Jeremy Hunt Excerpts
Wednesday 11th March 2020

(11 months, 3 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber

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Department of Health and Social Care
Matt Hancock Portrait Matt Hancock
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11 Mar 2020, 7:12 p.m.

I am grateful to the shadow Secretary of State for the tone that he has adopted and for his full support for keeping Parliament open. He raised the issue of statutory sick pay. Statutory sick pay and the measures that we are taking in the Bill are an example of why accountability helps to get the response right, especially when there is a constructive tone, as there is. He was the first person to raise the issue of statutory sick pay across these Dispatch Boxes, and it will now be in the Bill because the point that he raised was the correct one, and we therefore took action. Likewise, the Bill has been drafted alongside the Labour Welsh Government, the SNP Scottish Government and the multi-party Administration in Northern Ireland, and they have added contents to it. It is a true cross-party effort.

The hon. Gentleman asked about advice for those who are ill but cannot recall whether they came into close contact with my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Bedfordshire. The answer is to call 111 and ask the questions, and then get the clinical advice and follow that advice. The advice may be different for people in different circumstances. When people are recommended to follow certain advice by 111, they should follow that advice, because it takes into account a clinical judgment based on the information that is provided to a clinician.

We will, of course, as I have repeated many times, be guided by science. The hon. Gentleman mentioned that some voices are asking whether the appropriate moment for further action is now. Of course, we keep action under review all the time and, as I said, the Prime Minister is chairing a Cobra meeting tomorrow. There are some voices that are saying that we should not base our response entirely on the science, but I think that they are wrong. He asked about our differences with other countries and mentioned Spain in particular, but there are others. The truth is that different countries are at different stages of the virus. The point is that we will do the right thing at the right time. There are some countries that are not fully following the science. I am not going to criticise them, because I think that in responding to a pandemic such as this, everybody is doing their level best.

The hon. Gentleman asked about money. There was a very significant increase in funding—£6 billion for the whole NHS and social care system. It is important to stress that this is for social care, too. We want to make sure that the social care system has everything that it needs to respond to this crisis, because we entirely understand both the strains on the social care system should a large proportion of the population fall ill, but also the importance of the social care system, because that is where so many vulnerable people either reside, if they are in a care home, or are supported. He asked whether we will have to wait for the spending review for any top-up. The Chancellor made it quite clear in the Budget that we will not.

The hon. Gentleman asked about the CQC. The CQC has already published a statement today, saying that it is relaxing some of its requirements and taking into consideration the impact of coronavirus, and I welcome that. It is, of course, independent. He asked about the public health grant budgets. As I made clear yesterday, those budgets are going up in real terms in every single local authority area, and the precise details will be set out very shortly.

Jeremy Hunt Portrait Jeremy Hunt (South West Surrey) (Con)
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11 Mar 2020, 7:15 p.m.

I thank both Front Benchers for the highly responsible way in which they are approaching this crisis, which shows Parliament at its best. I also thank the Health Secretary for his role in getting those very generous words for the NHS into the Chancellor’s speech this afternoon; they have been widely welcomed across the NHS and were much needed.

The chief medical officer says that we would have to be “pretty optimistic” to think we could contain the virus in this country. The deputy chief medical officer says that she thinks we may hit the peak in the next fortnight. We now have more reported cases in this country than there were in Wuhan when it went into lockdown. We know that the Secretary of State will rightly follow the science, but could I ask him to give his judgment to the House as to whether he thinks we still can contain the virus in this country and, if not, whether he expects to move to the delay phase very soon so that families up and down the country can start to prepare their loved ones for any precautions they might want to take?

Matt Hancock Portrait Matt Hancock
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11 Mar 2020, 7:15 p.m.

I want to make two comments in response to my right hon. Friend. First, I want slightly to correct the point about the deputy chief medical officer, who said that in the next couple of weeks we may see the numbers starting to rise fast to their peak. We do not expect numbers to peak in the next fortnight. We expect them to continue to rise after that. The peak would be in a matter of a couple of months, rather than a couple of weeks. This is a marathon, not a sprint. Secondly, the World Health Organisation declaring this afternoon that the virus is globally now regarded as a pandemic indicates that the WHO thinks it will spread right across the world, and that will have a significant impact on the way in which countries around the world will now take forward their plans. Of course, the expectation that this may well happen was all within the plan that we set out. We will be discussing that at the Cobra meeting tomorrow.