With the UK hospital death toll from coronavirus having risen to 18,100 (a daily rise of 759), and an increasing focus on issues such as the lack of PPE for frontline workers, the death toll in care homes and low testing rates, the Health Secretary gave his first update on Covid-19 since the House returned from recess.
Health Secretary: a "global effort"
Matt Hancock told the House that the virus was at its "peak" in the UK.
He said that 3,000 critical care beds were now spare, with four new Nightingale hospitals (large, temporary critical care facilities) having opened across the UK and more to open soon.
Mr Hancock emphasised that "non-Covid NHS services are open" to patients and encouraged people to continue to contact their GPs if they were concerned for their health for non-coronavirus related reasons.
He said that there was a focus on "boosting supplies of core equipment", such as ventilators, medicines and personal protective equipment (PPE). Mr Hancock said they were "constantly working" to procure more PPE and thanked British businesses who had offered their services as manufacturers.
The Minister told MPs that he wanted to "scale up testing", which includes expanding those eligible for testing and setting a goal of 100,000 tests a day. Mr Hancock also emphasised the role of "contact tracing at large scale", noting the development of a new NHS app to facilitate this.
He stated that the UK had put more money into the "global effort to find a vaccine" than any other country, noting that the Government had awarded £40 million to two potential vaccines in development at Oxford University and Imperial College London.
The Secretary of State for Health and Social Care stated:
"I will keep working with Members right across the House in the fight against this invisible killer."
Jonathan Ashworth: "one of the worst death rates in Europe"
Responding on behalf of the Opposition, the Shadow Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, Jonathan Ashworth asked the Health Secretary for the number of social care staff who had died from coronavirus (in PMQs earlier First Secretary Dominic Raab was unable to disclose the figure).
He also asked for deaths in care homes to be reported daily, for workers to be able to visit local testing facilities (reports have suggested that many care workers have been required to travel long distances to reach testing centres) and for PPE to be delivered on a mass scale to care homes.
Mr Ashworth said that it "looks like we are heading to one of the worst death rates in Europe", and questioned the Minister and Government scientists on why this was the case, particularly compared to countries such as Germany. He called on the Minister to release the briefings conducted around procurement schemes for ventilators and PPE.
He also asked for the minutes of SAGE (the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies) to be published, and asked for the publication of the evidence behind the UK's advice to isolate for seven days after displaying symptoms of coronavirus, when the World Health Organisation advocated for a 14-day isolation period.
Mr Ashworth also asked for an update on the inquiry into the disproportionate deaths amongst black and minority ethnic people that the Minister launched last week.
"Many people are understandably angry that frontline staff don't seem to be getting PPE on time and that we don't seem to have taken part in some of the European procurement projects."
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