I am working to collate the concerns of people in Bristol West and put them to the relevant ministers. Below is a letter to the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, requesting that he improve the government’s health response to the COVID-19 crisis:

The Rt Hon Matt Hancock MP
Secretary of State for Health and Social Care
Department of Health and Social Care
Ministerial Correspondence and Public Enquiries Unit
39 Victoria Street

31 March 2020

Dear Secretary of State,

Re: COVID-19 concerns about health policy from my constituents

First of all I am sorry to hear you have now tested positive for Covid-19 and I wish you a speedy recovery.

I am grateful to you and your team for all the hard work I know you are doing to respond to the COVID-19 crisis and to save lives and protect our NHS. Please pass on my thanks.

A couple of weeks ago in a Statement to the House you said clearly you welcome scrutiny, challenge and constructive suggestions from all sides of the House (I’m paraphrasing) and I’ve witnessed you doing this. My letter to you today is written in that spirit of constructive engagement and I hope it is helpful. I certainly do not want to add to pressure unnecessarily so I have tried to limit the content to matters which are still live, as far as I can see.

  1. Testing for NHS and care staff

A constituent who works at the Bristol Royal Infirmary tells me that a large proportion of their department, a crucial department, are now off work in self isolation, at a time when the workload is increasing dramatically. My constituent believes that this would be significantly helped if all health workers had access to COVID-19 tests as clearly some of them could be self-isolating unnecessarily. Others have expressed similar concerns about carers being off work and causing problems for those who need care, again, possibly unnecessarily.

What is being done to escalate the provision of tests for all NHS and care staff?

  1. Personal protective equipment (PPE)

PPE is widely missing in Bristol hospitals and in other health and social care bodies. There are reports of coordination being poorly managed, so even if it is available it is not being received by those working in hospitals and health and social care. Doctors in GP surgeries in Bristol tell me they do not have access to PPE and are seriously concerned about their ability to work and care for their patients safely.

What is being done to increase the supply and coordination of PPE?

  1. NHS 111

Many of my constituents have found the service to be extremely helpful. However, some have experienced significant problems in getting through to speak to someone.

What is being done to recruit, train and deploy more staff to answer calls on NHS 111 at pace?

  1. Healthcare providers left out of the JRS and SEISS schemes

I have been contacted by a number of healthcare providers who are left out of support provision. This includes NHS doctors with no private surgery and dentist surgeries who are partially funded by the NHS but are confused as to whether they are able to access the job retention scheme or are eligible for business rates relief. We must support healthcare providers during this time as it is vital to ensure that they can be working to the best of the ability during this time and not worry about their business closing down.

Please consider ensuring that these organisations are eligible for business rates relief and can access the job retention scheme if dentist surgeries are only partially funded by NHS. 

Furthermore, dentist surgeries are suffering as many dentists are self-employed and whilst they may earn over £50,000, they spend a lot of money in necessary training and professional development.

Please consider lifting the cap for self-employed people as above, or consider offering a grant for dentists as way to support some of the necessary fees dentists must pay to continue their practice.

  1. Involvement of medical students in the response

My constituents completely support the call for people who are ready and fit to practice to join the NHS earlier than planned. They want to make sure that all who could play a part are asked to and to make sure they are properly recompensed.

Can you tell me if students including student midwives and nurses, will be involved in the NHS response to COVID-19 and how they will be paid?

  1. Concerns about knowledge of how Covid-19 is and is not transmitted

I’ve had some emails from constituents who are clearly concerned about how the virus is transmitted and would like clearer public information about this. I’ve seen adverts about the steps Public Health England is promoting and I believe the ‘Stay Home, Save Lives’ and ‘Wash your Hands’ messages are getting through but I wonder if there are other messages about the way the virus is and is not transmitted that could be helpful. For example, there is a lot of conflicting advice on whether the virus can be transmitted from surfaces or the efficacy of face masks.

You will be receiving advice on these matters, so I respectfully ask that you pass this on whenever possible.

What advice are receiving on informing the general public on the transmission of COVID-19 how people can protect themselves? Are you planning further public information campaigns?

I do not want to put your department under any strain but I’d appreciate any answers, no matter how brief, you can give me and the people of Bristol West, particularly those who work in the health and social care sectors.

Take care.


Yours sincerely,

Thangam Debbonaire MP for Bristol West

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