CORONAVIRUS STATEMENT – RT HON DAME CHERYL GILLAN MP ASKS “HOW CAN WE GET TESTS TO SCHOOLS FASTER?”
The Secretary of State for Health gave a statement to the House of Commons this afternoon on the Coronavirus, announcing £2.7 billion for the NHS and social care to meet the challenges of the winter months. This includes further funding for A&E facilities at Stoke Mandeville Hospital.
Rt Hon Dame Cheryl Gillan, MP for Chesham & Amersham, questioned Rt Hon Matt Hancock MP about the availability of tests for teachers, to avoid any necessity that schools might have to close again. Dame Cheryl said:
“Can I thank the Secretary of State on behalf of myself and my colleagues in Aylesbury and Buckingham for the extra A&E funding for Stoke Mandeville. It will make a great difference to patients and our valued NHS personnel in the Buckinghamshire Health Trust.
“ But, can I just say that, in common with other MPs, I am having problems with the education system. In my constituency, a head teacher has written to me saying: ‘We now have teachers and teachers’ children with Covid symptoms, which means they are off in isolation. They are being told that no tests are available for 21 days.’ The head teacher adds, ‘This is very tricky as we have to pay a lot for supply teachers to cover classes. Would it not be sensible to prioritise testing for teachers if it is a priority to keep schools open, as, once too many teachers are off waiting for tests, schools will have to close and then people won’t be able to return to work?’ “
Dame Cheryl asked: “What does the Secretary of State say I can tell my head teacher and how can we get tests to schools more rapidly to mitigate these problems that are coming down the line?”
Rt Hon Matt Hancock MP answered:
“ Yes, the Rt Hon Lady raises several important points. Firstly, Stoke Mandeville Hospital is a famous and excellent hospital and I am delighted that we are able to expand its emergency facilities in this way. She has done more than anyone to represent the needs of Stoke Mandeville Hospital and all those who serve in that great hospital and so I welcome her comments on that.
“ On testing, absolutely, we’ve sent tests to all schools to make sure that they have tests available but I also recognize the challenges, of course, in getting hold of tests. I do not accept at all that there is a delay of 21 days and nobody should accept that, that is not government policy. I have just looked up the figures and across Buckinghamshire just over 1000 people a day are getting tests, so there are tests available. That is part of the challenge of having the record capacity, but demand having gone up. I am working as hard as I can to make sure that all those who need a test who have those symptoms get a test, but of course those people who do not have symptoms – even if a close contact has symptoms, I understand that it is a very human instinct to think that therefore the best thing is to get a test if a close contact has symptoms – but, if you do not have symptoms, please do not come forward and use a test that is needed for somebody who has symptoms, so that they can either get a negative result and get back to their normal lives, like teachers into schools, or of course if they test positive that we can give them the treatment and support they need.”
Dame Cheryl, commenting on the response said, “I am delighted that the funding for Stoke Mandeville will be for a new Children A and E and inpatient ward at the Hospital but the situation on testing causes me concern and I took the opportunity to focus the mind of the Secretary of State on the issues affecting our schools that could be exacerbated during the next few weeks.”