Monday 19 April 2021 / 4:14 PM Jonathan Ashworth

Jonathan Ashworth responds to the Health Secretary’s statement on Coronavirus

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Jonathan Ashworth MP, Labour’s Shadow Health Secretary, responding to the Health Secretary’s statement on Coronavirus, said:

“I well understand Downing Street’s reluctance to cancel the Prime Minister’s India trip but I welcome the announcement.

“I am a member for Leicester and I’m immensely proud of our deep ties and bonds to India. But we must always be vigilant, be driven by data and have zero tolerance for variants that could set us back.

“Variants are the biggest threat to our progress. Tackling requires vaccination rolled out quickly and I pay tribute to all involved in this. Uptake levels are still too low in some communities will he provide extra resources to local communities that need them to drive up rates.

“We will look closely at his plans for vaccinating social care staff. But he will know of course that every attempt throughout history to push forward mandatory vaccination has proved counter productive. Why does he think this will be any different?  And even with high levels of vaccination the virus is endemic as the CMO recently confirmed.

“SAGE has modelled a third wave this summer. So how do we avoid this third wave? Unless we pay higher sick pay and expand its scope, some of the poorest and lowest paid will continue to suffer and be left exposed to this virus.

“We shouldn’t just glibly accept such health inequities.  And we risk urban areas left behind remaining with restrictions and higher infection rates, so for the millionth time of asking, will he fix sick pay?

“India has the most cases in the world – more than 250,000 confirmed cases a day and going up. This is one of the world’s steepest surges right now. Uploads of Indian sequencing to the global open access database show the new ‘double mutant’ of B 1 6 1 7 variant has become dominant in India in past few weeks, out competing our own home grown Kent strain. And of today, UK COG reports 135 cases of B 1 6 1 7  in the UK, 115 in the last 28 days. It is the fastest growing variant in the UK in the last 3 weeks. Most of those are imported via travel as Susan Hopkins implied.  So we welcome the inclusion of India on the Red List.

“But we also now have cases in the community not linked to international travel. So surely then we now need to start surge testing and designate B 1 6 1 7 as variant of concern? Waiting for more definitive evidence that it has more infectious or has immune escape will take time when we already know it carries mutations of concern in other variants.

“If we have learnt anything it is that this virus ruthlessly exploits ambiguities and we must act fast when the situation is controllable. In a few weeks might not be.

“He didn’t mention vaccine passports, so does he anticipate vaccine passports will be needed football games or concerts? Leicester City have made it to the FC cup final – a team, challenging for Europe on merit, and who always put the fans first. Many who anticipate that they will be attend football matches later this year will be asking whether they will need one vaccine dose or two. The CDC in the US and Israel have released data showing infectiousness after one vaccine dose, so can he update us on this?

“Finally, on the latest Sunday Times revelations about Greensill’s and Cameron’s lobbying of him and the very highest NHS officials about the pay day financing scheme – which wasn’t an act of altruism to staff in a pandemic but an investment plan to package up loans to sell to investors with the former Prime Minister, not nurses in line for a pay day windfall.

“Cameron wrote in one of his emails: “As you can imagine, Matt Hancock …  extremely positive about this innovative offer.” They sought a partnership with NHS Shared Business Services (jointly owned by his Department). And access to personal and financial data of thousands of NHS staff in electronic records for their own commercial gain. And their plan was to expand into the social care sector as well, where staff are low paid, often on zero hours contracts and because the fragmented market is made up of private providers the supposed none-profit offer would not apply.


“There are meetings and communications with a parade of the most senior NHS officials including former health minister Lord Prior and Baroness Harding. At least 30 Trusts may have spent valuable time considering the adoption of this untested pay day lending scheme. And all because the Secretary of State succumbed to his old boss, Cameron’s lobbying. So again, will he now publish his text messages, emails and correspondence with David Cameron? How many NHS leaders and officials did Cameron and Greensill lobby and meet?


“How many NHS trusts in total were approached about this expensive, unneeded scheme? And while we’re on the issue of Shared Business Services perhaps he can also tell us why he never declared his links to Topwood – the confidential document shredding firm – who were still on Friday night, until it was curiously taken down, using the NHS logo on their website to promote themselves.


“NHS staff deserve a pay rise and support, not pay day loan apps. Forced on the NHS by speculators trying to make money out of the pandemic. How can he possibly defend this?”