Paramedic Services

Lord Bishop of Manchester Excerpts
Monday 4th July 2022

(2 years ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Kamall Portrait Lord Kamall (Con)
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I thank the noble Lord for sharing that very personal story. Clearly, there are too many incidents of this kind. One of the issues that we have to be very careful about as we look to recruit more numbers is to look at the system and at how to divert the less urgent calls. Probably in that case the person was trained to ask particular questions to ascertain how serious or urgent it was but, clearly, that was inappropriate. I will take that case back to the department and see whether I can get some answers.

Lord Bishop of Manchester Portrait The Lord Bishop of Manchester
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My Lords, our prime objective must be to eliminate all these unacceptable delays as quickly as possible. Can the Minister confirm what work is being done in the interim to ensure that effective pastoral care is available for those who are currently waiting for long periods in ambulances, particularly for the many for whom last rites and other rituals that take place at the point of death form an important part of their faith?

Lord Kamall Portrait Lord Kamall (Con)
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The right reverend Prelate raises an important issue for those of faith who want to share their last moments of life with someone. I am afraid that I do not have a detailed answer, but I will go back to the department and write to the right reverend Prelate.

Covid-19 Update

Lord Bishop of Manchester Excerpts
Thursday 21st October 2021

(2 years, 8 months ago)

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Lord Scriven Portrait Lord Scriven (LD)
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My Lords, I too welcome the Minister’s reading the Statement from yesterday. We are discussing this on the day when more than 50,000 Covid cases have been recorded in the UK for the first time since 17 July. There have been over 52,000 cases and 115 deaths; 8,142 people are in hospital with Covid, and 870 of those are on a ventilated bed. We are discussing this just hours after the Royal Cornwall Hospitals NHS Trust has declared a critical incident because of the pressures it is under serving the people of Cornwall.

That shows why this Statement is not a master class in providing a range of effective public health measures to tackle a virus that spreads at speed, and more a master class in trying to keep the libertarian wing of the Conservative Party happy. The “jab, jab, jab” message is important but, when some people go on to the booking system now, they are not able to book. They are told to ring 119, as my honourable friend in the other place, the Member for St Albans, Daisy Cooper, said early today; when they ring 119, operators tell them that they cannot override the system. I ask the Minister what is going on with the booking system and how soon it will be repaired. The “jab, jab, jab” message is important, but it is not, in itself, going to deal with the severity of the public health crisis we face. As Professor Adam Finn, a member of the JCVI, said yesterday, vaccinations in themselves are not going to stop us falling off the edge of the Covid cliff.

I want the Minister to explain these different rates, if plan A, of vaccination, is working. The seven-day rolling averages for Covid-19 cases per 100,000 of the population are: in the UK, just under 500, and rising sharply; in France, approximately 60, and falling; and in Spain, approximately 50, and falling. Even considering the variation in testing rates, the UK is clearly an outlier. Take a look at three months ago, when the Government removed all mandatory mitigation measures. The picture tells you the true story of why “jab, jab, jab”, as a public health strategy, is not enough to deal with the Covid-19 problems. Then, the UK had approximately 300 cases per 100,000, and it now has 500; France had approximately 220, and it now has 60; and Spain had approximately 350, and it now has 50. It is because France and Spain, as well as other countries, have jabbed, jabbed, jabbed but also mitigated, mitigated, mitigated. Indecision is our greatest enemy in the fight against this disease.

Let us be clear: those of us who ask for extra mitigation measures, such as the use of mandatory face coverings, do so to stop the crippling lockdowns that have come before. The Government, as the Health and Social Care Select Committee has reported, have acted too little too late before when dealing with this virus. This means that the damage, both to public health and the economy, is greater than it would have been if the Government had listened to the expert advice and acted sooner.

On one very important mitigation measure we could take, the mandatory use of face coverings, the Minister said yesterday, answering a PNQ:

“Personally, I do believe that many people should be wearing masks and that there is evidence for this.”—[Official Report, 20/10/21; col. 145.]


If good evidence exists that wearing face masks helps to reduce the transmission of Covid-19, why have the Government stopped their mandatory use in indoor settings? Could the Minister please enlighten the House on what evidence the Government have that asking people to use self-judgment on wearing a face covering in certain indoor settings is more effective than making them mandatory? I am sure that evidence will be at the Minister’s fingertips, as it is official government policy. They would not make up such an important policy to ditch a mitigation measure that could save lives without the use of good evidence—would they?

Furthermore, can the Minister explain why, at Prime Minister’s Question Time yesterday, hardly any Tory MP sat on the green Benches had a face covering on, and why, today, a Minister sat on the government Front Bench in this House wore a mask below his chin, with both his nose and mouth exposed? Whose evidence are they following? What leadership and example does it set to the nation if the Government are, on the one hand, asking us to use our self-judgment to wear a face covering, but government Ministers and MPs in the House of Commons do not?

The evidence of experts in public health and epidemiology, and figures from Europe, show that a mixture of vaccination and mandatory mitigation measures is required, if the spread of the virus is to be contained to manageable levels, so that later in winter we do not have to slam on the brakes and have yet another lockdown.

Can the Minister clarify something that he said yesterday during a PNQ? When asked whether the Government still had confidence in SAGE and its workings, the Minister replied:

“May I write to my noble friend on that?”—[Official Report, 20/10/21; col. 146.]


I know that the Minister is new and that he did not have all the details to hand, so I am giving him a second chance. Can he confirm from the Dispatch Box that the Government do have confidence in SAGE and the advice that it gives?

It is time to be clear that the message on vaccination take-up and extra mitigation on issues such as mandatory face coverings are required. Otherwise, we will be left in a situation where, unfortunately, more people will die than is necessary, the Government will be behind the curve in dealing with the virus and much more draconian measures will have to be taken. Now is the time for plan B, not for dithering and not taking the measures that are required.

Baroness Chisholm of Owlpen Portrait Baroness Chisholm of Owlpen (Con)
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My Lords, it is the turn of the Front Bench.

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Lord Bishop of Manchester Portrait The Lord Bishop of Manchester
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My Lords, I apologise for having stood up too early a moment or two ago; I am still very much learning my trade in this House, but I follow the dictum of Martin Luther, that if you must sin, sin boldly.

I am grateful for the Statement, and assure the Minister that the faith communities, which did a lot last year to get health messages to some of the harder-to-reach groups in our society, stand ready to do the same again this winter, but I wonder whether the Government have made a rod for their own back in having plan A versus plan B. It seems a very polar way to deal with things when, actually, we need a more graduated method. Perhaps I might encourage the Government not to be the prisoner of their own rhetoric and for the Minister to share with his colleagues in another place that perhaps we could have steps between a plan A and a plan B: we need gradual, incremental stages as the virus levels rise. I encourage him to try that.

Lord Kamall Portrait Lord Kamall (Con)
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I thank the right reverend Prelate for his advice, and for pointing out the very important role that faith communities paid played helping many people get through the lockdowns. They play an important role in this country; many people often assume that it is down to the state, but faith communities play a really important role and complement many of the things we do.

In answer to the right reverend Prelate’s specific question, it should not be seen as plan A or plan B; it is sequential. The Government would prefer that plan A works and that we vaccinate more and make sure that we reach those who have not yet been vaccinated. But if the figures, and the various factors we are looking at—scientific, but also socio-economic—suggest that we have to go to plan B, then we will. At the moment, we are hoping that plan A will work, but we are reliant on the advice that we get from the various scientific advisers that I outlined, but also the other stakeholders, to ensure that we test plan A. Hopefully, it will work, but if it does not, we will move to Plan B.

Covid-19: South Yorkshire

Lord Bishop of Manchester Excerpts
Thursday 22nd October 2020

(3 years, 8 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Bethell Portrait Lord Bethell (Con)
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My Lords, I acknowledge the noble Lord’s reference to anecdotal reports and observational studies that have reported benefits of vitamin D in reducing the effects of Covid-19. We are absolutely keeping an eye on those reports. However, the clinical and evidential support for a clear link between vitamin D and Covid-19 recovery is not concrete or provable at this stage. None the less, in April, we reissued our advice on vitamin D supplementation, particularly to help those with musculoskeletal development needs, and we are absolutely keeping an eye on international developments with a view to investing in trials, should the evidential support for those arise.

Lord Bishop of Manchester Portrait The Lord Bishop of Manchester [V]
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My Lords, the Greater Manchester tier 3 proposals were the main UK news item across our broadcasting media for at least a week. However, to the best of my knowledge, at no time did senior members of Her Majesty’s Government come to Manchester to meet its people, hear its voices and seek to reach an agreement face to face with our civic leaders. Moreover, yesterday the Manchester Evening News published a story claiming that senior leaders logged into one crucial meeting only to discover that the Government side had set up controls that did not allow members to unmute themselves. It then allegedly used that facility to prevent voices being heard.

Whatever the practicalities of managing virtual meetings —indeed, irrespective of whether the newspaper reports are wholly accurate—there is now a strong perception in the north-west that local leaders have been treated throughout this process with a great lack of respect. The affairs of Manchester and those of other regions cannot be settled from behind a computer screen in Westminster, one hand controlling the purse strings and the other the menu for mute, no more than can the proceedings of this House. I therefore ask the Minister and, through him, other senior members of Her Majesty’s Government, to commit to this House to coming to Manchester within the next couple of weeks to seek to repair the present breakdown in trust. We may bark loudly, at least when we are unmuted, but we rarely bite.

Lord Bethell Portrait Lord Bethell (Con)
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The right reverend Prelate makes a very touching appeal, and I reassure him that both the representatives and the people of Manchester are massively valued. I do not want to cite all the details, but many people in this Government, including me, have spent a vast amount of time in Manchester, value the city, love the people and are greatly distressed at the thought that anyone thinks otherwise. The practicalities of this epidemic have been very regrettable on travel. As a Minister, I regret massively the fact that I have not been able to travel up and down the country. It is not possible to visit cities for face-to-face negotiations in the middle of an epidemic. That would strike the wrong note. It is a contagious threat and that is not possible, but I reassure the right reverend Prelate that everything is being done to value the opinions of the representatives of Manchester, and it will continue to be so.

Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions on Gatherings) (North of England) Regulations 2020

Lord Bishop of Manchester Excerpts
Friday 25th September 2020

(3 years, 9 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Bishop of Manchester Portrait The Lord Bishop of Manchester [V]
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My Lords, I declare my interest as set out in the register, as chair of Operation Talla, the independent ethics panel.

I speak in respect of those regulations imposed on Greater Manchester and other areas which came into effect in early August. I entirely support the practice of focusing restrictions on those geographical areas and types of gathering that are disproportionately driving levels of coronavirus infection. Furthermore, along with many other local leaders in my areas, I believe that the restrictions imposed in the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions on Gathering) (North of England) Regulations 2020 (No. 828) were proportionate to the risks identified at the time. I thank the Government for introducing them.

However, I have serious reservations about the process leading up to these regulations coming into effect. In a statement made just after 9 pm on Thursday 30 July, the Secretary of State gave a clear indication that the new measures would come into force at midnight. Specifically, he stated that the restrictions would come as a blow to those intending to mark the Muslim festival of Eid ul Adha the following day.

We can quibble about the distinctions between regulations, restrictions and rules, but the plain sense of the message and how it was received was that family gatherings planned with food already prepared would not be lawful the next day. However urgently action may be required, the laws of this realm cannot be altered simply by a government Minister declaring it so. Change must follow regulations being laid before this House under the affirmative procedure. Only then can the public know what they must obey, and only then can our police enforce it. Thankfully, subsequent announcements of forthcoming regulations have included start dates that offer a realistic chance of the necessary documents having been drafted and laid before us in time. Therefore, I ask for reassurances from the Minister to this House today that we will not see a repeat of the misleading messages given in the case of Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions on Gathering) (North of England) Regulations 2020 (No. 828).