work by 1 August, but the chief scientific adviser said on Thursday that there was “absolutely no reason” for people to stop working from home, so will the right hon. Gentleman now publish an explanation of the scientific basis for the change in guidance with respect to home working?

On Thursday in the House, the Health Secretary insisted that we went into lockdown on 16 March, having previously told the House on 2 June that

“lockdown began on 23 March.”—[Official Report, 2 June 2020; Vol. 676, c. 704.]

The CSA revealed that SAGE advised the Government to lock down ASAP on 16 March, and Professor Ferguson has said that had lockdown been implemented sooner, we would have saved thousands of lives. The Prime Minister understandably wants to avoid a second lockdown—we all do—but if SAGE advises again on the need for a second lockdown, will it be implemented immediately, and on what criteria will he judge whether a second national lockdown is needed?

Last week, the Prime Minister also suggested that social distancing could be eased in November, predicated on a low prevalence of the virus. Can the Health Secretary define what low prevalence means, and is that the only threshold we need to meet if social distancing is to be removed by Christmas? There were no details last week about when relatives could visit care homes, even though the Secretary of State said on 9 July that an announcement was imminent. He will know that this is causing huge anxiety and upset for many families. Can he give us clarity today on when relatives can visit their loved ones in care homes?

The Prime Minister did indeed announce extra NHS funding, which is welcome, but there was no extra funding for social care. Can the Health Secretary tell us whether social care will get any more resources for this winter? We have always said—and we agree with him—that mass testing is the way in which we have to live with this virus and avoid going into a second lockdown, so we welcome the commitments to increased testing. We also know that local lockdowns may well be necessary in the future—indeed, that is the Government’s preferred response to outbreaks—but it is vital that local areas receive patient-identifiable test data on a daily basis. Why did he tell the House last week that local authorities were getting that data when in fact they were not? I think he is announcing today that they will start getting that data—he refers to “enhanced” data—but local areas could have possibly avoided lockdowns and outbreaks earlier had they had that data.

Local areas still need more clarity. In Leicester, we still do not know what metrics will be used to decide whether Leicester will be released from lockdown. Can the Health Secretary confirm, with respect to Leicester, that given the infection rate there and in neighbouring Oadby and Wigston, a decision on their future will be taken at the same time? And given that we are talking about local lockdowns—we will study the regulations carefully—will he deliver on his promise to provide support for businesses that are subject to a local lockdown, such as in Leicester?

It now appears that Blackburn is overtaking Leicester in terms of infection rates, so what does the Health Secretary make of the remarks of the director of public health in Blackburn, who said at the weekend that Test and Trace is failing and, in his words, is

“contributing to the increased risks of Covid-19”

because half of contacts are not reached? Nationally, 71% of people are being contacted, not the 80% that is needed for it to be effective. Indeed, in the Serco call centre element of Test and Trace, only 53% of cases are contacted, and a smaller proportion of contacts are identified in the most deprived areas. We still do not have an app either, despite the right hon. Gentleman’s promises, with Whitehall sources now briefing that he has a

“tendency to overpromise and only sometimes deliver”.

What a wicked, unfair thing to say about the Health Secretary! Seriously—which bit of all this is actually world beating, other than possibly the £10 billion price tag?

Today’s vaccine news is encouraging, but we still have a long way to go. We need mass testing and we welcome the Health Secretary’s commitments on that front, but will he also undertake to expand the rapid testing consortium, so that more British suppliers can be involved? Many complain about test kits and say the regulator takes ages when they give their test kits to be signed off and that emails go unanswered. We need an effective tracing regime. Rather than the ad hoc system we have at the moment, with all that money going to privatised firms, why does he not put local directors of public health in charge, backed up with primary care? We need to be preparing now for the second wave. We already have one of the highest excess death rates in the world. Lessons need to be learned. I hope the Secretary of State is learning them.

The hon. Gentleman was doing so well when he was supporting what we are saying. I am grateful to him for support on what we are doing on vaccines. I am also grateful to him for his offer to stand shoulder to shoulder against the anti-vaccination movement. Those who promulgate lies about dangers of vaccines that are safe and have been approved are threatening lives. We should all in this House stand shoulder to shoulder against the anti-vax movement.

The hon. Gentleman asks what happens if there is no vaccine. If there is no vaccine—no vaccine can be guaranteed—then the next best thing is good treatment. We have the first treatment here in the UK, dexamethasone, and we have promising news of another today. We put all the support we can behind finding treatments. In fact, the UK recovery trial is the biggest—I would argue, the most effective—treatment clinical trial for covid-19 in the world. From the start, we backed our science. We supported our science, and with the help of the NHS we are able to do scientific research here with great rigour.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned the SAGE advice from March about lockdown. The SAGE advice that the CSA was referring to was implemented. That was precisely the point I was making on Thursday and I did so very straightforwardly. It was implemented straight away. If he looks at that SAGE advice and what happened, that is what he will find. I seem to remember that at the time he supported the action. Maybe now he is looking in the rear-view mirror. He should spend a bit more time looking forward, not backwards.

On social distancing, as on Leicester, the hon. Gentleman asked about the data and thresholds. We use all our data. We use all the data available to make these judgments. We do not put numerical thresholds on any particular figure. We use all data and we make judgments based on them. He also asked about data being made available to local authorities. On Thursday last week, I said I wanted to provide more data to local authorities and was going to provide more data to local authorities. We have done that today. We had provided patient-identifiable information based on postcode-level testing. We are now able to provide full information, including the name and address of those who tested positive, to local authorities where they have signed a data protection agreement.

The hon. Gentleman talked about the effectiveness of NHS Test and Trace. He needs to stop for a moment and recognise the enormous impact of NHS Test and Trace, and the 180,000 people it has been in contact with to advise them to isolate. On Blackburn, yes, it is hard sometimes in certain areas to find all the contacts, so we will be sharing with the local area the information on those whom NHS Test and Trace has not been able to contact, so that local directors of public health will be able to support the action there. Again, I think his tone on that, sniping from the sidelines, ill becomes that enormous effort and the previous work he did to support those measures across party lines.

Finally, the hon. Gentleman asks what we have learned. I would say that the thing he needs to learn—I have certainly learned it—is that things go best when we get the work of the public sector and the private sector coming together. He does not even believe his own attempt to divide us, but uses his argument just to play to his base. Honestly, there are more important things going on. We have set out a direction. We are going as hard as we can down that direction of travel, and we have announced to the House further action in that direction of travel. He should get alongside.

This may be the last coronavirus statement before the summer break, so I congratulate the Health Secretary on his stamina over the past six months and in particular on his decision to introduce the 100,000 tests target in April, which I think will be seen as a turning point in our battle against the virus.

The central challenge we now face is that according to the latest figures and as the Secretary of State knows, about 1,700 people a day are being infected by the virus and about 400 a day are going into NHS Test and Trace, which is about a quarter. As we think about how to prevent a second wave, will he give the House some details as to how we are going to bridge that gap so that we can go into our Christmas holiday with the same cautious optimism as we are going into our summer one?

Yes. That is a really important point, and we monitor those data all the time. I am glad to say that the latest data are a little bit better than my right hon. Friend suggested, but the point is still important. The main cause of the gap is people who are asymptomatic and therefore do not know they have the virus and do not come forward for testing. We are going to ramp up our communications to make clear that, if in doubt and if people think they might have the symptoms, they should come forward and get a test. We are also going to ramp up our asymptomatic testing of high-risk groups, which he and I have had exchanges about before. I am grateful for what he said about the 100,000 testing target. Of course, he will recognise that I am as delighted as he will be that the Prime Minister set me a new target on Friday to hit half a million by the end of October, so there is my summer sorted.

I, too, welcome the progress being made regarding vaccine development by research centres and companies across the UK, including Valneva in Scotland, but a widely available vaccine is still some way off. In the meantime, avoiding the social and economic impact of repeated local lockdowns depends on driving down community transmission. Professor Dominic Harrison, public health director of Blackburn with Darwen Council, has highlighted that only half of contacts are being traced by the central system and called to be given information in individual covid cases so that their contacts can be traced and isolated in the short window before they, too, become infectious.

In the covid statement last Thursday, I again raised the issue of delays in providing individual test results to local public health teams. The Health Secretary said he could not answer so many questions from me, so he chose not to answer any. To make it simple, I will ask only one. Postcode information was utterly insufficient, so by what date can he guarantee that every single director of public health in England will receive the identifiable details of all new positive cases on a daily basis?

My South Derbyshire constituents have strong links with Burton and Leicester. In light of the recent spikes in the covid virus there, what steps is my right hon. Friend taking to ensure that local authorities have the necessary powers to take local action to control the virus? Does he agree that localised action will be key to managing the virus as we move forward?

Yes, I agree strongly with my hon. Friend, who makes the point very clearly. No matter the level of new infections in any area, having better and better data helps us give more support to those who have coronavirus. Whether it is an outbreak with large numbers, as we saw for instance in Leicester and some other cities, where there is clear concerted action with support from national Government to go in and root it out, or whether it is an area with very low levels of background infections, like her own, where the local authority having the data will allow it to support the few positive cases, better data will help the co-ordination of the national and local response. We have said all along that tackling the virus is best done by the national level and local level working together, and I am really pleased that we are able to get this increased data out to increase that co-ordination still further.

I want to thank the Health Secretary for two things while I have the chance: the deal on Kaftrio for cystic fibrosis patients, which is so important to so many of them; and for meeting my constituent, Jake Ogborne, recently to talk about access to the drug Spinraza—I hope we have some news on that soon. However, for people with such conditions who have been shielding for the last few months, there is still a great deal of uncertainty, concern and confusion about whether it is safe for them to go outside and about what they can actually do, especially when other people are breaking social distancing, not wearing masks and so on. What reassurance can he give that people will be safe if they tentatively put a foot outside?

I pay tribute to the hon. Lady’s campaigning on these issues. We have worked closely together to bring really positive news on the treatments for cystic fibrosis on which she has campaigned so strongly. She also made the case very clearly on Spinraza, which I have since discussed with NHS England. It is, of course, NHS England’s statutory responsibility to take a decision, but I discussed it with NHS England, as I committed to do so to her and her constituent, Jake.

I say to all those in the shielding category that we have recommended that shielding restrictions come to an end at the end of this month because it is clinically advised that the levels of new infections are low enough that it is safe to do so. It is safe to do so. I plead with those who are shielding to listen to this clinical advice, because we also know that staying at home and not seeing other people has downsides to health too. If anyone wants proof that we will not take this step unless we are confident that it is safe, we have paused the end of shielding in Leicester exactly because rates of infection are higher—to keep people safe. People can be assured that it is safe, from the end of this month, for those in the shielding category to go out into the community, taking the precautions that everybody should take.

May I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the significant drop in hospital admissions? As we continue to come to grips with this virus, does he agree that local response and local action is key to preventing and containing future spikes? Will he join me in praising the excellent work of Buckinghamshire clinical commissioning group and our local authority, which worked together to create a joint action plan to keep admission rates low?

I am pleased to congratulate all those working in Buckinghamshire—the council, the CCG and the other parts of the NHS—on their work to keep Buckinghamshire safe. The number of infections across Buckinghamshire is very low now, and we want to keep it that way.

I also take this opportunity to answer part of the question from my hon. Friend the Member for South Derbyshire (Mrs Wheeler) that I did not answer. More powers, as well more data, will be available to local areas to take more local action themselves, without having to refer up to the Secretary of State to use my powers. Of course, national Government hold further powers for significant action, which we have had to use just the once, but we will give local areas more powers, as well as more data, to be able to grip this issue locally.

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for his announcement today and congratulate the scientists looking into the research that will hopefully solve this covid problem. On Friday, he announced a review into Public Health England deaths data, which is incredibly important. Does he have any indication of how inaccurate that data may be? If so, how is that impacting future planning for the covid response?

I do not have anything further to add yet. The problem was that anybody who had had covid at any point and then subsequently died, whether or not from covid, was being counted in this data. Right at the start of the crisis, that was a perfectly reasonable approach to take, but clearly it needs to be reviewed. It is likely that the number of deaths has been overestimated on this measure, hence the urgent review, and I hope to have more information this week.

We know that, for some, the recovery from coronavirus can be long and often bring with it debilitating symptoms, including fatigue, headaches and pain. What additional support is the Department giving GPs to ensure that they have the necessary resources to care for patients who are suffering with long-term symptoms and to help them come to terms with this, cope and readjust where necessary?

The hon. Lady asks a very important question. There is increasing evidence that there are some long-term, debilitating consequences of having had covid for a minority of people, and for that minority—which includes at least one Member of this House—it is very substantial. We have therefore started a whole NHS service to support people recovering from covid who have long-term symptoms. Primary care is, of course, an important part of the service that the NHS provides.

Up to last Friday, the rates of covid-19 infection had dropped in Kirklees over the previous seven days, but we have had recent outbreaks, raising fears among my constituents of local lockdowns. Does my right hon. Friend agree that timely postcode-level data will assist Kirklees Council’s director of public health and all its officers, who have been doing an excellent job, so that they can continue to target the outbreaks with local measures in our community?

Yes, that is exactly the plan. They got that data at postcode level last week, and they will now get even more detail, including the identities of people who have tested positive, so that they can support them and work with NHS Test and Trace yet more effectively. Kirklees has been proactive in how it has managed the outbreaks it has had so far. It had outbreaks about a month ago, which it got right on top of, and it is working very hard in the current circumstances.

Yesterday saw the single largest daily recorded number of global covid cases, as well as a protest against masks on the streets of London and an illegal rave attracting thousands of people outside Bath. How can the Secretary of State persuade people to get behind his Government’s public safety message?

I am glad to say that the vast majority of people respond positively to the public health messages that we have been putting out throughout, and it is a very important part of the policy.

The Secretary of State reminded us of the importance of a vaccine. I was interested to hear on the radio as I drove into Parliament today a representative of a drug company saying that we might have a vaccine by October and a doctor based at a university telling us that today is a great day. Does the Secretary of State agree?

I am cautiously optimistic. The team are optimistic. My job is not to speculate on the likelihood of the Oxford vaccine coming off. It is to make sure that, should it come off, we are ready.

The £3 billion for the NHS is, of course, welcome, and the Secretary of State has rightly spoken passionately about protecting the NHS, but may I respectfully remind him that he is the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care? I have real concerns about social care being overwhelmed if there is a second surge, with hospitals having to discharge people into the community quickly, as we have seen with the first wave. What further package of support will he announce for social care?

Of course it is important to support social care as well, as we have financially right from the start. The vast majority of discharges from hospital were into the community, with care packages. Social care is a very important part of this issue. We announced the money for the NHS last week, but we continue to look at what we can do to support social care too.

I thank my right hon. Friend for the update that he has given today. I particularly welcome the news with regard to the vaccine programme. I wonder whether he can provide us with a little more detail about the work being undertaken on the risk of getting the virus again. How long does he think it will be until we know whether having antibodies will give us some form of immunity?

We are undertaking that research into immunology. It is incredibly important for people, like me, who have had the disease to know the likelihood of getting it again and of transmitting it again. Both are very important for obvious reasons—one for personal health; the other for public health—but it is not just about the antibody response; is also about the T-cell response. Both of those are different parts of the immune system responding. We are making progress in our understanding of that, but not yet enough to be able to recommend that people who have had the disease, or have antibodies, act in any different way from the rest of the community.

On 26 June, there was a letter to the Secretary of State from the co-chairs of the all-party parliamentary group on access to medical cannabis under prescription about the desperate plight of epileptic children due to covid. On 9 June, there was an urgent email to the Under-Secretary of State following a meeting at the suggestion of the Secretary of State in this House on 2 June. On 22 May, there was a joint letter from eight cross-party chairs of cancer APPGs about an urgent need for a covid national cancer recovery plan. I have received no replies to any of that correspondence. Does the Secretary of State just not like me, or does that point to a bigger issue with his Department?

We have spoken about that in this House. It is absolutely true that during the peak of the crisis the Department was working incredibly hard and absolutely flat out, and we are now working hard to catch up on our correspondence.

As part of the reopening of pubs, cafés and restaurants, they are being encouraged to open in the open air. That has implications for people who do not smoke. I understand that the Government will issue guidance for smoke-free areas outside pubs, restaurants and cafés. Can my right hon. Friend confirm that his Department will be consulted on those proposals, that they will be issued before Parliament rises, and that they will be the subject of parliamentary scrutiny?

I can certainly confirm that we will be consulted on those proposals as they are brought forward. I have not yet seen them. I know that work is ongoing, and I think that they are incredibly important. It is important that parliamentarians such as my hon. Friend, who have a long and proud history of fighting smoking and the consequences of it on people’s health—not only the health of smokers but of others—can ensure that those considerations are brought to bear as we bring the proposals forward. He knows what I think.

I thank the Secretary of State. He will know that I have reputation in the past for being a bit hard on him, but in recent weeks he and his team have been very supportive when there have been challenges in my part of the world. I thank him sincerely for his and his team’s actions and good communication.

There is a news story today that there is a rise in infections in France, so this dreadful virus is still there. Does the Secretary of State agree that more firm leadership on the importance of wearing masks is very important, and will he take my assurance that the anti-vaxxers have to be confronted? I have just seen statistics that a quite high percentage of NHS employees are very resistant to getting the flu jab in the winter. That is a great challenge. Together, does he agree that we can face it down?

Yes, I like the new Barry—he is like the old Barry, before he got very cross with me over Brexit. Welcome back; it is really nice to see you. If I may, I will make this clinical point, which I normally avoid: it is also really good for your blood pressure.

We have been working really hard with Huddersfield and the local authorities in the hon. Gentleman’s part of the world to bring the virus under control. It has been a real team effort and an example of how things should be done working together. I appreciate the hon. Gentleman’s words on that. I hope that the whole local team will see that this is a big cross-party effort and that there is not some sort of fake attempt to create division. This is everybody working together to try to tackle this virus, and that is how it should be.

On the latter point, I agree with the hon. Gentleman very strongly about tackling the anti-vax movement, and he is right to raise that. He is also right that this is not just about the covid vaccine, but the flu vaccine too. We are moving to make sure that a far higher proportion of people in the NHS get the flu vaccine. This winter, the expectation will be that every single person who works in the NHS will get the flu vaccine, unless there is a very good, essentially clinical, reason. Making that happen is a big part of the work I am doing with Simon Stevens and the NHS leadership, to drive that through.

I thank my right hon. Friend for his statement. He referred to an additional £3 billion for the NHS to help keep the temporary Nightingale hospitals open over the winter, should they be needed, and to keep non-covid sites available for routine healthcare. Will he confirm how that funding relates to Wales?

Yes—and I imagine that you might have an interest in this too, Mr Deputy Speaker. The extra funding announced on Friday by the Prime Minister of course also means that we will be increasing the funding that goes to Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. We can provide a high-quality response to this disease only if we have the financial firepower to support the NHS and the action necessary. That is only possible because we have one United Kingdom. Scotland will receive an extra £250 million with which to tackle the disease; Wales will receive an extra £150 million and Northern Ireland an extra £90 million. That means that across the UK we can fight the disease better because we are all part of the same UK.

Earlier this month, Baroness Harding told a House of Lords Select Committee that people were unwilling to self-isolate because of financial pressures. We also now learn that Test and Trace does not make the same inroads in poorer areas, where the pressure not to self-isolate because of financial pressures is higher, as it does in more well off areas. Can I again ask the Secretary of State to make an announcement about sick pay and access to extra help for those who need to self-isolate but who perhaps cannot really afford to do so?

The hon. Lady makes an important point, but the No. 1 cause of people not self-isolating is that they have coronavirus without symptoms and do not get a test. That is where we need the most effort. However, I hear the point that she is making, and I will take it away.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that co-trimoxazole is receiving tests against covid in Bangladesh and that the increasingly good results from there and India will be published very shortly? When are we likely to see it in use here?

I will immediately look into the proposal; I would be surprised if my scientists were not already across the trial. If there is a positive signal from that trial, we will make sure that we will absolutely bring it forward.

Today, I wrote to the Chancellor and the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy on the need for more support for those high-risk people who are currently shielding. Does the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care agree that it is essential that those currently shielding have faith in Government advice? If so, will he commit to publishing a full risk assessment for each category on the shielding list before 1 August? Now is the time to use the full capacity of Government communication to reassure people; will the Secretary of State do that?

I very much agree with the hon. Lady’s sentiments; the challenge is that the number of different groups within shielding is essentially as big as the number of people who are shielding. We have taken the approach that individuals will get individual clinical advice on what is right for them. That is the best way forward.

A young couple contacted me over the weekend to ask why it is that any number of people without restriction can spend the whole evening eating and drinking in a pub, yet as from 1 August only 30 can go to a wedding reception. Can the Secretary of State give people in their position any comfort?

The explanation is that in the pub they will have to be socially distanced at 2 metres, or 1 metre plus mitigation. Unfortunately, this virus is still at large, so having very large groups of people in a situation where it is absolutely normal to be in very close contact is a risk. These are all judgments and unfortunately that is one of the judgments that we have had to make.

Covid, long-covid and lockdown are creating a tsunami of mental health crises. My local mental health trust has lost four black and minority ethnic workers in the line of duty on the national health service frontline. What is the plan to provide a comprehensive mental health strategy that meets the challenge, particularly for young people or for people who never thought they would ever have a mental health crisis, and to meet the workforce challenge so that we have a plan in the autumn for what is going to be a very difficult emotional time for people who have had covid or lockdown stress?

There is undoubtedly a challenge in respect of people who have not come forward during lockdown and are presenting now with severe mental health problems. I am working on that with both the NHS and the Royal College of Psychiatrists. There is good news: for non-pharmaceutical treatments, there is evidence that they are better done by telemedicine. Psychiatry can be better done by telemedicine, which helps, but obviously that does not help at the most serious end of cases of mental ill health, and that is something we are working very hard on.

I am sure it will come as no surprise to my right hon. Friend that some of the solutions come from Southampton. I commend Synairgen’s work on the treatment it is producing. I wish to ask my right hon. Friend specifically about vaccinations. It is crucial not just that we put the anti-vax argument to bed but that he provides reassurance to those who might be anxious about a vaccination for covid. Can he provide any information on what plans he has for a reassurance programme?

Yes—we are planning to provide exactly the reassurance that my right hon. Friend seeks, in two ways. First, the essential point is that we will not approve a vaccine until we are clinically confident that it is safe. We would never approve a vaccine unless we were clinically confident that it was safe.

Secondly, we will also have a communications campaign. To answer a point that was raised earlier but to which I did not respond at the time, we have already published a plan for the order in which people will have access to the vaccine, starting with the most vulnerable. In essence, it consists of going down by age through those with comorbidities and health and social careworkers. We have to make sure that we reassure people and that we assure them that we are doing the roll-out in a clinically valid way.

Finally, on Southampton, my right hon. Friend is an assiduous representative of the environs of Southampton. When Southampton is doing well, Romsey is undoubtedly part of Southampton. In this case, Southampton is doing very well; let us hope that it continues.

Does not the fact that local public health directors are getting access to the individual data that they need to avoid another local lockdown only from today, and only if they sign a data protection agreement, illustrate that the Government’s slow and over-centralised approach has been a problem? Why would a local public health director not sign such an agreement?

I doubt any would not, but we have to ensure that people are assured that their data will be used sensitively. On the timing, we have been constantly improving this throughout the process. Some people complain that everything is not done by yesterday. Well, we put this together in a matter of a few months. The right hon. Member would do far better standing up and supporting the work to put together this amazing programme in a few short weeks, rather than sniping from the sidelines.

As my right hon. Friend will know, my neighbouring constituency of Blackburn now has the highest infection rate in the country and my constituency of Hyndburn and Haslingden is served by Blackburn Hospital. My constituents are rightly very concerned. As a local lockdown seems very possible, can he assure me that the Department will engage with me and local authorities closely to provide the guidance and advice needed?

Yes, absolutely. My hon. Friend is quite right to say this. She has already been in contact and making sure she represents Lancashire and the needs of people across her area and across Lancashire. I absolutely commit to doing that and to working with MPs in all those areas that are affected across the country. I know how concerning this is to constituents in an area with a much higher rate, or close to an area with a much higher rate. A case in point has been the MPs in Leicester and across Leicestershire, with whom we have worked closely to try to tackle this problem. I know that my hon. Friend will do a fantastic job looking out for the interests and needs of her constituents.

Mercifully, our R rate in Warrington is low, but I am concerned about surrounding areas that many of my constituents commute to for work and that local authorities have not been getting patient-identifiable data, which would help them to quickly identify and address workplace outbreaks. I welcome the Secretary of State’s assurance that local authorities will be in receipt of this information from today, but what powers will they have to co-ordinate data sharing with each other to sit alongside this?

Yes, if a local authority—say, an upper-tier local authority—gets the data and wants to conclude a further data-sharing agreement with a lower-tier local authority, that is absolutely open to them.

I pay tribute to the hard work and sacrifices of the amazing people of Wolverhampton. Will my right hon. Friend stand with me in this and ensure that, whenever they need testing, they can easily still get access to it?

I stand with my hon. Friend and the people of Wolverhampton in saying that, if they need more testing, they will get more testing, but right now I know for sure that anybody in Wolverhampton who needs a test can get one if they have symptoms. If in doubt, get a test because that is the most important thing people can do to help control the virus across the country.

Independent SAGE has estimated another 27,000 deaths in the UK by spring without a second wave of the virus, if the UK Government continue with their current approach, so will the Secretary of State agree to follow the example of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and pursue a strategy of eliminating the virus, rather than accepting the terrible projected death toll that living with the virus will cause?

I welcome the news today about the successful trial of the Oxford vaccine. The question on my constituents’ lips is: when will that be available on the market? I know my right hon. Friend cannot give those assurances, but could he assist my constituents first by saying when the trial is due to end, and secondly by giving assurances that the route to market for a successful vaccine will be as quick as that for dexamethasone?

On the first point, I am afraid that I cannot give my hon. Friend the clarity that she understandably seeks on behalf of her constituents, because it is a scientific question. As the rate of new infections has fallen, so the clinical trials have had to be a bit longer, because they are trying to prove a negative: that if someone has had the vaccine, they do not then get the disease. As a result, AstraZeneca has taken the vaccine around the world and put trials in countries where there is a much higher rate of infection. The rule with clinical trials is that, as soon as a trial comes to a conclusion that is beyond reasonable scientific doubt, the results are brought forward immediately. It is not a trial with a specific end date; it is a trial that runs until it is concluded scientifically, one way or the other. I hope that explanation—well, it is not as good as a date, but I hope that people accept it.

On the second point, my hon. Friend is absolutely right. We have been working hand in glove with these brilliant scientists, and we should put it on the record, even though it might take me an extra 30 seconds to say it, Mr Deputy Speaker, that the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency has done an amazing job. Alongside the scientists, it has made sure the trials are designed so that it can approve the results as soon as the results come forward—essentially, in parallel, rather than afterward, which is the norm. The MHRA has played a blinder; it is one of the reasons that the UK is at the forefront in vaccines and treatments. That means the vaccine will be available as soon as humanly possible as soon as the science is proven.

I thank the Secretary of State for his commitment and dedication. Can he give detail on the difference between reporting statistics that allowed coronavirus to be recorded as the cause of death on the death certificate of a constituent of mine who had end stage heart failure and a mild dose of coronavirus, with no symptoms, which led to a closed casket being required and potentially to misleading statistics? Does he agree that we need to be clear about whether someone simply had coronavirus or died directly because of complications of coronavirus?

Teasing out the answer to that question is a difficult statistical task, but the broad point the hon. Gentleman makes is the right one. We are seeking to tackle this disease, coronavirus, and we have to measure that; at the same time, of course, we need to continue to tackle all the other diseases and to make sure that the consequences of those diseases are measured properly. It is a significant challenge that faces many countries around the world, and that is why scientists are somewhat sceptical about over-analysis and international comparisons of deaths data, as proven by the need for the urgent review I put in place last week.

As my right hon. Friend knows, if we are to suppress the virus, we need an agile and vigorous response. Six weeks ago, I asked him to ensure that tests were available to elderly residents not only of care homes but in sheltered accommodation and retirement villages. Three weeks ago, he told me that they

“will be rolled out over the coming three to four weeks”.—[Official Report, 29 June 2020; Vol. 678, c. 117.]

Can he confirm whether that is now complete, or will be by the end of the week?

I will bring the answer to that question to the Science and Technology Committee, which my right hon. Friend chairs, tomorrow. I commissioned an answer to precisely that question ahead of that appearance and was hoping that he would ask a different question today, but I have been found out.

A test, trace and isolate system that holds public trust is vital, so can the Secretary of State explain why he considered the data protection impact assessment optional? How will he deal with mistakes that come to light, such as contact tracers sharing patient details on social media, as reported by The Sunday Times? In short, how will he increase trust in this essential system, given that bullish statements are no substitute for due diligence?

I will not be held back by bureaucracy. We made three data protection impact assessments, which cover all the necessary. I saw the report saying that we should have done one to cover all three, but we did the three and I think that will do the trick.

At the start of the pandemic, I raised the issue of care homes potentially losing revenue due to covid and running the risk of closing down. My right hon. Friend advised me at the time that no care home in Ashfield would close. Will he please update the House on the extra support given to care homes and advise whether any have closed due to financial constraints caused by covid?

We have worked very hard to support the social care sector, and, exactly as the hon. Member for Twickenham (Munira Wilson) asked, making sure that we get that financial support in is important. Of course, in the first instance, the local authority is responsible for ensuring that there are care homes available to put people in. I am very happy to look into the specific details of Ashfield and to write to my hon. Friend to make sure he gets a proper answer to his question.

Before asking the people of Newcastle or any city to undertake a local lockdown, the Government must provide clear national guidance, good local data and better local resources. Eighty per cent. of those traced are reached by local authority and public health teams; surely they deserve a greater proportion of the 18,000 tracers recruited nationally. Covid-19 was made a notifiable disease on 5 March, with a legal requirement to notify local authorities, yet the Secretary of State tells us he is only just sorting out the data protection issues of that now.

On the hon. Lady’s first point, of course it is a big team effort. She is quite right to raise the three areas that she raises, and that is exactly what we are delivering on: making sure that people have high-quality data; making sure that if we need to put in more resources, such as more testing, we do that; making sure that money goes to local directors of public health, which we have done; and making sure that we get high-quality links between the two. We are making progress exactly against how she sets it out.

If, in addition, the hon. Lady seeks a threshold—a figure—at which point a local lockdown is triggered, we are not going to do that. The reason we are not going to do that is that we have to take everything into account, including local circumstances. For instance, last week the number of cases in Herefordshire shot up—on some counts, it became one of the places with the most cases in the country—but we know that that was confined on one farm, so it was far better to tackle that one farm than to shut down the whole of Herefordshire. That is a clear example of why this simplistic call for a single threshold is not the right approach. The right approach is a scientific approach, using all the available data and people’s judgment.

The Secretary of State will know that many people in Rother Valley do not own cars and that public transport is often woeful, so will he support putting mobile testing units in Maltby and Dinnington so that everyone who needs a test can get a test?

I will look precisely at putting mobile testing units in Maltby and Dinnington and look, again, at the local data, along with the local authority, to see what we can do.

I, too, welcome the Health Secretary’s change of heart and his assurance that complete pillar 2 testing data will be sent to local public health departments each day and not each week. The delay has inhibited local public health departments’ ability to contact and trace covid-infected people, letting the virus spread in some areas. Given that many of us have been asking for these data for a number of weeks now, what is his assessment of the number of people who have been infected as a result of the delay, the impact on public confidence, and the hit that local economies will take because of these failures?

We have been building the Test and Trace system and improving the data that flows from it and underpins it all the way through this crisis, and I am glad that the hon. Lady is pleased by the continued progress that we are making. That is the way to look at this. We have been building this extraordinary service at extraordinary pace, and I am really glad we are able to get more.

I welcome the Health Secretary’s statement and share his concerns that we do not know how the virus will react when we enter our cold weather season. Wealden constituents are already concerned about winter flu. When he has the data on cold weather and the virus, will he ensure that it is shared with East Sussex Healthcare NHS Trust, East Sussex County Council and Wealden District Council so that we can prepare and be resourced to deal with both covid and winter flu?

I will do better than that: when we get scientific evidence on the impact of cold weather on this virus, we will publish it.

I hope the Secretary of State is aware of the tragic case of Kelly Smith, who sadly died when her cancer treatment was stopped during the covid lockdown. The Government’s aspiration to get cancer services back to normal by the end of the year is simply not acceptable. Too many cancers are incurable within a few weeks. Will he address this issue, and will he look at transforming radiotherapy services, which have emerged as being highly effective as a cancer treatment and can be delivered even if there is a second spike in the pandemic?

Yes, the hon. Gentleman is absolutely right about the importance of this. We are getting cancer services back up and running as fast as possible. The idea that we are waiting until the end of the year before doing anything is completely wrong. We are going as fast as we can. During the peak, some of the services did have to be stopped for clinical reasons. My heart goes out to those whose treatment was stopped because of covid and who died of cancer, The judgments were made on an individual clinical basis as to whether it was safer to go ahead with the treatment or to stop it, because, of course, many treatments for cancer are much more dangerous when there is a high volume of infectious disease. I understand that that explanation will be of no comfort to Kelly’s family and friends who mourn her, but I also understand why the NHS made that decision and I support them in the decision that it made. We must get this going again as fast as possible. This is something on which I am working very closely with the NHS. In fact, I had a meeting on it only last week. I also entirely agree on the point about radiology services, too.

I invite the Secretary of State to join me in congratulating two Staffordshire organisations: one in the private sector and one in the public sector. The private sector firm is Cobra Biologics in my constituency of Newcastle-under-Lyme. It was one of the first manufacturers of the Oxford vaccine, and had scaled up to increase production even before AstraZeneca came on board. The public sector firm is the Staffordshire Resilience Forum. Thanks to its hard work and the hard work of the people of Staffordshire, they have now been able to downgrade a major coronavirus incidence. Although, of course, we cannot drop our guard completely, the situation is now currently stable and under control, and that, I think, illustrates our response to coronavirus.

I pay tribute to the public health services, the NHS and the councils across Staffordshire that have worked so hard to get this virus under control and have really got it right down in Staffordshire, including in Newcastle-under-Lyme, which my hon. Friend regards as the finest part of Staffordshire. The first point that he makes is also absolutely valid and something that I will consider going forward.

I thank the Secretary of State for his statement today. Please take care when leaving the Chamber. The House is suspended for three minutes.

Sitting suspended.

Virtual participation in proceedings concluded (Order, 4 June).