Exclusive: Dr Allin-Khan urges UK to move to ‘delay’ stage of coronavirus response

Sienna Rodgers

Labour deputy leadership candidate and NHS doctor Rosena Allin-Khan has called for the UK to move from the ‘containment’ stage to the ‘delay’ phase of its coronavirus response in an exclusive interview with LabourList.

Speaking about the coronavirus and the government response to the outbreak, Allin-Khan said: “I do think we need to be moving into the delay stage now. We’re there, definitely, in my personal and professional opinion. That’s what I think we should be doing.”

Urging the Prime Minister to take a different and more serious approach, she added: “I don’t think Boris Johnson’s ‘keep calm and carry on’ jokey approach is the one we need… We need to be moving to the delay phase now.”

The Labour MP, who still regularly does A&E shifts as an NHS doctor, described the current government proposals for how the UK’s health service will deal with the Covid-19 outbreak as “a huge embarrassment for the government”.

The deputy leadership hopeful told LabourList: “I find it completely preposterous that the suggestion to deal with this is to bring back retired doctors and nurses who themselves would be in the most at-risk groups.”

She added: “I am at a loss for words when I think about the strategy that they want to employ, to basically cover up this drastic underfunding of our NHS.”

Describing the government as “slow to act”, she said: “I think Boris Johnson took too long. I mean, we had confirmed cases weeks ago. I remember in early February, we had someone in Brighton, and we only had the first press conference last week. To me, that’s too long.”

In a wide-ranging interview with LabourList, Dr Rosena Allin-Khan also:

  • Backed calls to extend the Brexit transition period amid the coronavirus outbreak
  • Agreed with the suspension of Trevor Phillips from the Labour Party in relation to Islamophobia claims
  • Raised concerns about Labour members not receiving their ballot papers in the leadership contests
  • Criticised the data fees charged to all Labour leadership candidates by the party
  • Expressed an interest in joining Labour’s shadow health team

Although Allin-Khan does not think that parliament needs to be shut down in an effort to stop the spread of the coronavirus, she believes other measures should be taken – such as limiting the number of visitors.

The MP for the south London seat of Tooting has not done an A&E shift since the Christmas period, having been busy with the deputy leadership campaign, but told LabourList that she has a WhatsApp group with doctors from her cohort.

“They’re talking about rapid testing kits. They’re talking about what happens if they feel as though they’ve got symptoms,” she explained. “And just a general worry about capacity and workforce and how people will manage.”

Declaring that she would like to see “firm action” taken, the MP said: “I’m interested to see exactly what Rishi Sunak means by ‘we will give everything we need to tackle coronavirus’. I want some more money for cancer treatment, for our infrastructure in our hospitals, for children’s wards, for A&E that are being closed.”

Expressing concern about the capacity of the NHS to deal with the outbreak, Allin-Khan said: “If you are someone who is like a manual worker, and you’ve been waiting for your knee operation, you can’t feed your family because you can’t get into work. And if your operation is put on hold, that hugely impacts your life. People need answers.

“Also, we need to make sure we don’t get staff burnout, particularly if we look at intensive care nurses. They nurse intensively for 12 hours at a time one-on-one. So they can’t be doing double shifts. How are we going to manage with that? We don’t have enough nurses in our NHS.”

Asked about calls for an extension to the Brexit transition period in light of Covid-19, Allin-Khan replied: “I think that is a good idea. Because fundamentally we have a duty to protect our most vulnerable, and I don’t see how in any way this benefits them, by trying to push through the transition period.”

The deputy leadership candidate also talked to LabourList about her experiences of the campaign and the way that the Labour Party was managing its internal elections for leader, deputy leader and places on its ruling body.

Allin-Khan has put the introduction of an independent complaints process at the centre of her bid for the deputy role, and advocated robust action on all forms of discrimination from racism including antisemitism to misogyny.

“I’ve called for a truly independent complaints process,” she said. “I don’t think we can be trusted, at this point, to do it in-house. A truly independent complaint process, but I’d like to see misogyny as one of the real issues that you can complain about within the party.”

A decision by Labour to suspend the party membership of broadcaster and former politician Trevor Phillips, pending investigation of Islamophobia claims made against him, proved controversial when the details were released earlier this week.

Asked whether she believed the past comments made by Trevor Phillips about Muslims were Islamophobic, she said: “Yes.” Asked whether Labour was right to suspend his membership, she said: “Yes.”

While Allin-Khan said she had “really enjoyed” the campaign and found it to be an “incredible learning curve”, she acknowledged “points of frustration” including Labour charging fees to access membership data.

Referring to the confusion in February over the amount being charged, she said: “You manage to fight your way on the ballot paper, and then the party says: ‘Right, can you give us £5,000? Oh, maybe it’s six, oh, no, it’s five again because you said you won’t pay six’. I had to crowdfund to pay that money.”

Allin-Khan described participation in the Labour deputy leadership race as “mind-blowingly expensive”, adding: “Already, people are put off coming into politics, then this stops people like myself, who are non-career politicians.”

She also complained, as other candidates have done, about “the lack of advertising for the hustings”, saying: “Because we travel around the country, we do our best. We all sacrifice our family lives. And sometimes the number of people watching online is so low, and it’s been hard for people to get tickets.”

The deputy leadership hopeful said she had heard “from so many people this week that they haven’t got their ballot paper”. There have been many reports of eligible voters in the Labour leadership races not receiving their ballots.

“Maybe with all the thousands of pounds – or tens of thousands of pounds – they’ve got from us paying them for data, which they have anyway, they could be using that to try and make a system that works,” Allin-Khan concluded.

Allin-Khan did not say which shadow cabinet post she would favour for herself under the new Labour leader – other than the deputy leader role – but said “some sort of capacity helping out the health team would be good”.

Quick-fire questions…

Most inspirational Labour figure? “My mum. She was the one who told me that the way out of the difficult life that we had when I was a kid was through the Labour Party. When things were really, really tough at home, she said, ‘You have to hold on to two things. One is hope. And the second is that there are people out there that have it even worse than we do.’”

Have you ever taken illegal drugs? “No.”

Bernie or Biden? “I do like Bernie. I like them both in different ways, but if I had to pick one it’s Bernie.”

Something that our readers don’t know about you? “I’ve got a green belt in karate… Oh, and I can skateboard.”

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