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Covid-19: Support for Scottish Government

Volume 696: debated on Tuesday 8 June 2021

What steps his Department is taking to support the Scottish Government in their response to the covid-19 outbreak. (900820)

The UK Government work closely with the Scottish Government to provide a co-ordinated approach to the response to covid-19 for the benefit of people across Scotland and across the United Kingdom. For instance, the UK Government have provided the Scottish Government with £1.2 billion in Barnett funding in the 2021 Budget, procured more than 500 million vaccines for the whole of the UK and made sure that our testing programme reaches all parts of the UK. This is a partnership in which the people of Scotland benefit hugely from the reach and strength of the UK Government.

It is becoming clear across the entire United Kingdom that our NHS is facing a huge challenge as we reopen society to deal with the thousands of procedures, treatments and operations that have been delayed due to lockdown. What steps is my right hon. Friend taking to ensure that the national health service in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland can work together as easily as possible, sharing resources and services to ensure that this truly national health service for our whole country will support delivery to support our constituents wherever in the United Kingdom they might live?

My hon. Friend is quite right. The NHS is one of Britain’s proudest achievements. It operates across the whole of Great Britain and co-operation is ingrained in the DNA of the NHS. I am absolutely determined, as the UK Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, to ensure that, wherever people live in this United Kingdom, they can access the very best of care. If a constituent of my hon. Friend’s in Aberdeenshire needs a treatment that is only available in England because it is so specialised, they should have absolutely every right to that treatment, in the same way that a constituent of mine in Suffolk or a constituent in north Wales should. We have one NHS across these islands, and it is one of the things of which this country is most proud.

I am sure the Secretary of State is well aware that the Scottish NHS has been separate since 1948 and has been under direct Scottish Government control for the last 20 years, so there are actually four NHSs. Perhaps I can ask him about some of his decisions that have made it harder for the Scottish and other devolved Governments to fight covid. Last September, he refused to follow Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies advice for an urgent lockdown, and the six-week delay allowed the more infectious B117 Kent variant to emerge and spread across the UK, driving a second wave more deadly than the first. He has repeatedly claimed to follow the science, so can he explain why he did not follow scientific advice last September?

Just on this point, this attempt at division within the NHS is deeply regrettable. It is not what people want. It is not what people want in Scotland. It is not what people want anywhere across the country. The NHS is an institution we should all be very proud of. Of course it is managed locally—it is managed locally across parts of England and it is managed under the devolution settlement in Wales and Scotland, as are health services in Northern Ireland, and rightly so—but it ill behoves politicians to try to divide the NHS. It is a wonderful institution that should make us all proud to be British.

On the specific question that the hon. Lady asked, of course we are guided by the science and take all factors into consideration. These are difficult judgments based on uncertain data, and we make the best judgments that we can. That is still the process we are going through, in the same way that the Scottish National party Government in Scotland have recently opened up parts of the rules in terms of social distancing, despite the rise in cases.

We face a challenging decision ahead of 21 June, but that decision is made easier by—indeed, the decision to open up is only possible because of it—the UK vaccination effort. Today marks six months to the day since Margaret Keenan in Coventry was the first person in the world to receive a clinically validated vaccine—the same day as Scotland, the same day as Wales. Since then we have delivered—

Order. It is not a statement, but an answer that we require. I call Dr Philippa Whitford to ask her second question.

I think the Secretary of State would find that most people in Scotland were rather glad that their NHS did not come under the Health and Social Care Act 2012 fragmentation. Having ignored the Scottish Government’s call in February for all arrivals to undergo hotel quarantine, he then delayed adding India to the red list. This allowed the more infectious Delta variant, which one dose of the vaccine is less effective against, to enter and become dominant in the UK. Is he not concerned that, if he removes all social distancing completely in the near future, the variant will cause a covid surge among those who are not fully vaccinated?

Touché, Sir. In response to the hon. Lady’s question, I will say this. The opening up and the return of our freedoms is only possible because of the UK vaccination effort. In the six months to the day since we first vaccinated across these islands—yes, in Coventry, but also in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland—we have delivered 68 million vaccines across the whole UK and saved thousands of lives, and the whole United Kingdom has been set fair on the road to recovery thanks to the UK Government’s vaccination effort. I am very grateful to everybody in Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and England who has played their part in delivering it. That shows the benefit of the United Kingdom Union saving lives and working together for everybody on these islands.