Happy St George’s Day and two days late, Happy 94th Birthday to Her Majesty the Queen. It is important in these turbulent times to retain as much continuity as possible. Speaking of which Parliament has resumed this week with most of us trying to master the technology to zoom us in remotely rather than sit in the Chamber itself. No doubt there will soon be enough material to fill a whole television programme of comical interruptions by children or pets whilst the Honourable Member for Little Piddling on the Wold is earnestly trying to interrogate the Health Secretary over Coronavirus protection measures or some such.
Given that most people have now had to latch on to the likes of Zoom, Houseparty, Skype or whatever, a number of constituents have suggested that the daily Downing Street press conference should be taken over by questions from the public at large rather than the usual collection of journalists. Whilst it is essential that ministers are held to account, and Parliament will be doing that again, although Select Committees have been sitting through the Easter recess, I am sure I am not alone in finding it frustrating listening to journalists who just want to find fault or division within the Government or their scientific advisers.
Little has been said about how well our hospitals and local health services are working. The NHS has taken in its stride the surge that was forecast for last week. There are surplus critical care beds to deal with admissions locally and the 1000 beds assigned to the south-east at the Excel Nightingale mega hospital have yet to be used. The ambulance crews have not been overwhelmed. Thank you so much to the great teamwork and planning amongst our NHS staff who have made this happen.
I would hazard a guess that a few weeks’ ago few people would have known what the acronym PPE stood for. Yet now everyone has a view on whether enough is being done to provide sufficient personal protective equipment not just for NHS staff on the frontline in our hospitals but also for the hundreds of thousands of staff working within adult social care and that includes 134,000 non-EU citizens who are working in the UK too.
I joined a teleconference panel last week taking questions from almost 100 care home providers across Sussex all battling with the challenges of an uncertain supply of PPE, staff absences and access to testing. It is vital that we now have a greater focus on getting support and supplies through to this vital part of the frontline and it was very helpful to have their real time experiences to take back to ministers.
For those people running businesses or facing disruptions in employment the Government has of course announced a comprehensive set of support measures which I have mentioned here before and which are still providing the bulk of my casework. This week the Business Department has produced a very helpful step by step guide to determine what you may qualify for and it you can access it here: www.gov.uk/business-coronavirus-support-finder.