Speech: Health and Social Care Secretary’s statement on coronavirus (COVID-19): 2 April 2020

first_imgCoronavirus press conference: 2 April 2020Good afternoon.Welcome to Downing Street for today’s coronavirus press briefing.I’m joined by our National Medical Director of NHS England, Professor Steve Powis, and Professor John Newton from Public Health England.Our step-by-step action plan is aiming to slow the spread of the virus so fewer people need hospital treatment at any one time, protecting the NHS’s ability to cope.At each point, we have been following scientific and medical advice and been deliberate in our actions – taking the right steps at the right time.We are also taking unprecedented action to increase NHS capacity by dramatically expanding the numbers of beds, key staff and life-saving equipment to the frontline to give people the care they need when they need it most.I’ve been away for a week now and I’m delighted to be back.In the past week, we have completed the construction of a whole new hospital, NHS Nightingale, built in 9 days.With 4,000 beds, this will be the equivalent of 10 district general hospitals.And there’s more to come in Birmingham, Manchester and Glasgow, where the military has been working wonders in helping to construct.This has been an incredible achievement and I want to thank all of those involved.And I also want to thank those people who have followed the social distancing with admirable fortitude and spirit. Steve will update us on the progress that’s been made.Third, I want to pay huge tribute to all those in councils, primary care and community care, pharmacies and the unbelievable 750,000 volunteers who have signed up to shielding the most vulnerable.This is Britain at its best.Sadly, the coronavirus continues to grow.I can report that, through the government’s ongoing monitoring and testing programme, according to the latest figures: The best scientific analysis is that the rate of infection has been doubling every 3 or 4 days.The number of people admitted to hospital with coronavirus symptoms is now 12,949.Of those who have contracted the virus, 2,921 have, sadly, died. We express our deepest condolences to the families and friends of these victims.If the past few weeks have shown anything, it is that we are steadfast as a country in our resolve to defeat this invisible killer.I am profoundly moved by the compassion and the commitment that we are seeing from people across the country.And, in the health and care system, we have lost colleagues too – doctors, nurses and mental health professionals. They have paid the ultimate price for their service, working to care for others.I just want to say this on my behalf of all my colleagues in health and social care.I am awed by the dedication of my colleagues on the frontline – every single person who contributes to the running of this diverse and caring institution that our nation holds so dear. These were people who came to this country to make a difference. And they did. And they have given their lives in service, in sacrifice. We salute you.And I tell you this. I will fight this virus with everything I have got. And we still strain every sinew to defeat it once and for all. I will stop at nothing to make sure that frontline staff have the right equipment so that they are safe and can have the confidence they need to do their jobs.And I know that people have asked questions about protective equipment.With the support of the British military, we have shipped record quantities of equipment to the frontline.Just yesterday, 45 million pieces of protective equipment were delivered across health and social care, including more than 5 million aprons and 6 million surgical masks.Today, Public Health England have announced the upgraded PPE standards that people should use and expect.The upgraded guidance has been developed through intense consultation with stakeholders across the board and staff on the frontline. We have listened and put the interests of our healthcare staff first and put them at the heart of this.This guidance recommends the appropriate level of PPE to protect people in all different circumstances.These standards are among the highest in the world and in line with the recommendations of the World Health Organization. I am delighted that they have been welcomed by the medical royal colleges, the BMA, the Royal College of Nursing and the trade unions.Any health or care organisation that needs PPE should call the hotline so that our military operation for delivering PPE can get that protective equipment to you.These are unprecedented times for our health and care services. And I want to make sure every part of our health and care system is supported.I have therefore made £300 million available for funding for community pharmacies, who do so much to get people vital medicines. And are themselves on the NHS frontline.And today, to help NHS trusts to deliver what’s needed without worrying about past finances, I can announce that I am writing off over £13.4 billion of historic NHS debt.This landmark step will not only put the NHS in a stronger position to respond to this global coronavirus pandemic, but will also provide our NHS with stronger foundations as we recover.But this is only one part of the picture.And I understand why people are yearning for the certainty that good-quality testing can provide. I get it.Public Health England can be incredibly proud of the world-beating work they have been doing on testing.The roll-out of its COVID-19 diagnostic test is the fastest deployment of a novel test in recent history, including the swine flu pandemic in 2009.But I am going to level with you about the challenges we face and the plan we have to rise to that challenge.I am going to go through some of the challenges in very specific detail. And then talk about the plan we have to drive this forward with a significant increase in testing.First, unlike some countries, we didn’t go into this crisis with a huge diagnostics industry. We have the best scientific labs in the world, but we do not have scale. My German counterpart for instance could call upon a hundred test labs, ready and waiting when the crisis struck – thanks to Roche, one of the biggest diagnostics companies in the world.We have had to build from that lower base.Next, there is the demand for materials. There has been a shortage of both swabs and reagents. Thanks to the ingenuity of my team, we have fixed the swabs issue, and we are tackling the shortage of reagents.We are solving this reagents issue, but, as the head of Roche and the President of the United States have commented, this is a global challenge. I am sure we will get there.Next, there is the challenge of prioritisation.I understand why NHS staff want tests so they can get back to the frontline. Of course I do.But I took the decision that the first priority has to be patients for whom the result of the test can lead to a difference in treatment. That is the difference between life and death. I believe anybody in my shoes would have made the same decision.I am proud that every single patient who has needed a test for life-saving treatment has had access to a test.But of course NHS staff need access to testing too. And I am delighted that at the weekend we could roll this access out for the first time.And there is the challenge of making sure that the public can have confidence in the tests.Several of the tests that we are currently checking have failed. In one case, a test that I am being urged to buy missed 3 out of 4 positive cases of coronavirus.That means in three-quarters of cases that test would have given the false comfort of sending someone with coronavirus back on the wards. Approving tests that don’t work is dangerous and I will not do it.Now I want to set out my plan to boost testing.Let us be clear about the goal.Firstly, always to ensure that testing is available for patients who need it.Next, to expand testing of critical NHS staff and their families. And I can announce today that we are expanding testing for NHS staff further.Third, as we ramp up the numbers, we will test critical key workers.And, over time, we will expand testing to the community.Our ultimate goal is that anyone who needs a test should have one. Now let me take a moment to set out my 5-pillar testing strategy to achieve these goals.The first pillar is swab testing in PHE labs and NHS hospitals. This is the testing to find out if you currently have the virus.We have already reached our target of 10,000 tests per day, precisely on time, by the end of March as committed. And we are committed to reaching 25,000 tests per day by the end of April at the latest.Because it allows the NHS to identify and effectively care for those who are most seriously ill – saving lives by helping clinicians decide the most effective treatment options. I can reassure you that every single patient who needs a test is able to have one, and this is how we’re able to provide people with the right care and treatment in hospitals.The second pillar is the creation of brand new swab testing capacity delivered by commercial partners. Again, this is swab testing to tell if people have the virus.The biggest part of pillar 2 is the partnership with universities, research institutes and companies, such as Amazon and Boots, to build from scratch a network of new labs and testing sites across the UK.This brand new service has just launched, and is ramping up rapidly. The trials of this have successfully completed and the number of tests at this facility will significantly increase this weekend.To begin with, this capacity will be used solely for frontline NHS staff and their families.Increasing testing capacity for NHS staff will allow more doctors and nurses who do not have the disease to safely go back to work and treat those who are most in need of care.These are currently in the final stages of development. As of now, over 5,000 NHS workers have been tested across 5 new testing sites.Currently only 5.7% of doctors in England are absent due to COVID-19. Of course, we want to get these numbers down.We are working with other testing companies to expand pillar 2 so that over time we have many different commercial companies delivering mass swab testing.The third pillar is blood tests.Blood tests are designed to tell whether people have had the virus and are now immune. These tests are done by taking a blood sample and looking for the presence of the right COVID-19 antibodies. These could potentially be done at home with a finger prick, and deliver results in as little as 20 minutes.We are currently working with 9 companies who are offering these tests and are evaluating their effectiveness.These antibody tests, blood tests, offer the hope that people who think they have had the disease will know they are immune and get back to life as normal. But they have got to work.The fourth pillar is surveillance. We are conducting some of the biggest surveys in the world to find out what proportion of the population have already had the virus.This is done using an ultra-high accuracy antibody test operated by Public Health England at their Porton Down science campus. We have capacity for 3,500 of these tests per week, enough for population sampling to begin with.Robust population surveillance programmes are essential to understanding the rate of infection, and how the virus is spreading across the country.We will use these tests to help us strengthen our scientific understanding and inform us all on the big choices we have to make about social distancing measures and how we exit from this crisis.We did not start this crisis with a large diagnostics industry. But that doesn’t mean that we can’t build one.Just as our top-end manufacturers have joined the national effort to build ventilators, so our pharmaceutical companies will do the same for testing. Our pharmaceutical giants, like AstraZeneca and GSK, which have no great history in diagnostics, are now working with our world leading, but small, diagnostics companies, to build a British diagnostics industry at scale.The new national effort for testing will ensure we can get tests for everyone who needs them.I am delighted that the pharmaceutical industry is rising to the challenge and putting unprecedented resources into testing.Taken together, I am now setting the goal of 100,000 tests per day, by the end of this month. That is the goal and I am determined that we will get there.To drive this work forward, I’m pleased that Professor John Newton from Public Health England will be taking on a new role to lead this national effort for testing, working with my brilliant departmental officials, the NHS and the life sciences industry. Professor Newton is widely recognised as a leading voice on public health and I am thrilled that we can bring to bear his considerable experience on this vital issue.My 5 pillars represent a comprehensive plan to put in place the testing that is mission critical as we fight this battle against COVID-19.There will be problems, like those that we have already overcome. After all, building a brand new industry from scratch is not easy. There will be bumps in the road and criticisms made – some of them justified.And I return from illness more determined than ever before to fight this disease.We will bring together the best minds and the best science this country has to offer. And we will work with our friends and allies all across the world as we do so.Because we are in the midst of a war against an invisible enemy. And it is a war in which all of humanity is on the same side.And history has shown us that, when the world unites against a common foe, we will always prevail.As the Prime Minister said yesterday, mass testing is how we will unlock the coronavirus puzzle and defeat it in the end.But, in the meantime, while the disease is still spreading rapidly and the government builds up the ability to test on a mass scale, the most important thing to do is for people to stay at home. Protect the NHS. And save lives. 163,194 people have now been tested for the virus and 33,718 have tested positivelast_img read more