Mr Speaker, with permission I’d like to make a statement on coronavirus, and our plans to put us in the strongest possible position for this winter.
Like many of our peers, we are continuing to see a concerning rise in cases – with 3,991 new cases recorded yesterday.
And this week the number of patients in mechanical ventilator beds has risen above 100 for the first time since July.
The battle against coronavirus is not over – and while we strain every sinew to spring free from its clutches, with winter on the horizon, we must prepare, bolster our defences and come together once again against this common foe.
One of our vital lines of defence has been taking targeted action at a local level.
We have seen local action work well in some parts of the country and now we must take further action.
Mr Speaker, we have seen concerning rates of infection in parts of the North East.
Sunderland, for example, now has an incidence rate of 103 positive cases per 100,000 population and in South Tyneside, Gateshead and Newcastle, the figures are all above 70.
As a result, local authorities wrote to me earlier this week, asking for tighter restrictions and we have taken swift action to put them in place.
From tomorrow, in Northumberland, North Tyneside, South Tyneside, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Gateshead, Sunderland and County Durham residents should not socialise with other people outside their own households or support bubble.
Hospitality for food and drink will be restricted to table service only and late night restrictions of operating hours will be introduced, so leisure and entertainment venues must close between 10pm and 5am.
Mr Speaker, I know, the whole House knows, that these decisions have a real impact – on families, on businesses and on local communities and I can tell everyone affected that we do not take these decisions lightly.
We agree with the local councils that we must follow the data and act. And the data says that we must act now.
So we can control the virus and keep people safe.
And I know the people of the North East will come together to defeat this virus and defeat it we must.
Health and care system
Mr Speaker, we are working to bolster our health and care system too.
Winter is always a stretching time for health and for care.
But this winter presents particular challenges.
People will be spending more time indoors, where we know the virus is more likely to spread and we know that we will need to deal with coronavirus along with the usual pressures that the season will bring.
So today I want to set out our plans to support the NHS and social care this winter.
Turning first to the NHS, I can tell the House that we have allocated a further £2.7 billion to the NHS to support it during the winter months.
This funding, in addition to the extra funding for PPE and testing, will help the NHS with the vital task of operating safely in a world in which COVID is still at large.
And the task, which is critical, of working through the backlog that was inevitably caused by the first peak.
Mr Speaker, our emergency departments are on the front line of the fight for life in the NHS.
Today I am delighted to announce a series of measures to support our urgent and emergency care system this winter and beyond.
And I want to thank and pay tribute to Katherine Henderson, the President of the Royal College of Emergency Care, with whom I have worked closely to develop these proposals.
I want to thank her – and through her all of those who work in emergency care – for their service in the face of adversity.
I saw this again this morning at St Thomas’ Hospital A&E and I know all of us support the work of those who work in our emergency care facilities right across the country.
I very much hope that yours, Mr Speaker, will be opening soon in Chorley.
Package of measures
Mr Speaker, we will make our emergency departments bigger.
Many are simply too small.
This was true even before the pandemic, but it’s even more acute now.
So we are investing to expand capacity in urgent and emergency care so hospitals have the space to continue treating patients safely in the coming months.
In August, we confirmed £300 million for emergency upgrades across 117 Trusts.
And today I can go further and announce £150 million to expand 25 more emergency departments – including some of the most constrained in the country like Worcester and the Royal Shrewsbury.
This extra funding will put us in the strongest possible position for this winter, and boost the crucial work to accelerate non-Covid care.
Mr Speaker, it’s not just about the space, but about the service.
So we are working to get patients the right care in the right place, by expanding the role of NHS 111.
During the peak of this pandemic, we saw millions of people using NHS 111, on the phone or online, to get the best possible advice on coronavirus.
Helping them to stay safe, and where possible stay out of hospital, where they could have unknowingly spread the virus.
It is crucial that ahead of winter, we use this window of opportunity to seek out what worked and build on it, so we provide a better service for patients and protect the NHS.
Of course no-one will ever be turned away from our emergency departments in the most serious of cases.
However, we have worked with the Royal Colleges, with the NHS and others to develop a better, quicker and more clinically appropriate service for patients, by using NHS 111 First.
How it works is this.
We will invest £24 million to increase call handling capacity and to make sure there are more clinicians on hand to provide expert advice and guidance.
And we will build on our trials to make NHS 111 a gateway to the emergency care system, providing a first port of call for patients.
So in future, rather than having to queue in an emergency ward, we are testing that people should call NHS 111 First to book an appointment with whoever can give them the most appropriate care.
Whether it’s a GP, a specialist consultant, a pharmacist, a nurse, or community services and, of course, if they need to go to an emergency department, then NHS 111 will be able to book them in to an appropriate time slot.
We want to see this approach lead to shorter waiting times, and better availability of appointments for patients.
We will consult on how its performance is best measured and, with successful pilots, we will roll NHS 111 First out to all Trusts from December.
Finally, Mr Speaker, I wanted to briefly update the House on our work to protect care homes.
One of the worst things we know about this virus is that it reserves its greatest impact for those who are physically weakest, especially the elderly.
And so we must do everything in our power to protect residents in social care.
In May, we introduced the Adult Social Care Infection Control Fund, which has helped adult social care providers to reduce the rate of transmission.
This was used to fund important measures like improving infection prevention and paying staff to self-isolate.
And I can now inform the House that we will extend this Fund for six months, and provide over £540 million of extra funding for providers.
This brings our total funding for infection control measures to over a billion pounds.
We will also shortly bring forward our Adult Social Care Winter Plan.
Because we will do whatever is humanly possible to protect our care homes from this virus, so that they are a place of sanctuary this winter.
Mr Speaker, we will soon be facing winter in this fight.
And whether it’s our NHS, emergency wards or in our care homes, we will strain every sinew to give them what they need so they are well equipped for this pandemic, and indeed for the years ahead.
I commend this statement to the House.