COVID-19 Update 22/09/20

Yesterday, I asked the Secretary of State for Health whether he had plans to accelerate previous pledges to ensure 500,000 tests are carried out across the UK by the end of October. As the number of confirmed Covid cases continues to surge; increasing testing capacity is essential for surpressing the virus. I also asked whether he would honour his previous commitments to increase levels of funding available for NHS trusts.

You can view my full contribution here below and see the full text in hansard.

Dr Philippa Whitford (Central Ayrshire) (SNP)

Thank you, Mr Speaker. As the chief medical officer and chief scientific advisers said this morning, the UK is in danger of losing control, as we have seen happen in many countries in Europe. As the Secretary of State has said, we could be facing 50,000 new cases a day by mid-October, leading to about 200 deaths a day by mid-November. No one should be in any doubt that it is a mistake to think that the virus has changed and that it will not kill people if we get back to where we were in April.

I agree utterly with the Secretary of State that we need to take action now, and that action is personal; every single person has the responsibility to stick to the rules—to wear a face covering, wash their hands and keep their distance. I remind Members in this House, because I have been watching it from outside, that that is not always what is on show in this Chamber, and we all have a responsibility to set an example. That responsibility extends to self-isolating, whether we have symptoms, we are proven, we are a contact or we have returned from a high-risk country. If we are meant to be isolating, we need to do it. I really welcome the fact that the Government are finally putting in place financial support for people on low incomes, who might be tempted not to isolate because they simply do not have any other opportunities to feed their family.

However, it is crucial that we have a fast and responsive test and trace system, so I have a couple of questions for the Secretary of State. In recent weeks, he has talked about aiming to have 500,000 tests a day by the end of October. Given the surge we are facing, does he envisage being able to accelerate that and bring it forward? Secondly, on 8 and 15 September he committed to me that he would be increasing funding to expand NHS testing, but, as we heard from the shadow Secretary of State, NHS trusts in England have been told that funding is capped and they are not to expand covid testing. Surely this is resource that we want to use and make available.

Matt Hancock

 I wholeheartedly agree with the hon. Lady’s comments about the need for action across the UK. We have seen in Scotland, as in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, that the number of cases has, sadly, risen sharply. I welcome her physically back to the Chamber, in demonstrating this unity of purpose across the four nations of the UK. If we can bring forward the goal of 500,000 tests per day from the end of October, of course we will do so; we are pushing that as hard as we can and are on track to meet that commitment. As she says, that is for across the UK, so it includes the tests done by the Scottish NHS. I know that conversations have taken place between the NHS in Scotland and the NHS in England to work on making that happen. We are expanding NHS testing, including the funding. In the funding letter that went out to the NHS for the second half of the financial year—for the cover in winter—we set out that that includes the commitment to support financially the testing done in the NHS in England.