Thursday 18 March 2021 / 1:39 PM Health / Jonathan Ashworth

Jonathan Ashworth responds to Health Secretary’s statement to the House of Commons

Jonathan Ashworth MP, Labour’ Shadow Health Secretary, responding to Matt Hancock’s statement to the House of Commons, said:

Thank you Madam Deputy Speaker and, as always, I thank the Secretary of State for advance sight of his statement.

Now our constituents will be worried, anxious and disappointed at the news on vaccination last night.

It has been an unspeakably horrific year. We have got one of the worst death rates in the world.

Our economy has taken a massive hit.

Many key workers under the age of 50 like teachers and police officers who, through the nature of their work are not at home, they are going out, they are more exposed to risk had been hoping that vaccination for them was not far away.

So we understand why there will be have to be, why there will be delays in supply. Of course we understand that.

But this is not fantastic news and nor, frankly, is it unexpected news.

On Saturday, Government sources were briefing the Daily Telegraph of a ‘bumper boost’ that everyone over 40 would be offered their first vaccine by Easter.

Last week, the Business Secretary was hinting all adults could be vaccinated by June saying “there’s no reason why we can’t be optimistic”.

On Monday, Nottingham and Nottinghamshire CCG began inviting those in their 40s for vaccination. There was a similar invitation went out from Bury CCG as well.

So we are grateful for his update today but it will be a surprise to many.

He didn’t mention Moderna supplies today.

I understand that Moderna supplies will start in April, is there any prospect for if Moderna supplies come on stream that new appointments can be offered in light of this?

Now, about 11 million people received their first dose between January and February and I listened carefully to what he said. Can he clarify, for the House and for constituents, is he offering them an absolute guarantee that all of those will get their second dose within the twelve weeks throughout April? Our constituents will be keen to get that absolutely clarified.

Now, the vaccination programme will need to ramp up to about 3.5 million doses a week from May to ensure everyone under-50 is vaccinated by mid-July.

Is he confident that these supply issues will be fixed by May? And is there any prospect of doing more than 3.5 million jabs a week from May?

So because, for example, we heard today from Adam Finn of the JCVI that infection rates may rise as a result of the delays, does he anticipate that any of the stages in the roadmap easing out of lockdown, any of those dates will be pushed back given that we are quite rightly judging that roadmap by data not dates?

Can I also, on behalf the official opposition Madam Deputy Speaker, take this opportunity to support the AstraZeneca vaccine.

Of course where people are worried, and have concerns, those worries and concerns must be addressed and not dismissed. But this is a concern at the moment.

Yesterday, for example, I was told that hundreds of people failed to show for appointments at the Excel Centre and we think that is because of concerns and misinformation circulating online.

There are parts of the country where infections rates remain relatively high and vaccinations rates relatively low. I see this in my own Leicester South constituency.

Will he pull together a cross party taskforce of community and local leaders to look at tackling these vaccine hesitancy issues? I offer again to work with him on that on a cross-party basis.

Madam Deputy Speaker, children make up around 21 per cent of the population. That is a large segment of the population to be lacking immunity. Obviously research and trials are ongoing but does he have a timeline for when he hopes to vaccinate children?

Does he anticipate that we start vaccinating children this autumn as Anthony Fauci has suggested could be possible in the US?

Because even as vaccination rolls out, the virus will continue to circulate and new vaccine evading variants could emerge and we may need booster jabs in autumn and winter will be challenging. And so driving up vaccination rates across the whole population is so, so important.

Now on these budget allocations that he’s announced for the next six months finally. I welcome extra funding of course.

Can he guarantee that the NHS will continue to get additional funding after six months if needed for Covid care?

But as he references – people are waiting longer for treatment – over 300,000 waiting over a year – risking loss of livelihood and permanent disability.

Thousands waiting too long for cancer treatment, risking loss of life.

But we shouldn’t have to choose between cancer care and Covid care.

We’re also facing a mental health epidemic as a consequence of this crisis.

Crucially, when we entered this pandemic, because of years of underfunding, bed cuts, understaffing we had growing waiting lists, our A&Es were in crisis and we were missing cancer targets.

So can he tell us when he expects to bring down these waiting lists and meet the various cancer targets again?

Finally, he didn’t mention NHS pay today. He claps NHS workers, he claps nurses but he is introducing a real terms pay cut for NHS staff.

Will he tell us whether he will guarantee implement recommendations of the independent pay review body and if they recommend an increase above one per cent, can he assure us that the funding will be additional to what he has announced today?

In truth, Madam Deputy Speaker, if he really wants to value NHS staff he should withdraw this pay cut now.