Harriet Harman

Member of Parliament for Camberwell and Peckham. Mother of the House of Commons.

Coronovirus will not wait - govt must give NHS money it needs - Southwark News

Coronavirus is a new virus, there is no vaccine or treatment and we don’t know what path it will take.  What we do know, though, is that it spreads rapidly and the elderly and ill are most at risk.  So every action possible must be taken to contain it and care for those who fall ill.

King’s College Hospital will be in the front line.  But King's is already overstretched after years of cuts from the Conservative government and with more people needing care. People already regularly wait longer than 4 hours in A & E and bed occupancy levels are 94%, well above the 85% limit  So it’s vital that the government give Kings more money to bring in more staff and open up more beds. And they need to give extra resources to the Maudsley too so that people in mental health crisis are cared for there and not left waiting in Kings A and E.

King's was the first hospital to report that patients had contracted coronavirus and everyone saw that on the news.  But there was no information to tell patients whether they should go in for outpatients’ appointments or if planned surgery was going ahead.  Nothing to tell visitors whether they should come as usual or stay away.  And no information to GPs on whether they should continue to refer patients to Kings as usual despite the coronavirus outbreak.  The NHS communications system needs to be much quicker so everyone knows they can just look on the website for the up to date position.

The Prime Minister has promised that people who stay off work because they are ill with suspected virus or if they are “self-isolating” will get Statutory Sick Pay from the first day off.  But we need to ensure that that change actually happens on the ground. We don’t want people feeling that they have to go in to work when they are feeling ill or risk infecting others because they can’t afford to stay off.  And there will need to be help too for people who are not eligible for Statutory Sick Pay, because they are self-employed or on zero hours contracts. There are 2 million people in this country who don’t earn enough to qualify for sick pay.  The government must set up a special fund and payment system for them. Nor must the government cancel the benefits of people who are unable to go to Job Centre appointments or job interviews because they are ill but can’t get a doctor’s certificate or self-isolating. The benefit sanctions regime can be a blunt instrument at the best of times but it must take account of coronavirus.

Coronavirus is hitting businesses too as they struggle as supplies from abroad dry up or employees have to take time off. So they will need compensation too.

It’s inevitable, as the virus progresses, that there will be new challenges and unforeseen problems.  And there have been reports that Parliament will be shut down so that we don’t spread the virus to the 650 different constituencies represented in Westminster.  But we must keep the pressure on the Government to help people who need it and back up the NHS and that’s Parliament’s job.  It makes sense to consider that at some point we might need to stop the thousands of visitors who come every day to Parliament.  And we might need a slimmed down version of Parliament, with fewer MPs (nominated from each country, region and party) operating out of our mini-chamber in Westminster Hall.  But the Government need to be accountable publicly for what they do in this most challenging of times.  And Parliament must be able to continue to effectively scrutinise it.

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