Ben Spencer – 2021 Speech on Covid-19 Restrictions

The speech made by Ben Spencer, the Conservative MP for Runnymede and Weybridge, in the House of Commons on 14 December 2021.

I will speak briefly to ensure colleagues can get in on this important debate.

I will go through the four measures and come up with some big questions that I think we need to ask about what we are doing and how things go forward. First, the self-isolation statutory instrument makes quite a lot of sense. I welcome the Government’s bringing in this change and bringing in daily testing.

On the vaccination of health staff, I declare an interest. I used to work as a doctor and my wife currently works as a doctor. I really have no issue with this measure. When I went through medical school, I had to be vaccinated. I would flip the argument on its head. I would be very concerned about a relative of mine going into hospital and being treated by someone who was unvaccinated. I would be very concerned about them getting covid and becoming very poorly. Fundamentally, this is a basic duty of care issue, but I recognise there are different views on that.

I struggle a bit with the mandatory face mask provisions. This, along with the working from home guidance, will cause harms. Given the Secretary of State’s update today on the omicron wave that is coming forward, I wonder what actual impacts it will have and what the harm-benefit ratio looks like, but there we are.

My real issue is with the covid status certificates. There are many reasons to be concerned about covid status certificates, but I will focus on one. As a doctor, I have spent my career looking after people who are marginalised: people with severe mental illness, people with a learning disability and the digitally excluded. Looking at the measures and the explanatory notes, I cannot see how one can show evidence of a negative test without having access to the internet or having a phone—how any validation process can go through. It is clear to me that it will exclude people. I cannot support excluding anyone, but especially those people who are the most marginalised in our society.

My big three questions relate to what comes next. I had a chat with the leaders of the Ashford and St Peter’s Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust in my constituency about what is happening and what their plans are for the next few weeks. They tell me that already, because of the pivot towards vaccination by primary care, they will have to look at shoring up A&E, because there will not be enough GP capacity and people will be going to A&E. That may have a knock-on effect. The hospital will have to cancel elective care so that A&E can be shored up. They do not want to cancel elective care. It is a great hospital trust and its leaders think they can get through and still do some elective measures. One thing they asked me to ask Ministers today is whether they can have flexibility on what they do around elective care to try to keep it going as much as possible.

There will be a cost in terms of missed GP appointments and missed screening. We have already seen what the cost was in the past year in terms of waiting lists and so on. I would like to hear from the Minister what the plan is to recover NHS as usual after we have got through this wave. Trust me, a protected NHS is not an NHS in which GPs abandon routine care to focus on vaccination. A protected NHS is one in which people can get their blood pressure screening or have a conversation about their mood. It is one in which health visitors see young families and have important conversations about whether a woman feels safe with her husband at home.

My second question is: what happens when the next vaccine escape variant comes? We all feel it is inevitable that another one will come after this wave, so what is the plan to prevent our having to repivot like this again? What is the long-term strategy for living with covid?

My third question is more of a plea. The costs of this pandemic have largely fallen on the shoulders of our children. Please, please, please, will the Minister confirm that there are no plans for mandatory restrictions on schools and that we will never again close our schools?