Labour’s health spokesperson Jonathan Ashworth asked a series of questions of Matt Hancock on the coronavirus crisis during questions to the Health Secretary this afternoon.
He asked the Secretary of State about shortages of personal protective equipment, particularly in terms of gowns, and pressed the minister on the latest figures for care home deaths revealed today.
1. Clapping and medals are appreciated. But does he agree that NHS and care worker deserve fair pay, mental health support and access to PPE?
2. I’m hearing reports that we may have problems with the stocks of sterile gowns. Can he update the House on that front?
Hancock said that gown supply is “improving” and that the distribution system had seen a significant improvement since the appointment of Lord Deighton to head up the government’s efforts.
3. We also rely on international staff. Will he scrap the health surcharge they have to pay? It seems particularly unfair at the best of times, but especially at this time.
4. We are tracking towards having one of the worst deaths rates in the world. Ministers say we are through the peak, but can the same be said in the care sector given the numbers of deaths reported today?
The Health Secretary stated that he is “glad” to see that the number of care sector deaths released this morning are “slightly lower” – but said that there is a “huge amount of work still to do”. He did not make reference to the fact that the UK now has the highest death rate in Europe.
5. Does he agree we should mobilise local authority public health officials, other specialists like environmental health officers, and expertise in primary care? Wouldn’t that be a better route than outsourcing the call centre work to firms like Serco?
On mobilising expertise of local authority public and environmental health officials, Hancock said only that it is “right to draw attention to them” and praised the work that they are doing during the coronavirus crisis.
6. We support digital tools but there are privacy and data concerns, so will he publish a data protection impact assessment as he keeps us updated on the Isle of Wight trial?
7. Doesn’t the disproportionate mortality rates for those in deprived areas and BAME communities show that Covid-19 thrives on inequalities and we need a funded strategy to support low paid, deprived and marginalised communities including enforced protections in the workplace when we transition out of lockdown?
8. What is the attitude of ministers to banning flights or testing at ports of entry given the chief scientific officer told the health select committee today we imported many cases from Spain and Italy in early March?
9. We now face a mountain of unmet non-Covid clinical need, with two million operations cancelled, treatments delayed, A&E attendance down, cancer referrals dropping – how will the NHS meet this need while also continuing to treat Covid patients?
10. Will the Health Secretary now allocate additional investment to help clear the growing waiting list backlog?
Referring to the non-coronavirus demand on the health service, Hancock declared that this is “incredibly important” and said that his department is working to reopen the NHS. He did not respond to Ashworth’s call to allocate additional investment.
He declined to comment on the majority of the questions put to him in the questions session by the Shadow Health Secretary. Hancock also dodged a question from shadow minister and A&E doctor Rosena Allin-Khan, when criticised over the roll-out of the testing strategy.
The total number of coronavirus deaths in the UK, according to the data released this morning, has now reached 32,375. The number of confirmed cases in the country is 194,990 but with low levels of testing the figure is thought to be much higher.