Wednesday 30 December 2020 / 3:25 PM Jonathan Ashworth

Jonathan Ashworth responds to the Health Secretary’s Covid-19 statement in the Commons

Jonathan Ashworth MP, Labour’s Shadow Health Secretary, responding to the Health Secretary’s Covid-19 statement in the Commons, said:


“I understand why he has had to move further areas into Tiers 3 and 4 restrictions today. This is as he says almost the whole country in a form of lockdown.


“We will vote for the regulations tonight. The situation we are in today is truly horrific. This virus is out of control. Yesterday over 47,000 cases reported in England, in the last two weeks nearly half a million cases reported. So far cases in Tier 4 areas show no sign of slowing down.


“In England there are now more patients in hospital – over 20,000  – than at any time in the pandemic. With admissions rising day by day including almost 2000 on Christmas day. Hospitals are close to or at surge capacity.


“We see ambulances queuing up outside hospitals because there are no beds for their patients. We have London hospitals requesting to transfer patients in need of intensive care to Yorkshire.


“Frontline health care workers warn of oxygen supplies running low. Can he assure there will be no disruption in oxygen supplies through this second wave?


“Our NHS staff are exhausted, morale is low, staff absence is said to be double its normal level, leave for many is cancelled. And this time there is no evening applause on our streets just long dark hard nights.


“The Nightingales were opened at great expense and fanfare. Now we hear of some of them such as London’s have been emptied. Will they be used? And if with so many shortages, how will they be staffed?


“There are reports today that only one in eight retired NHS staff, just 5,000 out of an eligible 30,000 who applied have been brought back to help. Shouldn’t we be making full use of this resource, especially to help with vaccination?


“Today’s AstraZeneca news is a tremendous boost and I congratulate all involved. Can he confirm how many doses we currently have ready to go? We are in a crisis now, mass vaccination needs to start straight away. We need to go hell for leather to get these jabs rolled out with no delay.


“We have already lost more than 600 health care workers to this horrific virus including a disproportionate number from Black Asian and ethnic minority communities.

Frontline NHS staff need the protection of the vaccine ASAP. Will he set a clear target for when all NHS frontline staff will receive the lifesaving jabs?


“Can he tell us when all care home residents and staff be vaccinated? And he will recall I raised with him the situation facing those with terminal illness, can he clarify what the JCVI’s guidance is for that group?


“This is a race against time, the more this virus circulates, the more opportunities for further variants emerge. This new B117 variant is 56 per cent more transmissible. It is the dominant strain in London, South East and East of England. The NERVTAG minutes from 18th December suggest it could add 0.4 to the R.


“Given the first lockdown brought R to about 0.6 and the second lockdown to about 0.8, this surely means it will be harder to bring infections under control and so harder measures will be needed. So will he publish in real time the advice he is receiving from SAGE on restrictions need?


“This is a global crisis but let us be clear this is a national emergency. Our National Health Service is becoming overwhelmed. I hope the Tier 4 restrictions are enough, but many believe even tougher restrictions are inevitable? Does he agree?


“We need not put more lives in jeopardy when vaccines are so near. Let’s give the achievements of our scientists the best chance to save lives. The country has sacrificed so much in 2020, let’s not repeat the same mistakes.


“We must start 2021 by doing everything it takes right now to save lives and support our NHS. Only then can we look forward with confidence and hope.”