The way a recent Opposition Day Motion (regarding testing) is being misreported has caused a lot of concern to local residents and health workers. In the past few days, anxious health workers have contacted me asking if it is true that they will not continue to receive Coronavirus testing - this is patently false.
As a public figure (and tough Scunthorpe lass), I am used to shrugging off the occasional abuse that I receive from campaigners, however, the misrepresentations made by them (and sometimes shared by well-intended people) this time has caused real anxiety to our health workers, and this is unacceptable.
Thank you for taking the time to engage with me on the issue of the recent "Opposition Day Motion" regarding testing. This way this vote has been reported has understandably caused some concern to residents and our health staff. I am rather disappointed by how a vote on Wednesday’s “Opposition Day Motion” has been misrepresented.
An “Opposition Day Motion” is when an opposition party gets to put forward their “opinion” in the Commons. It does not lead to the formation of law and will not by itself lead to any meaningful change in law, even if ratified.
I have listened to the debate and read the wording of the motion. The government is largely in agreement with the opposition on what needs to be done in terms of testing of NHS staff and we passed a largely similar amended motion. During the debate the Minister has set out that a system for regular testing is already being put in place:
“Today NHS England and NHS Improvement have written to NHS trusts and foundation trusts to outline further steps that must be taken in the NHS, including continuing to prioritise testing for all NHS staff with symptoms; extra testing of non-symptomatic staff when there is an incident, outbreak or high prevalence; and regular surveillance testing of staff which, on the advice of our Chief Medical Officer, will be fortnightly or more frequently, depending on local or national epidemiology.”
The government is also running a prevalence study to get a detailed picture of coronavirus infections in care homes, and 10,000 residents and staff across 100 care homes will be receiving repeat tests. To plan for a long-term care home testing strategy the government had sought advice from the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies on what the repeat testing programme should be for the social care sector.
The Labour Party’s Shadow Health Secretary placed a caveat in his own opening remarks that “… regular testing, weekly if necessary, of all NHS and social care staff.” As above this is something that is currently being put in place. Unfortunately, the nuance of his statement was lost in the motion which “…calls on the Government to implement a routine weekly testing programme for all NHS and Social Care staff…”. If this all sounds ridiculously semantical to you, it probably is, because this is a political tactic employed by opposition parties to generate coverage and outrage. What I am disappointed about is that they have decided to use our NHS staff members as political tools and have caused unnecessary fear and upset to our health workers, when the facts, when examined, are not the same as what they have purported.
As a country we currently have one of the largest testing capacity in Europe, and locally we have numerous testing sites across North Lincs, including one dedicated for our NHS Staff. We have started introducing “antibody testing” (which tells if you have had the virus – extremely useful in helping us to understand how the virus has developed in our hospitals and what we can do to better protect our health staff) at NLAG Trust last month, and currently, about two thirds (4000+) of our local NHS staff have been antibody tested, with further daily allocations in place.
I understand that NLAG Trust is also currently undertaking risk assessments of BAME and at-risk members of our health staff to ensure that they are safe. All health staff have been provided with masks and asked to wear them at all times. Furthermore, anyone in this country can and should get a test for free if they display symptoms, and we are currently working on a less invasive way (spit test instead of swab test) to test children and those who may need mobility assistance.
I have mentioned above that our approach on the testing of NHS staff has been determined by clinical experts, including the Chief Medical Officer, and the NHS has now set out plans for how it will work. The Opposition Motion to call for “weekly testing for all NHS staff” does sound attractive, although this does not reflect the reality of the different levels of risk or need – for example, a coronavirus ward nurse in a “red zone” should and would receive regular testing, compared to someone who plays an also important administrative role, albeit with no contact with patients who should immediately receive testing if they display symptoms, were exposed to someone who has had the virus, or if they were in a hospital with a sudden increase in cases.
This does not mean that I believe that the government’s approach is perfect in every way it has handled the current crisis. There is so much more to do, and I would like to see the government continue to work on increasing our testing capacity, and for them to implement routine care home testing once the Scientific Advisory group gives them the advice on how best to implement it, whilst we await the results of our ongoing vaccine trials. The balance of resources is a difficult task to which we will have to continue to rely on our scientists for their assessment.
I don’t always agree with the government, and they have shown that it can put party politics aside and agree with the opposition. Last week it agreed with the Opposition Day Motion and set up the “COVID Summer Food Fund”, which I am pleased to say that I have lobbied for, with the help of some of our local headteachers. I very much welcome the debate on this subject, but this week’s motion is designed as an excuse to allow Labour campaigners to disregard the nuance of the debate and has upset quite a lot of people, sometimes it is shared by well-intended people who have been given the wrong impression. During this difficult time, we should not be telling health workers that they won't be getting tests when this is not the case. I voted for two motions tabled by members of the Labour party this week because I believed that it was the right thing to do. If Wednesday’s vote was what they had made it out to be, I would not have voted against it.
Since the beginning of this crisis, I have worked closely with our local NHS Trust, and on various points, I have made representations on behalf of our local Trust and their staff members. I have also worked with our care workers and care homes. Currently, I am working with our local NHS team on a bid to improve Scunthorpe Hospital, and I will continue to do what I believe is right for our residents.
Thank you for taking the time to write to me. As usual – if you know of any resident who needs help please pass on my contacts to them and I will do my best to help.