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International Year of Health and Care Workers

Volume 809: debated on Monday 1 February 2021


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have to celebrate the World Health Organization’s International Year of Health and Care Workers in 2021.

My Lords, to celebrate the work of health and care workers, there are symbolic interventions, such as the social care workforce CARE brand for shared identity and our powerful recruitment advertising, which highlights the remarkable contribution of health and care workers. However, the most important celebrations are tangible: the investment in new recruitment, the £30 million fund for those seeking mental and occupational health support, and the people plan, which is addressing the practical and cultural challenges that workers face in the workplace.

I thank the Minister for that very positive response and I agree with him about concrete measures. The World Health Organization has adopted the slogan “protect, invest, together”, which is very powerful and sets out the priorities very well for this year. The Minister will no doubt be aware that there is discussion at the World Health Organization and elsewhere about the need for a new societal compact with health and care workers to whom we owe so much, perhaps similar to the military covenant. Would Her Majesty’s Government support the creation of a compact or covenant setting out our responsibilities to health and care workers, which mirror and match their professional responsibilities and duties towards us? If they have not considered this, will they do so?

My Lords, I applaud the WHO’s values of “protect, invest, together”. One of the commendable things during this awful pandemic has been the way in which British society has reconnected with the values of the healthcare community. It has rediscovered the contribution of nurses, doctors, healthcare workers and those in social care. A new relationship has been forged between civic society and healthcare; this is commendable and we should build on it. On the idea for a compact, it is not something that we are working on at the moment as far as I am aware, but I would be glad to take his idea away and find out whether we can develop it any further.

My Lords, HMG have supposedly funded 85 schemes with EYN UK to develop a vaccine passport, yet they say they have no plans for one. Will they rethink their no plan-policy and collaborate with the World Health Organization in its International Year of Health and Care Workers by producing a worldwide WHO vaccine passport, perhaps even as an app?

My Lords, the Minister for Vaccines has been clear on this: the Government are not currently undertaking work on vaccine certification. However, the noble Baroness makes the case well. Certainly, those who have had the vaccine are very anxious to ensure that they have the correct documentation, and we will ensure that that is in place.

My Lords, I declare my roles at Cardiff University. Will the Government create a range of funding streams as overseas aid to ensure that UK universities’ successful distance learning programmes in practical health and care specialities and generalist care are affordable and supported in those countries? Will they work with me and others to invest in better provision of public health, infectious disease control, maternity services, dermatology, palliative care and other services around the globe?

My Lords, I pay tribute to the work of the noble Baroness in this important area. Her implied insight is exactly correct. We cannot be healthy and safe here in Britain if there are diseases raging around the world. It is both in our pragmatic self-interest and aligned with our values of partnership with other countries that we should indeed invest in the kind of training and support to which the noble Baroness alluded. I will definitely look into how we could do this better.

My Lords, the WHO puts health and care workers in the same category. Does the Minister agree that we in the UK do not see them as the same, since workers in the care sector are habitually worse paid, less recognised and more poorly trained and supported than those who work in the NHS? Would not the best way to celebrate care workers be to remedy these discrepancies in the proposals for the reform of social care, which the Minister has assured the House will be brought forward this year?

My Lords, the noble Baroness makes a completely fair point. Her observation is entirely right and her recommendation is one that the Prime Minister has made clear is part of his thinking. Social care workers have done a phenomenal job during this pandemic. Their role in supporting the elderly and infirm is extremely valuable to the whole country. It is only right that they should be treated fairly; a review of their pay and circumstances will be part of the social care package when that is announced.

My Lords, the WHO notes with concern the increase in international health worker migration; there are also concerns about their workplace treatment in their host countries. The 14% of brilliant non-British NHS staff are essential in holding up our healthcare systems, as has been especially evident during this pandemic. Last week, there were worrying press reports that hospital trusts were telling non-UK NHS staff without NHS numbers that they were not eligible for the Covid vaccine. Please, can the Minister say whether all NHS staff are eligible for the vaccine—and if he cannot, will he explain why not?

I take this opportunity to confirm to the noble Baroness that all NHS staff qualify for the vaccine. I would be very grateful if she could communicate to me any incidents where an NHS trust has said otherwise. We are enormously grateful in this country to all those who migrate to support our social care services. We are profoundly grateful for those efforts, and I want to ensure that everyone is treated well in their workplace. Generally, those in the social care workplace are treated well; there are exceptions, and we crack down on those exceptions extremely hard.

My Lords, I express our strong support for the WHO statement in recognition of the selfless dedication of health and social care staff to providing care during and despite Covid-19. Following on from the comments of my noble friend Lady Pitkeathley, the WHO statement draws attention to the importance of workforce readiness, education and learning to manage the pandemic and its consequences. Will the Minister explain how the Government are ensuring that both health and social care staff on the front line of social care—particularly care staff, providing vital domiciliary care in the home and in the community—are being given this key support?

The noble Baroness is right. Those involved in domiciliary care, particularly part-time, make an extremely important contribution. We are naturally concerned about how they are contracted and their educational needs supported. We would like to think more about how part-time domiciliary care staff in particular, who make such a valuable contribution, can be further supported.

My Lords, does my noble friend the Minister recognise that nurses remain at the heart of the world’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic? As key to the restoration of health systems that have been neglected during the crisis, will the Government support calls by the International Council of Nurses fundamentally to reset preparedness and response systems and work towards the global requirement for an additional 10 million nurses by 2030?

My Lords, we massively value the contribution of nurses from all areas. In fact, that recognition has manifested itself in practical terms; we are growing the nursing workforce and are committed to delivering 50,000 more nurses, putting the NHS on a trajectory for sustainable long-term supply in the future. That journey includes giving eligible nursing students an additional £5,000 of funding per academic year. I cannot say more clearly or loudly how much the contribution of nurses to our healthcare system is appreciated. We will do everything we can to ensure that it is recognised.

My Lords, in Salisbury we have had good reason to recognise the dedication and sacrifice of health and care workers, both at the time of the Novichok poisonings and in this present pandemic. The use of Salisbury and other cathedrals and churches as vaccination centres indicates a partnership between spirituality and health care, so will the Minister join me in thanking chaplains, among all the dedicated healthcare workers at this time? What we see in this country is in marked contrast with the poorest parts of the world, as in Sudan and South Sudan, with which this diocese is linked. Given that this is a global pandemic, when might the Government recognise the self-interest involved in overseas aid and move to restore the 0.7% of GDP commitment? No one will be safe until everyone is safe.

My Lords, the image of the vaccination work in Salisbury cathedral must surely be one of the most powerful images of our times. I found it an extremely touching picture to see those seeking solace in the cathedral and also their vaccination at the same time. I give praise to all those involved. Britain has been utterly emphatic in its contribution to global vaccination. We have given £574 million to developing countries to support those vaccinations. We do that for two reasons. One is self-interest, and the other is to ensure a fair distribution of the vaccines.

My Lords, the time allowed for this Question has now elapsed. Apologies to the three speakers I was unable to call.