NHS staff, care workers and other medical professionals are on the frontline in the fight against coronavirus, and I am in awe of their dedication, skill and professionalism. Over recent months, we have significantly increased our testing capacity in this country – we are now able to carry out more than 200,000 tests a day – which means that we can ensure all NHS and care staff are prioritised for regular testing.
The approach on the testing of NHS staff has been determined by clinical experts, including the Chief Medical Officer. Having worked with such experts as a Health Minister, I trust their expert judgement on these matters.
As the Minister said in the debate: “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 Shadow Health Secretary in his opening remarks at yesterday’s opposition 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.
As I’m sure you can understand, we are taking a targeted approach to this testing, so that it is focused on the most high-risk areas. Clinical advice is to focus intensive asymptomatic testing in those areas or settings identified to have high prevalence. Staff working with patients on wards, for example, will benefit from regular testing far more than NHS staff working in offices or administrative roles where they do not come into regular contact with patients. This approach is crucial as, when prevalence of the virus is very low, the risk of misleading results is higher. This can undermine the value of testing.
I spoke in the debate on testing, and you can read my speech here: https://bit.ly/2Z6BG46
The motion I voted for read: That this House expresses thanks to the heroic work of frontline NHS staff who have saved lives throughout the Covid-19 pandemic; pays tribute to the at least 312 NHS and Social Care staff who have died of coronavirus in the United Kingdom; recognises the impact that coronavirus will have upon the NHS to deliver routine care including mental health care without additional Government support; notes that NHS waiting lists are projected to reach 10 million by the end of 2020, that cancer referrals fell 60 per cent during the peak of the coronavirus lockdown and that four out of five children have reported their mental health has got worse during the pandemic; further notes that there is a backlog of NHS care that needs to be tackled and that it is vital to prepare NHS services to deliver safe care alongside care for coronavirus, including preparing for winter and ensuring necessary supplies of PPE and medicine; and recognises the unprecedented action the Government has taken in its tireless efforts against Coronavirus to protect the NHS and save lives.
I have also been contacted recently about pay for NHS staff.
I fully support the mission to make the NHS the safest, highest quality healthcare system in the world. There are over 14,000 more doctors and over 13,000 more nurses on our wards since 2010.
How we value and retain our staff is critical, and I am very happy to say that a new deal will see a 6.5 per cent pay rise for over one million NHS workers over three years. This will benefit not just nurses, but all staff on the Agenda for Change pay scale. Ministers set aside £800 million to support the deal for 2018/19, and the Government’s long term funding settlement for the NHS, which will provide increased funding of £33.9 billion per year in real terms by 2023/24, will fund the pay rise over the remaining two years.
After constructive negotiations between NHS employers and trade unions, a new deal will see a 6.5 per cent pay rise over three years for one million NHS nurses, midwifes and other Agenda for Change workers. Those on the lowest salaries in the NHS will see some of the largest proportionate pay rises: the lowest NHS starting salary will increase year on year from £15,404 to £18,005 in 2020/2021 and some nurses and healthcare assistants will enjoy pay increases of at least 25 per cent.
I am proud the NHS has once again been rated the best healthcare system in the world, something that is only possible thanks to the dedication and hard work of all NHS staff, supported by a strong economy. I will support all measures to ensure NHS staff are rewarded.