The UK’s 4 Chief Medical Officers agree with the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation’s (JCVI) advice that at this stage of the pandemic the priority should be to deliver first vaccine doses to as many people on the JCVI phase 1 priority list in the shortest possible timeframe. The evidence shows one dose of either vaccine provides a high level of protection from COVID-19.
As the risk of mortality from COVID-19 increases with age, prioritisation is primarily based on age. This will ensure that the most vulnerable in our society receive protection - it is estimated that taken together, these groups represent around 99% of preventable mortality from COVID-19.
The JCVI’s independent advice is that this approach will maximise the benefits of both vaccines allowing the NHS to help the greatest number of people in the shortest possible time. It will ensure that more at-risk people are able to get meaningful protection from a vaccine in the coming weeks and months, reducing deaths and starting to ease pressure on our NHS.
Once the Government has reached its target of vaccinating all those who are most vulnerable, the second vaccination phase will focus on the rest of the population.
Agenda for Change Staff are in their third and final year of a multi-year pay and contract reform deal, 2018/19 to 2020-21, agreed with National Health Service trade unions and employer representatives. The deal has seen the pay of those below the top of their pay band increase by at least 9% and pay for most staff at the top of their pay band increase by 6.5%.
To protect jobs, pay rises in much of the public sector will be paused next year. However, the Government will provide pay rises for over 1 million NHS workers. We will also prioritise the lowest paid, with 2.1 million public sector workers earning less than the full time equivalent £24,000 receiving a minimum £250 increase. This will include a number of NHS staff employed on Agenda for Change contracts. The NHS Pay Review Body will report next year and the Government will take their recommendations into account in setting Agenda for Change pay.
Campaign: Catchup with Cancer
I completely understand and share the concerns of those who have contacted me about this campaign– conditions like cancer have not disappeared because of Covid-19, and it is crucial that treatment can continue safely and in a timely manner. That sentiment is shared by ministers across Government, including the Prime Minister and Health Secretary, who have repeatedly made clear that the NHS remains open to care for patients beyond Covid-19.
The NHS is adapting how it runs its cancer services to ensure the safety of both patients and staff. Cancer specialists are discussing with their patients the potential risks to them, either through undergoing or to delay treatment at this time.
A letter has also been issued to NHS trusts, which sets out that local systems and cancer alliances must continue to identify ring-fenced diagnostic and surgical capacity for cancer, and providers must protect and deliver cancer surgery and cancer treatment by ensuring that cancer surgery ‘hubs’ are fully operational. NHS England has also published guidance and supported the development of these hubs for cancer surgery. Out of the 21 cancer alliance areas across England, hubs have already been developed for 18 and will soon be in place for all.
The NHS is working to bring cancer treatment back to pre-pandemic levels at the earliest possibility to minimise potential harm and to reduce the scale of the post-pandemic surge in demand. The NHS has responded brilliantly to Covid-19, and, thanks to social distancing, we have managed to protect it from becoming overwhelmed. It is now time to get the rest of the NHS going again, and that work is underway.
Campaign: No Recourse to Public Funds
The government has introduced a range of measures to provide financial protection for those affected by Covid-19, including those with no recourse to public funds (NRPF) including:
- Employers are able to apply for grants under the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme for workers on the PAYE system.
- Statutory Sick Pay to be payable from Day 1 rather than Day 4.
- Contributory Employment and Support Allowance available from the first day of sickness rather than the eighth, subject to other eligibility criteria.
Local authorities may also provide basic safety net support if it is established that there is a genuine care need that does not arise solely from destitution, for example, where there are community care needs, migrants with serious health problems or family cases. It is important to remember Covid-19 has been added to the list of communicable diseases so anyone experiencing symptoms regardless of their immigration status will be treated for free.
In addition, Individuals who have leave to remain on human rights grounds can already apply to have their no recourse to public funds condition lifted if they would otherwise be destitute. The Home Office are working to ensure that those who are eligible to have the condition lifted can have a decision taken as swiftly as possible.
The government and Local Authorities are continuing to coordinate efforts with charities and other agencies during this period. These organisations play a vital role and provide valuable feedback and insight that will help the government to support vulnerable families at this time. The government are continually reviewing the situation to consider what more can be done to help those in need.
Abortion clinic protests
The Home Office are aware of a number of protests outside abortion clinics and are taking the matter seriously. This country has a proud history of allowing free speech but the right to peaceful protest does not extend to harassment or threatening behaviour. The law currently provides protection against such acts.
The Government recognises the adverse impact that anti-abortion protests can have on patients and staff and are keeping this important matter under review. Government officials regularly liaise with national policing leads to assess if there have been any developments on protest activities outside abortion clinics.
Refusal of assistant animals on public and private transport
My office recently met with the Guide Dog association in Westminster to discuss the issues that those with assistant dogs face. It is important that we take this issue seriously as busses, taxis and private hire vehicles (PHVs) provide vital services for disabled people. It is unacceptable for drivers of these vehicles to refuse the carriage of passengers with assistance dogs without reason.
The Government have published its response to the report of the Chair of the Task and Finish Group on Taxis and PHV licensing. This indicated its intention to introduce mandatory disability awareness training as part of National Minimum Standards, although no timeframe was given, they have stated that this will be introduced when parliamentary time allows. In the meantime, the government will urge licensing authorities to use their existing powers to ensure that all taxi and PHV drivers have the knowledge and skills necessary to provide every passenger with the assistance they require.
The government have also worked with disabled people and the bus industry to develop best practice guidance to support the implementation of disability awareness training. As a result, the government are developing a monitoring and enforcement framework to ensure that drivers better able to respond to passenger needs. Additionally, the government will also ask operators about their plans in the upcoming Annual Bus Statistics survey, and plan to publish the results, subject to quality considerations.
I am a huge supporter of the Guide Dog Association and I will continue support their work in parliament.
The Vagrancy Act and rough sleeping
This Government is clear that no one should be criminalised for having nowhere to live and for sleeping rough. Before being elected to Parliament, I worked to raise funds to provide a hostel and day centre for homeless women in London and saw for myself how difficult life is for homeless people.
The Vagrancy Act 1824 provides the police with the power to arrest those begging or persistently begging in a public place. It is an operational matter for the police to determine when it is appropriate to make use of this power in line with their duties to keep the peace and to protect communities.
The cross-Government Rough Sleeping Strategy, which was published in August, committed to reviewing homelessness and rough sleeping legislation, including the Vagrancy Act 1824. The Government believes that review of the 1824 Act, rather than immediate wholesale repeal, is the right course of action to ensure the consequences of repeal are fully understood. MHCLG will report no later than March 2020.
In its first year, the Rough Sleeping Initiative (RSI) provided over 1,750 new bed spaces and 500 staff. This year the government have expanded the RSI with investment of £46 million for 246 areas – providing funding for an estimated 2,600 bed spaces and 750 staff. The government have also backed the Rough Sleeping Strategy with £100 million of funding.
Euthanasia and assisted dying
I recognise the strong feelings on this issue and have seen the terrible suffering which some people go through as they approach the end of their lives. However, I am opposed to any change in the law regarding euthanasia, doctor-assisted dying or any subject linked. I believe that the balance of what doctors can and cannot do is about right as it is, and I don't believe that heavy-handed legislation would help matters. In September 2015, the House of Commons rejected, by a large majority, allowing doctors to assist people to take their own lives and I haven't seen any evidence that opinions have changed.
Asthma Prescription Charges
Baroness Blackwood recently met with Asthma UK and discussed their report 'Paying to breathe'. Departmental officials continue to engage with Asthma UK on the issues raised in the meeting however, the Department of Health and Social Care have no plans to review the current system of medical exemptions from prescription charges. Extensive arrangements are already in place to help people access National Health Service prescriptions which include a broad range of NHS prescription charge exemptions.
To support those with the greatest need who do not qualify for an exemption, the cost of prescription pre-payment certificates has been frozen for another year. A holder of a 12-month certificate can get all the prescriptions they need for just £2 per week.
I have raised this issue with the government previously and hope to see the Department of Health and Social Care rethink their stance on this issue.
I have always opposed the legalisation of so-called recreational Cannabis and continue to do so. However, medicinal Cannabis is a different matter and I support its use when the medical profession approve of it, after thoroughly investigating its benefits as against potential problems which might be caused by its application. Strains of the plant have been used for years and the range was extended in November 2018. Since then, around 110 patients have received Cannabis-based medicine, but there do appear to be barriers to its use, and the government is investigating why this should be so, as well as carrying out cost-benefit analysis. The recent debate, which I attended for a while, was useful in highlighting the issue.
Campaign: End Our Pain "Patients need help: act now to support those denied medical cannabis"
The Government is working hard to get the right approach. The law was changed on 1 November last year to ensure that it is now legal for doctors on the specialist register of the General Medical Council to prescribe cannabis-based products for medicinal use in the UK. Whether to prescribe must remain a clinical decision to be made with the patients and their families, taking into account the best available international clinical evidence and the circumstances of each individual patient.
The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), has also been commissioned to develop guidelines on the prescribing of cannabis-based medicinal products by October 2019. The guidance will focus on four indications: chronic pain, intractable nausea and vomiting, treatment-resistant epilepsy and spasticity. It will be based on the best available international evidence and produced using NICE’s world-renowned process for delivering such guidelines. This guidance will update and replace the interim guidance.