On Friday we confirmed the 40 hospitals we will build by 2030 as part of a package worth £3.7 billion, with a further eight new schemes also invited to bid, all to ensure that we protect the NHS long into the future.
All I want from the Secretary of State today is a simple yes or no answer. It has come to light that the Northern Ireland authorities have taken unprecedented action and committed to pay for private prescriptions for medical cannabis for severely ill children. Will he do the right thing and follow the example set in Northern Ireland in supporting other children with intractable epilepsy by paying for their private prescriptions—yes or no?
The hon. Lady has long been a campaigner on this subject. We have made significant progress in terms of expanding access where it is clinically safe to do so. On this, as on so many things, I will make sure that I constantly follow the clinical evidence.
My right hon. Friend knows that for every person who tragically dies from coronavirus, at least one other person has long-term symptoms lasting more than three months, meaning that they have breathlessness and chronic fatigue and often cannot go back to work normally. In his letter to me of 14 September, he said that clinics were going to be set up so that they could get mental health support, face-to-face counselling and rehabilitation. Have those clinics been commissioned, and when will those long covid sufferers be able to access them throughout the country?
My right hon. Friend makes an incredibly important point. I know very well the impact of long covid; it is something that I understand deeply. We are in the process of setting up those clinics and there will be further information on this very shortly.
Given that the Office for National Statistics has said today that deaths have increased three weeks in a row, and given the rising prevalence of the virus, can the Secretary of State understand the upset and the anger over the Excel spreadsheet blunder? Can he tell us today what he could not tell us yesterday: how many of the 48,000 contacts—not the index cases, the contacts—have been traced and how many are now isolating?
We have obviously been continuing to contact both the index cases and the contacts. The total number of contacts depends on how many contacts each index case has. That information will of course be made available in the normal way when it has been completed. However, we cannot know in advance how many contacts there are because the interviews with the index cases have to be done first.
So essentially thousands of people who have been exposed to the virus could be wandering around not knowing they have been exposed and infecting people, and the Secretary of State cannot even tell us if they have been traced.
Let me move on to something else. I listened carefully to what the Secretary of State said about a vaccine yesterday in light of the news that the Government are aiming to vaccinate about 30 million people—just under 50% of the population. There has been an expectation that the whole of the population would be vaccinated, not least because he said at the Downing Street press conference that he “would hope, given the scale of the crisis, we would have the vaccine and everyone would be given the vaccine.” Those are his words. We accept the clinical guidance. However, can he tell us how long it will take, for the 50% of people who will not be vaccinated, for life to return to normal for them?
As the hon. Gentleman well knows, decisions on the distribution of any vaccine have not been taken. The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation is the body that advises the Government on the appropriate clinical prioritisation of vaccines. It has published an interim guide, which he well knows about and we have discussed. That sets out the order of priority as an interim measure, but we await the data from the clinical trials of the vaccine before we will come to a clinically validated full roll-out plan. We are putting in place the logistical plans now, but on the decisions as to the clinical order of priority, we will take the evidence from the Joint Committee.
Can I just say to those on both Front Benches that these are meant to be short and punchy topical questions, not full debates?
Yes, I wholeheartedly agree with my hon. Friend, who speaks well for her constituent. I am very sorry that her constituent had that experience, and of course GPs should be sensitive, as the large majority are.
I pay tribute to the group that the hon. Lady mentions. I have put a huge amount of effort into supporting social prescribing, including with funding, and I encourage her CCG to engage with such bodies to make sure that we can get funding to support them on the frontline.
The Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St Edmunds (Jo Churchill) has committed to consult on the subject to make sure we get to the right outcome.
Of course I have met and continue to meet the families of those bereaved through coronavirus. With this particular group, I am afraid that when I last looked into it, they were in legal action—in pre-action protocol—with the Government, so I am advised that I should not therefore meet them.
The level of cases matters, but so too does the direction of travel, and when the number of cases is falling—especially if it is falling rapidly—that is the sort of indicator that we will look at. One example is the action we took in Leicester a few months ago now, where we removed some of the most restrictive measures when the numbers were coming down sharply.
I am very worried about the rates of transmission in the north-east, as I am about parts of the north-west of England. I look forward to working with the hon. Gentleman and colleagues from across the regions affected to take the action necessary to suppress this virus and to support the economy, education and the NHS right across this land.
The covid-19 app has now been successfully downloaded by around 15 million people, including my hon. Friend’s father. Every extra person who downloads it helps to keep themselves safe and keep others safe. I urge everybody in this House to download it—I hope you have, Mr Speaker. It is one of the tools in the armoury, and everybody can play their part in keeping this virus under control by downloading the app.
Yes, absolutely. The testing facilities are one example of that. Testing facilities across the UK work very closely with the Scottish NHS, to ensure that people can get a test as close to them as possible. I think we have reduced the problem of people being sent to Inverness, but we continue to work to increase the capacity in Inverness and right across the country.
We are making good progress in validating the tests and in doing what needs to be done to be able to use them effectively. I have seen some of these reports from around the world, and I talk regularly to my opposite numbers about how we can get this sort of next-generation testing going.
I am a strong supporter of the work we have done to look at that approach. The hon. Lady is right to raise it, and I will write to her with a timetable for that response.
Yes, of course I would. I would underline some news announced by the Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St Edmunds (Jo Churchill), which is that the breast screening backlog from the first peak, which was 450,000, is now down to just over 50,000. I pay tribute to the NHS and all those involved in screening who have done so much work to bring that backlog down, and I am very happy to meet my hon. Friend to discuss this subject.
A huge amount of work is under way to ensure that we are fully prepared for all eventualities this winter. It is an important piece of work across the Department.
We have ended where we started this questions session: with my delight at a new hospital that has been funded and announced by the Prime Minister on Friday—Newgate in Northumberland. That is a very important development. My right hon. Friend makes a wider point about the importance of community hospitals, which are local to where people live. With modern advances in technology, we can deliver more services closer to people’s homes and in people’s homes, and then in community hospitals, while of course needing to build those superb hubs of science and care that our great hospitals are.
In order to allow the safe exit of Members participating in this item of business and the safe arrival of those participating in the next, I am suspending the House for a few minutes.