Monday 14 December 2020 / 4:08 PM Jonathan Ashworth

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

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


“After last week’s euphoria we are brought back down to earth with a thud. This is a virus that, without adequate restrictions in place, spreads with ferocity. Case rates are increasing again, hospital admissions are climbing again. R is edging up again.


“Last week the England wide rate was 159 per 100,000. Now its 188 per 100,000. That’s a 20 per cent increase. Across London cases have increased 30 per cent in a week, the East of England 36 per cent.


“None of us are surprised at the action he is taking today. Indeed he was warned that Tier 2 wouldn’t be enough to contain the spread of this virus. Now it looks like in some areas, such as Kent, Tier 3 isn’t enough to contain the spread either.


“Elsewhere in the country Tier 3 areas appears to be broadly flat lining, with some like North West trending down. But overall the increasing areas are rising faster than the decreasing areas are falling.


“As things stand, we are heading into the Christmas easing with diminishing headroom. The buffer zone these tiers were supposed to provide is getting much thinner.


“So what is his plan to keep people safe through Christmas and to avoid huge pressures in the NHS in January? What is his plan to support an exhausted, understaffed NHS through January to deliver the care patients will need? And is he confident that our NHS won’t be so overwhelmed in January that it impacts the vaccination programme?


“Our response to Covid-19 could have been stronger had Serco’s contact tracing not left a gaping hole in our defences. In boroughs like Islington only 65 per cent of contacts were traced by the national system. In Tower Hamlets only 60 per cent; In Barking 61 per cent.

“Test and Trace is costing £22 billion – more than the policing and fire service combined – and yet according to the NAO, up to September only £785 million was allocated to local council public health teams.


“Serco have subcontracted to 21 other firms offering little training to staff, with some in call centres alongside others making sales calls for gambling websites. It’s time to scrap Serco, and put all public health teams in the lead doing the retrospective cluster busting contact tracing we need.


“He has promised more testing for Tier 3 areas, what about Tier 2 areas? On Lateral Flow Tests some care home providers refused to use them due to concerns about their accuracy, is he satisfied these tests are accurate enough for this purpose and are safe? And if they can’t be used for care homes how quickly can care home residents’ relatives makes use of PCR tests?


“He often praises Liverpool. But isn’t the biggest lesson to draw from Liverpool that people still struggle to isolate if they haven’t got the financial means to do so?


“The eligibility criteria for the £500 payment is too tightly drawn. People need decent sick pay. People in some circumstances need alternative accommodation. People need help with shopping and medicines. Surely some of the £22 billion spent on Test and Trace could be reallocated to offer people isolation support?


“On the mutation in the virus identified, our constituents will be naturally concerned – will he keep the house updated on this?


“Finally, today I spoke to Fred Banning.  Fred is just 38. He has two children under 10.  His cancer is terminal. He asks that those with terminal illness and given quicker access to the vaccine, so he can – in his words to me – “make the most of the time he has left with his family’. I understand these are clinical decisions, but could he, through his offices, look into access to the vaccine for those with terminal illness, and see what can be done for people like Fred and many others in this situation?”