Matt Hancock – 2020 Statement on the Covid-19 Response

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 18 May 2020.

With permission, Mr Speaker, I will make a statement on coronavirus. This is the most serious public health emergency in 100 years, but through the combined efforts of the whole nation, we have got through the peak. Let us not forget what, together, has been achieved. We flattened the curve, and now the number of people in hospital with coronavirus is half what it was at the peak. We protected the NHS, and the number of patients in critical care is down by two thirds. Mercifully, the number of deaths across all settings is falling.

This Mental Health Awareness Week is an important reminder that we need to look after ourselves, as well as each other. If someone needs support with their mental health, the NHS is there for them. This is particularly important for frontline staff, and we have supported all NHS trusts to develop 24/7 mental health helplines.

Our plan throughout this crisis has been to slow the spread and protect the NHS. Thanks to the resolve of the British people, the plan is working, and we are now in the second phase of this fight. I will update the House on the next steps that we are taking as part of that plan. First, we are protecting the nation’s care homes, with a further £600 million available directly to care homes in England. We have prioritised testing for care homes throughout, we made sure that every care home has a named NHS clinical lead and we are requiring local authorities to conduct daily reviews of the situation on the ground, so that every care home gets the support it needs each and every day. All this amounts to an unprecedented level of scrutiny and support for the social care system, and a level of integration with the NHS that is long overdue.

Secondly, the four UK chief medical officers have today updated the case definition to include a new symptom. Throughout this pandemic, we have said that someone who develops a new continuous cough or fever should immediately self-isolate. From today, we are including anosmia—losing one’s sense of smell, or experiencing a change in the normal sense of smell or taste—which can be a symptom of coronavirus, even where the other symptoms are not present. So from today, anyone who develops a continuous cough or fever or anosmia should immediately self-isolate for at least seven days, in line with the guidelines. Members of their household should self-isolate for 14 days. By updating the case definition in line with the latest science, we can more easily recognise the presence of the virus and more effectively fight it.

Thirdly, we are expanding eligibility for testing further than ever before. Over the past six weeks, this country has taken a small, specialised diagnostics industry and scaled it at breathtaking pace into a global champion. Yesterday, we conducted 100,678 tests. Every day, we create more capacity, which means that more people can be tested and the virus has fewer places to hide.​

Today, I can announce to the House that everyone aged five and over with symptoms is now eligible for a test. That applies right across the UK, in all four nations, from now. Anyone with a new continuous cough, a high temperature or a loss of, or change in, their sense of taste or smell can book a test by visiting nhs.uk/coronavirus. Anyone who is eligible for a test but does not have internet access can call 119 in England and Wales or, in Scotland and Northern Ireland, 0300 303 2713. We will continue to prioritise access to tests for NHS and social care, patients, residents and staff, and as testing ramps up towards our new goal of a total capacity of 200,000 tests a day, ever more people will have the confidence and certainty that comes with an accurate test result.

Fourthly, I want to update the House on building our army of contact tracers. I can confirm that we have recruited more than 21,000 contact tracers in England. That includes 7,500 healthcare professionals who will provide our call handlers with expert clinical advice. They will help to manually trace the contacts of anyone who has had a positive test, and advise them on whether they need to isolate. They have rigorous training, with detailed procedures designed by our experts at Public Health England. They have stepped up to serve their country in its hour of need and I thank them in advance for the life-saving work that they are about to do.

The work of those 21,000 people will be supported by the NHS covid-19 app, which we are piloting on the Isle of Wight at the moment and will then roll out across the rest of the country. Taken together, that means that we now have the elements that we need to roll out our national test and trace service: the testing capacity, the tracing capability and the technology.

Building that system is incredibly important, but so too are the basics. We need everyone to self-isolate if they or someone in their household has symptoms. We need everyone to keep washing their hands and following the social distancing rules. We need everyone to stay alert, because this is a national effort and everyone has a part to play. The goal is to protect life and allow us, carefully and cautiously, to get back to doing more of the things that make life worth living. That is our goal and we are making progress towards it. I commend this statement to the House.