Matt Hancock – 2020 Statement on the Coronavirus

Below is the text of the statement made by Matt Hancock, the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, in the House of Commons on 22 April 2020.

With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement on coronavirus.

First, may I say how pleased I am that the House is sitting once again? At this important time, it is critical that we have the scrutiny and debate that the House provides. I thank everybody who was involved in setting up the new arrangements, which demonstrate that no virus or threat will thwart our democracy.

Coronavirus continues to spread throughout the world. The latest figures show that 17,337 people have sadly died here. Our hearts—the hearts of the whole House—go out to their loved ones. I know that across the House we are united in our determination to fight this virus with everything we’ve got; today I want to update the House on each part of our battle plan.

First, on the resilience of the NHS, I can tell the House that for the first time we now have over 3,000 spare critical care beds in the NHS. That is more than three times more than we had at the start of this crisis. It is thanks to the incredible work of an awful lot of people that we now have this extra spare capacity, even before we include the new Nightingale hospitals. Over the past two weeks, I have been lucky enough to attend, either in person or virtually, the opening of four of these new Nightingales—in London, Manchester, Birmingham and Harrogate—and there are several more to come, all across the UK, including in Belfast, Glasgow, Cardiff, Exeter and Sunderland. These incredible efforts from dedicated staff, supported by our armed forces, mean that our NHS has not at any point been overwhelmed by coronavirus. Some said this would be impossible.

Today I want to reinforce the message that non-covid NHS services are open for patients: the NHS is there for you if you need advice and treatment. I want to address that message very clearly to those who might be vulnerable to heart attacks or stroke, to parents of young children, to pregnant women and to people with concerns that they may have cancer. I want to emphasise that people with non-coronavirus symptoms must still contact their GP. If you think you need medical help, please contact your GP, either online or by phone, to be assessed. If you need urgent medical advice, use NHS 111 online; if you cannot get online, call 111. And, of course, if something is serious or life-threatening, call 999. If you are told to go to hospital, the place you need to be is in hospital. The NHS is there for you and can provide the very best care if you need it.

The second part of our battle plan is on supply and working to boost supplies of core equipment. The full weight of the Government is behind this effort. Again, we have brought in the armed forces to help us to meet this demand. This includes ventilators—both purchasing extra stock and increasing the production of new ones. We now have record numbers of ventilators, with 10,700 available for use for patients. This also includes medicines, so that we can make sure everyone has access to the supplies and treatments they need, and of course it ​includes personal protective equipment, too. In normal times, the NHS PPE supply chain supplies 233 hospital trusts. Currently, 58,000 separate health and social care settings are being supplied with PPE, so we are creating a whole new logistics network from scratch, and we have some of the best minds in the country working on this.

I am grateful to colleagues from the NHS, Public Health England, the Crown Commercial Service, the Cabinet Office, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, the Ministry of Defence, the armed forces—again—the devolved Administrations, territorial offices, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, the Treasury, the Foreign Office and the Department for International Trade, because they are all playing their part. Last week, I appointed Lord Deighton, who delivered the Olympics, to a new role in driving forward PPE manufacturing here.

Since the start of this crisis, we have delivered over 1 billion items of PPE. We are constantly working to improve the delivery system and buying PPE from around the world. We are also working to make more at home, and I would like to thank the UK businesses that have generously come forward with offers to turn their production lines to this national effort. I also thank Members from across the House who have put us in contact with businesses in their constituencies. We are actively engaged with over 1,000 companies who buy from abroad and are working with 159 potential UK manufacturers. We have a rigorous system of verifying the offers that we receive, because not all offers have been credible and it is important to focus on the biggest, most credible offers first. This work is crucial so we can get our NHS and care staff the kit they need so that they can do their job safely and with confidence.

The third part is to scale up testing. I have set the goal of 100,000 tests a day by the end of this month, and I am delighted to say that the expansion of capacity is ahead of plans, even though demand has thus far been lower than expected. We are therefore ramping up the availability of this testing, expanding who is eligible for testing and making it easier to access the tests. The tests are conducted in NHS hospitals, and through our drive-through centres, mobile units and home deliveries. These tests are then sent to laboratories. We have completed the construction of three Lighthouse Labs in Milton Keynes, Glasgow and Cheshire. Each site took just three weeks to complete and begin testing.

As we have reached the peak and as we bring the number of new cases down, we will introduce contact tracing at large scale. The introduction of the new NHS app for contact tracing is also in development. As we do this, we are working closely with some of the best digital and technological brains, and renowned experts in clinical safety and digital ethics, so that we can get all this right. The more people who sign up for the new app when it goes live, the better informed our response will be and the better we can therefore protect the NHS.

Fourthly, we need to make sure that we make the best possible use of science and research to pursue the vaccines and treatments that are essential to defeat the virus once and for all. Here, the UK is at the forefront of the global effort. We have put more money into the global efforts to search for a vaccine than any other country, and yesterday I announced over £40 million of funding for the two most promising UK projects—at Imperial ​and Oxford. The vaccine from the Oxford project will be trialled in people from tomorrow, and I am sure that the whole House agrees that that is a very promising development. I repeat what I said yesterday: in normal times, reaching this stage would take years. The innovative groups of people at both the Jenner Institute in Oxford and the regulator, the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency, deserve our special praise. They are ensuring that the process is safe, yet conducted probably more rapidly than ever before. They deserve the support of the whole House in that work. At the same time, we will invest in manufacturing capability. If either of those vaccines works, we must be able to make them available for the British people as soon as humanly possible.

The fifth measure that I will talk about in the time available is the one in which everyone can play their part: social distancing. I want to thank everyone across the country for their steadfast commitment in following the rules, including in this House. It is making a difference. We are at the peak. But before we relax or make changes to any social distancing rules, we have set out five tests that need to be met: first, that the NHS can continue to cope; secondly, that the operational challenges have been met; thirdly, that the daily death rate falls sustainably and consistently; fourthly, that the rate of infection is decreasing; and fifthly, and most importantly, that there is no risk of a second peak.

Finally, we are working to protect the most vulnerable through shielding—this is the sixth part of our battle plan. There has been a huge effort across Government to contact and support those at risk. We have been boosted by the support and help of the heroic NHS volunteer responders, who signed up in droves within two days of our call to action. An unbelievable 750,000 people put themselves forward for this initiative. With those volunteers, and with the support of the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, the NHS and local councils, which have done amazing work on this, we are shielding the most vulnerable.

These are unprecedented times for us all. We have all seen the extraordinary impact of coronavirus in our constituencies and across the country. And even though today we are physically separated, the House is at its best when we are united in our purpose and our resolve. I will keep working with Members from right across the House in the fight against this invisible killer. This may be akin to a war, but it is one where the whole of humanity is on the same side. I commend this statement to the House.