Campaign response: Please show me you support safe, publicly run Test and Trace
Thank you to constituents for their email regarding our Test and Trace system and the kind invitation to meet with them virtually on Friday 25 September to show our support to healthcare workers and discuss issues with the Test and Trace system further.
I have nothing but the deepest respect and admiration for all our frontline workers, who are working as hard as they ever have to save lives and keep the nation going despite the continued spread of Covid-19. I am sorry that I was not able to join the video call on 25 September, although if constituents have any specific concerns regarding Covid-19 or anything else that they would like to raise with me directly they are more than welcome to get in touch with my office (firstname.lastname@example.org) to ask for a surgery slot to meet with me – I regularly hold surgeries to help constituents resolve issues that affect them and hear their concerns. These appointments can be carried out by telephone or video call during the current restrictions.
In response to the points made in their email regarding the apparent failings of our Test and Trace system, I must say that while there have certainly been hiccups along the road to building a world-leading system, I fundamentally disagree with their assertion that “It's becoming clearer by the day that the privatisation of Test and Trace hasn't worked”.
Our Test and Trace has worked well for most people who use it and that continues to be the case. Test and Trace has identified nearly 2.5 million people who may have been unknowingly carrying the virus and we now have capacity for more than 500,000 test every day. Of course, there is more to be done, which is why NHS Test and Trace are increasing staffing levels, automating more processes, and adding more capacity to both do more tests and improve turnaround times.
Since the start of this pandemic, we have built a diagnostics industry almost from scratch that has given us one of the best testing rates in the world – and we are determined to build on this progress. Our testing rate is now ahead of the majority of European countries, with 1 in 8 people in England having been tested for Covid-19 since the launch of the NHS Track and Trace on 28th May. Recent data shows UK is currently doing more testing than other comparable countries – for every 1,000 people we are testing 3.50 people each day (Germany tests 1.97, Spain tests 2.38, and France tests 1.87).
Just this past week we had the much welcomed announcement by the Health Secretary – to whom I have the privilege of serving as Parliamentary Private Secretary – that two new mega-labs in England and in Scotland capable of providing a total of 600,000 daily coronavirus test results are to be created. These labs are not only essential in our fight to beat coronavirus, but will also help us to build back better so that we are better prepared in future for testing on a massive scale.
Opposition parties including Labour criticise the Government over the involvement of private labs in testing, but fail to provide an alternative as to how they would source the vast majority of tests. On the contrary, the ideological demonisation of the private sector risks making it harder for people who need one to get a test. Instead, the Government have long envisaged both national and local elements of Test and Trace – and provided funding as far back as May to local leaders to support this. To defeat this awful virus we will need to harness the best of both the private and public sectors and allow them to work in tandem rather than undermine each other.
Indeed the recent very positive news about the development of effective vaccines for COVID-19 are all as a result of the private sector working with the government and NHS. We simply would not be in the positive position we are now in, where the roll out of a vaccine is within reach, without the private sector playing a key role.
The below published statistics on the performance of the Test and Trace system further refute the notion that it has been a failure:
Since NHS Test and Trace launched (28 May to 4 November)
◦ 149,253 people tested positive for coronavirus (COVID-19) at least once in England between 29 October and 4 November.
◦ 1,520,687 people were tested at least once for COVID-19, similar to the previous four weeks. A total of 10,831,912 people has been tested at least once since Test and Trace began.
◦ The median distance to in-person testing sites (pillar 2) for booked tests has stayed constant over the last three weeks. Between 29 October and 4 November, the median distance was 2.7 miles, the same as the previous week. Overall, there has been a downwards trend since September.
◦ 141,804 people were transferred to the contact tracing system between 29 October and 4 November, a 1.4% increase compared to the previous week.
◦ Testing capacity in the UK across all pillars between 29 October and 4 November was at 4,367,049 tests, an increase of 21% compared to the previous week. Testing capacity for all swab testing was at 3,519,349 tests, more than double the capacity at the start of September.
Campaign response: Please attend upcoming webinar - Reconsidering Fetal Pain:
A number of constituents recently emailed me with an invite to the webinar on the issue of fetal pain on Tuesday 17 November.
As an active member of the All-Party Parliamentary Pro-Life Group I was very much looking forward to attend the webinar, but due to parliamentary commitments on the day I was regrettably unable to do so.
However one of my parliamentary assistants was able to attend the webinar on my behalf and I was pleased to get an update from him on the latest research and policy work being done on this important issue following the webinar.
I share many of the concerns expressed during the webinar by experts and other parliamentarians, including the fact that the UK continues to have one of the highest gestational limits among European nations (at 24 weeks), significantly higher than the average of 12-13 weeks. Many of my colleagues agree with me that we should look at options to lower the gestational limit.
Constituents can be assured that I will continue to speak up and champion the Pro-Life cause when it comes to abortion in Parliament and elsewhere.
The case for more COVID-19 restrictions:
In my role as Parliamentary Private Secretary (PPS) to Matt Hancock and therefore working in the Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC), I see close up the evidence and data of those who are being hospitalised and sadly die as a result of this virus.
The big issue of the recent weeks has been a concern about the rising levels of Coronavirus around the country. Whilst the number of cases in Cornwall remains low compared to the rest of the country, the numbers are increasing.
The rate of increase within the South West in the past couple of weeks was among the highest, which means if we did not intervene now we would very quickly be in the same position as the North West. With our elderly population this would present a serious risk and therefore its better to take action now for Cornwall than wait for this to happen.
I know for many people and businesses, the restrictions laid out in the Coronavirus Act have been and will continue to be hard to take and I will continue to make sure those views and concerns are heard. I will continue to seek additional support from the Government and I will continue to do all I can to ensure our local health and care services get the support they need.
There is no escaping the fact that it is down to every one of us to be responsible and take all the steps necessary to keep ourselves and others safe.
Thank you for raising this important topic with me. I will keep your feedback in mind as government policy develops in response to the pandemic.
Versus Arthritis 'Impossible to Ignore' campaign.
Thank you for contacting me about Versus Arthritis' 'Impossible to Ignore' campaign.
I am grateful to everyone who has contacted me about this crucial issue. Arthritis is a debilitating and painful condition and affects people in all aspects of their lives. I recognise that as a result of protecting the NHS throughout the pandemic, many sufferers of arthritis have faced treatment delays and operation cancellations.
NHS trusts and staff have faced impossible decisions regarding treatment for patients and a 'step down' from emergency covid-19 restrictions was in place from 5th June, which enabled routine and non-urgent treatment, surgeries and appointments to restart. Each NHS trust will be facing unique challenges; however, their priority will always be the safety of their patients and staff. Private hospitals and services have been utilised to assist with the backlog of NHS treatments, as well as Nightingale hospitals, which have been utilised to conduct essential health screening for patients, such as cancer screening services.
On the 31st July 2020, the NHS set out its third phase response to Covid-19, including accelerating the return of non-Covid health services to near normal levels, making full use of the capacity available in the 'window of opportunity' between August and winter.
In support of these goals, last week, Matt Hancock, the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, announced new measures to improve social care ahead of winter. The measures include an extra £2.7 billion to NHS systems. This funding, in addition to the extra funding for PPE and testing, will help the NHS with the vital task of operating safely over winter and recovering to more usual levels of activity after the impact of the peak. This will help to ensure more NHS services are able to provide ongoing treatment, support and care to patients.
I’m also pleased to have recently welcomed an extension of the Infection Control Fund, providing an additional £500,000 for care providers in Cornwall. The fund has been vital in restricting the spread of Covid-19 to some of our most vulnerable people through our care homes. The extra funding will help bolster infection control and help protect residents and staff throughout winter, and I look forward to working with the Council so it is spent in the most effective way.
Ultimately, restarting hospital treatments and services is a local NHS trust decision (RCHT – Royal Cornwall Hospital Trust). If this issue is something you feel passionate about, I recommend you express your views directly to RCHT.
However, I regularly liaise with local NHS leads, including RCHT, and will certainly highlight these issues in our discussions. They have assured me that the safety of patients and staff is their priority. Where any services can be restarted without placing staff or patients at unnecessary risk they will do so at the earliest opportunity, which I trust is reassuring.
If you have personally experienced any delays/difficulty accessing treatment and would like my assistance, please contact my office at email@example.com.
Thanks once again for raising this with me.
RCHT Maternity services during COVID-19
Further to our recent contact with regard to RCHT’s policy regarding maternity services, I am pleased to provide the following update from Kernow Maternity Voices Partnership (Kernow MVP):
“**12 week dating scan update from Royal Cornwall Hospital Trust**
We are pleased to announce that following guidance form NHS England to support a stepped approach to reducing COVID-19 restrictions Royal Cornwall Hospital trust will now be welcoming one support person at the 12 week dating scan appointment from Monday October 12th 2020. No children under 16 are permitted.
Pregnant women/people that have a dating scan appointment booked from Monday October 12th 2020 will be contacted individually with details and information.
This stepwise approach has been taken as the result of comprehensive risk assessments and the fact that all 12 week scans take place in the same location which allows COVID secure precautions to be put in place and the safety of people accessing care and staff is the highest priority.
The trust will be able to continue to take further steps on the de-escalation plan as time progresses and they ask that everyone please follows the guidance around hand washing, face coverings and social distancing while attending appointments.
Currently restrictions remain in place for all other scans during pregnancy and all other outpatient appointments, we completely understand that this is impacting the experience of families and we will continue to keep you informed of any changes and decisions made by the trust.”
I am pleased to see RCHT have taken on board the concerns I and Kernow MVP have raised on behalf of constituents, such as yourself, and begun to step down these restrictions. I will continue to monitor the situation as I do appreciate how significant an impact these restrictions have on expecting parents.
Thanks once again for contacting me about this important issue.
If there is anything further I can do to assist you, please don’t hesitate to get back in touch.
Campaign response: APPG Meeting – Choice at End of Life
Thank you for constituent’s email informing me about the APPG on Choice at the End of Life meeting that took place on Wednesday 15th July.
I understand how sensitive but important the issue of assisted dying is for many constituents and indeed this is a subject I have written extensively on: http://stevedoubleforstaustellandnewquay.blogspot.com
I am pleased that a high number of MPs and members of the public were able to take part in this virtual APPG meeting in July. If I have the time, I will be happy to catch up on the meeting with the video link provided.
Campaign response: NHS Pay Rise
Thank you for constituents who have recently contacted me via the campaign group 38 Degrees concerning a pay rise for NHS doctors and nurses.
I pay tribute to every single person working in the NHS during this incredibly difficult period. Their hard work, dedication and professionalism has been a lifeline to many thousands of people, while they have, at the same time, selflessly cared for those individuals and families who have suffered the tragic loss of a loved one.
As part of our efforts to support NHS staff in the fight against coronavirus, the Government has committed to ensuring the NHS has the resources, staff and funding it needs so it can continue to deliver world class care for everyone, whilst keeping staff safe at the same time. I know the immediate concern is keeping NHS staff safe and ensuring they have the protective equipment they need. That’s why the Government is working to ensure that all NHS staff and their families are able to get regularly tested for coronavirus, while also ramping up the production and delivery of personal protective equipment.
In June 2017, after the general election, I and my Conservative colleagues voted against an opposition amendment to the Queen’s speech, which among other things called on the government to lift the public sector pay cap.
The amendment would not, by itself, have lifted the public sector pay cap or have led to doctors and nurses in the NHS receiving more pay. Despite voting against the amendment, the Government announced the end of the pay cap later that year, and NHS staff received a pay rise in cash terms above 1% in the following financial year.
Annual pay awards for NHS staff are determined by an independent and transparent pay review body process.
Pay has already been set up to 2020-21, as part of a deal that was reached in 2018.
That deal was negotiated and agreed upon with the NHS trade unions, and represented one of the largest public sector pay increases in several years.
Starting pay for nurses, for examples, has risen by over 12 per cent since 2017-18, while the Government also agreed a pay deal that provides junior doctors with a minimum 8.2 per cent pay rise over four years.
The pay review bodies will make further pay recommendations for future years at the appropriate time, but I know the Government wants to ensure that the NHS continues to attract, retain and reward staff for their hard work, and I am certainly supportive of this.
Campaign Reply: "Please ask the PM to fix care" - 26 August 2020
Thank you to all those who have contacted me to highlight Age UK’s petition regarding social care.
I am very grateful to everyone who has contacted me about this important issue, especially to those who have shared their personal experiences and experiences of their loved ones receiving this vital care.
As I am sure you know, the Prime Minister expressed his personal commitment and this government’s commitment to social care. As published in our party manifesto for the General Election in December 2019, in which we secured an overwhelming majority, we are committed to securing a long-term cross-party consensus on social care.
We were due to begin this process early this year, however due to the Labour party not having a leader in place this unfortunately delayed any progress. It would have been impossible to conduct cross party talks without the opposition leader in place as securing a long-term solution for any legislation moving forward on social care would require the Labour leader and their shadow cabinet involvement and support. This means that we could not make any substantive progress until the new Labour leader was duly elected by party members and the new leader had appointed their shadow cabinet.
In March, in recognition of the urgency of this issue, Matt Hancock, the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care wrote to all MPs to formally begin the process in readiness of the new Labour leader’s appointment due in early April. The second phase of structured talks on reform options were therefore rescheduled to be held in May but as I am sure you can understand, in March managing the outbreak of Coronavirus became the government priority. Please be assured this government remains committed to conducting these talks and this pandemic has only underscored how necessary these long-term solutions are.
It would be remiss of me to speculate on the outcome of these talks and subsequent agreements, as we are still in very early days, however please be assured it remains a government priority. We are looking to seek a long-term, sustainable solution which addresses the long-term difficulties within the sector and recognises not only the compassionate and dedicated work that carers have already been providing prior to this crisis, but also their heroic and brave efforts through this global crisis.
As the Parliamentary Private Secretary (PPS) to Matt Hancock, I am pleased to be actively involved in this process and highlight the strong and passionate views of my constituents on this very important issue.
Campaign response - Please promote equality and sign EDM 521; Please sign EDM 521 - 13 July 2020
Thank you to constituents for contacting me about Early Day Motion 521 and the Abortion (Cleft Lip, Cleft Palate, and Clubfoot) Bill.
As a principle I never sign early day motions as they very rarely achieve anything whilst at the same time running up costs to the taxpayer.
However as a pro-life MP I will be keen to show support for this important bill via other means. I have previously spoken out strongly against sex-selective abortion – an appalling practice that should not be tolerated under any circumstances. I view disability as another unacceptable condition on which pregnancies should be terminated. Disabled children deserves as much of a chance at life as able-bodied children. Many constituents have already written to me to highlight many examples of well-known individuals who suffer from conditions such as Cleft Lip, Cleft Palate, and Clubfoot at birth, but nevertheless have gone on to make important contributions in sports, entertainment and the arts.
Indeed, all of the current work and emphasis by the government on promoting better help and support for the disabled would all be meaningless, if society could simply choose whether a child deserves to be born or not based on their physical or mental state.
The Abortion (Cleft Lip, Cleft Palate, and Clubfoot) Bill tabled by my colleague aims to put an end to disability-related abortions. If and when the Commons finds the time to deliberate this important legislation, I will certainly be voting in support of it.
Upcoming meeting on Wednesday 15th July All-Party Parliamentary Group on Choice at the End of Life - 9 July 2020
My thanks to those who have contacted me with regard to the All Party Parliamentary Group on Choice at the End of Life scheduled for Wednesday 15th July.
I appreciate concerns raised on this very sensitive issue and fully understand how important end of life issues are to many constituents.
Unfortunately I am unable to attend this event as my diary for this time is fully booked, but am grateful to those constituents who have highlighted this event to me.
Campaign Reply: Reopen Soft Tissue & Sports Therapy Services - 5 July 2020
Thank you to all those who have contacted me with regard to businesses providing Soft Tissue Therapy, such as Sports Injury Therapists, who are unable to open on 4th July.
I do appreciate that for those who rely on these services for their health needs they are understandably keen for these businesses to reopen. I also know that many working in this profession are keen to return to work and support their clients.
Due to the vast number of different types of businesses and the services they provide, it is impossible to provide guidance that would individually identify every single business that would or wouldn’t be permitted to be reopened on 4th July. It was also important that the guidance is as accessible to as many people as possible. This was in no way meant to suggest anything untoward or demeaning, and the government recognises alternative medical practitioners, such as Sports Therapists, Sports Massage Therapists and Soft Tissue Therapists provide a vital service to many people.
As I’m sure you understand, the priority must always be to keep people safe. The decision regarding the reopening of businesses has been an exceptional challenge and has been based upon the assessment of risk. While the Government has been able to provide guidance to many businesses which are reopening, on how best to keep people safe, it currently feels that certain types of business will need to remain closed. This is because it has been assessed that they cannot yet be made sufficiently safe. There are a number of factors considered including whether this would involve close contact and what mitigations can be put in place. Businesses that will be able to reopen from 4th July can only do so providing they put measures in place, including social distancing, to keep both staff and customers safe.
I fully understand your concerns that businesses providing Soft Tissue Therapy, such as Sports Injury Therapists, are not currently part of this group.
Let me assure you that the Government is working around the clock to help more industries safely open, working with scientific and medical experts, along with the Health and Safety Executive, on how to do this in a way that minimises risk to both staff and customers.
In the meantime, the Government’s huge and unprecedented package of support for business remains in place, to help those companies that are struggling during this challenging time. For anyone with emergency or urgent medical needs, they can continue to access this via 111, their GP or, where appropriate, A&E.
I note all the concerns raised with me on this issue, and the exceptional work those in this industry are undertaking in order to reopen safely. I hope that as we continue to make progress, these businesses will be included in the next tranche allowed to open.
Thanks once again for taking the time to raise this with me.
Campaign Reply: 'Trikafta - a new CF treatment' - 1 July 2020
Thanks to my constituents who have contacted me to highlight Trikafta, also known as Kaftrio, a new treatment for Cystic Fibrosis (CF). Many of you shared your personal connections to CF, either as a patient with CF or as a loved one of a patient with CF, and I am grateful you have taken the time to share your experiences with me.
This drug was due to begin a seven-month NHS appraisal in January 2021, however in February the Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, committed to accelerating the testing of this drug in recognition of the truly life-transforming treatment this can be for those with CF. I have raised this with my colleagues within the Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC) and am delighted to say that NHS England and NHS Improvement and Vertex Pharmaceuticals have now announced an agreement to fund Trikafta. This means clinicians will be able to start prescribing the triple treatment to English patients, as soon as the licence is granted in the coming weeks.
More information on this available via the NHS website, which I enclose a link to below:
I am very pleased to have been able to offer my support for this and I trust this will be welcome news to many CF sufferers and their loved ones.
Thanks once again for bringing this campaign to my attention.
Campaign response - Covid-19 tests - 1 July 2020
Following Thursday’s opposition day debate on the testing of NHS staff, a number of constituents have written to me asking why I voted against Labour’s motion.
To be very clear, I am not against regular testing of NHS staff. I am in favour of NHS staff testing policy as advised by the Chief Medical Officer.
The Shadow Health Secretary in his opening remarks at the debate said Labour are calling for weekly testing of NHS staff, “if necessary”.
But “if necessary” was not in the wording of their motion, which instead called for blanket weekly testing without any qualification – proving this was nothing more than a political stunt by a Labour party that could not even agree among themselves what they were asking for.
If MPs had ignored the advice of the Chief Medical Officer and voted in favour this inflexible approach as set out in the motion, implementing it would have led to all existing testing capacity being taken up and meant that no-one else – including the elderly and the most vulnerable to Covid-19 – would be able to get tested. I certainly could not in good conscience support this and I am glad many of my colleagues agreed with me by also voting against the motion.
Fundamentally the level of testing for NHS staff should be a matter that is decided by clinicians and not politicians, especially those seeking to score cheap political points as the Labour party did last week.
Regular testing, including weekly testing if it is deemed necessary by the Chief Medical Officer, is essentially what the current government policy is and I will continue to support this clinically-informed approach.