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Covid-19: NHS Support

Volume 691: debated on Monday 15 March 2021

The work of our armed forces in supporting the covid response is popular around the country and popular in Parliament, too. Defence has supported the NHS through the construction of Nightingale hospitals, PPE distribution, planning and logistical support, scientific advice, testing and vaccine delivery. Currently, the Ministry of Defence is providing 199 medical personnel to regional NHS trusts, and 321 general duties personnel are providing a range of support tasks, including support to the ambulance services. Some 1,600 defence medical professionals are also embedded in the national health service.

I would like to pay tribute to the armed forces personnel in Carshalton and Wallington for all they have done to help tackle coronavirus. Will my hon. Friend join me in thanking the hundreds of defence personnel across London who have been seconded to hospitals throughout the duration of the pandemic, fulfilling medical and general roles? Will he also outline the plans the MOD has for continuing that offer of support in the coming months?

I certainly join my hon. Friend, as I hope will the rest of the House, in thanking defence personnel for supporting the NHS across London over the past year. Those thanks should also recognise the NHS and frontline workers whom it has been our great privilege to work alongside at the strategic level here in Whitehall, all the way down to those in wards and in the back of ambulances across the country throughout the pandemic.

Besides MACA—military aid to the civil authorities—support for specific tasks, Defence has an enduring presence within the NHS for training and personnel placements. Work is being done to expand that for future opportunities, given the experience of our people working alongside the brilliant NHS clinicians throughout the pandemic.

Will the Minister join me in thanking the military personnel who set up the asymptomatic testing sites in Sevenoaks and Swanley? The 35 Engineer Regiment managed the whole process swiftly and efficiently, and has made it as pleasant as possible to visit. They deserve to be recognised.

I absolutely join my hon. Friend in praising the fabulous work of the 35 Engineer Regiment and the Kent resilience unit, which supported Kent County Council to deliver its community testing programme and to establish the Sevenoaks asymptomatic testing site. Armed forces personnel have been working tirelessly across the United Kingdom to help tackle this pandemic, and I know she is not alone in wanting to pass her thanks on to all those who have done such amazing work.

In times of crisis, such as foot and mouth disease 20 years ago, flooding catastrophes and now the coronavirus pandemic, the armed forces have been deployed effectively to keep us safe by working closely with the emergency services, the NHS and local authorities. Will my hon. Friend join me in paying tribute to the thousands of UK armed forces personnel who, aside from keeping us safe, are ready to be deployed in national times of crisis and have bolstered the vaccine effort, supported hospitals, assisted with covid testing and much more?

I thank my hon. Friend for his comments, and I wholeheartedly join him in recognising the consistency and excellence of the support that the armed forces have provided to the United Kingdom both in the past and throughout the covid-19 pandemic. It is worth mentioning that, throughout times like this, they are not just working on homeland resilience but continue with the many jobs they have to do overseas to keep countries safe. It is an extraordinary effort, and it is right that they should be recognised in this way in the House.

Will the Minister join me in thanking the 35 military personnel who continue to support the frontline team at South Central ambulance service, which serves my constituents? Will he confirm that the MOD will continue to be there by their side as we move towards the end of all national restrictions on 21 June?

I, of course, join my hon. Friend in thanking and acknowledging the fine work of the armed forces personnel supporting the South Central ambulance service, as well as those who have been supporting ambulance services in the north-west, London and Wales. Supporting the covid-19 pandemic response remains Defence’s main priority, and I can confirm that Defence will continue to provide support while our assistance is requested and the requirement endures.

Last summer, I met members of our armed forces in my constituency of Morley and Outwood who were undertaking tests for people who may have covid. These brave men and women are British heroes, and throughout the pandemic, they have done everything possible to keep the people of our great nation safe. Will the Minister detail the steps that are being taken to strengthen support services for our armed forces and their families so that we can show them the same support that they have shown us?

My hon. Friend is right to notice just how extraordinary the work of our armed forces has been. They have accepted great risk during the pandemic in doing the things we have asked them to do, which will have been of some concern for their families. While they have often been deployed at short notice, we have tried to make sure that the welfare provisions for them are as good as they can be. We also recognise the demands of service life and the impact that they can have on the lives and careers of family members. My hon. Friend the Member for South West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous) has done excellent work on the armed forces families’ strategy and action plan, and we are looking to develop those ideas fully over the next few months.