Thank you very much Madam Deputy Speaker, and with permission, I’d like to make a statement on the support we’re giving to the NHS and social care to help recover from the pandemic.
But before turning to that, I would like to also update the House on vaccine supply and the roll-out, and set out the facts, given some of the speculation that we have seen overnight.
Let me set out the position absolutely straightforwardly.
Throughout the vaccination programme the pace of roll-out has always been determined by the availability of supply.
As I’ve said to this House many times: supply is the rate-limiting factor.
The process of manufacturing vaccines is complicated and subject to unpredictability.
And because we get supplies out into the field so fast, and run a highly lean delivery system.
Changes in future supply schedules impact on the weekly availability of vaccine.
This has been true throughout.
We make public commitments to the goals we can reach according to our best estimates of future supply.
That supply goes up and down.
We are currently, right now, in the middle of some bumper weeks of supply.
We have now reached the milestone of 25 million vaccinations – within the first 100 days of roll-out – and we have therefore been able to open up invitations to all people aged 50 and above.
And yesterday, for example, we delivered over half a million vaccines – and we will do so again today.
In April, supply is tighter than this month – and we have a huge number of second doses to deliver.
During April, Madam Deputy Speaker, around 12 million people including many colleagues in this House will receive their second dose.
These second doses cannot be delayed as they have to be delivered within 12 weeks of the first dose.
In the last week, we have had a batch of 1.7 million doses delayed because of the need to re-test its stability.
Events like this are to be expected in a manufacturing endeavour of this complexity, and this shows the rigour of our safety checks.
And we have a delay in a scheduled arrival from the Serum Institute of India.
Now I want to put on the record my gratitude to the Serum Institute of India for the incredible work that they’re doing producing vaccine – not just for us in the UK but for the whole world.
Their technology and their capability, which has been approved by the MHRA, is remarkable.
The Serum Institute of India are producing a billion doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine this year.
It truly is a partnership that we can be proud of.
I also want to put on the record my thanks to both AstraZeneca and Pfizer, who have been remarkable partners in this historic endeavour.
We have committed to targets -– on which it is vital to say -– that those targets to offer the vaccine to everyone aged 50 and over by the 15 April and to all adults by the end of July.
I can confirm that we are on track to meet both of these targets.
I also want to clear up some rumours that have been circulating -– and give people reassurance.
There will be no weeks in April with no first doses.
There will be no cancelled appointments as a result of supply issues.
Second doses will go ahead as planned.
Most importantly, the vaccine data published yesterday show the life-saving impact of this vaccine.
It’s not just that the vaccines are safe –- it’s that they make you safe.
You are much safer having had one.
And shortly, the MHRA will be saying more on this matter, which they of course keep under constant review.
Madam Deputy Speaker, I know the House will also want to hear some good news from Gibraltar.
Throughout this crisis we have provided Gibraltar with PPE, testing and a sovereign guarantee for their COVID spending.
We have also provided Gibraltar with vaccines -– as we have all other British Overseas Territories.
And I am delighted to be able to tell the House that yesterday, Gibraltar became the first nation in the world to complete its entire adult vaccination programme.
I want to pay tribute to all Gibraltarians, for their fortitude during this crisis, and the kind words of First Minister Fabian Picardo, who said yesterday:
The United Kingdom has played a blinder on vaccinations, and we are among the beneficiaries in the British Family of Nations.
The vaccination programme has been a success thanks to a team spirit across the British Family of Nations.
It hasn’t always been easy.
Of course there are challenges thrown at us, in what is the biggest civilian undertaking in history and that affects every single one of us.
The whole House pays tribute to those who’ve helped to make it happen, including Emily Lawson and Kate Bingham, Maddy McTiernan, Ruth Todd, Nikki Kanani, Professor Jonathan van Tam, Sir Chris Whitty, Sir Patrick Vallance, Wei Shen Lim, Sarah Gilbert, Andy Pollard, Pascal Soriot, my officials in the department, colleagues across this House, and so many others who’ve made this a success.
Health and care funding
With 25 million people vaccinated, and a clear roadmap out of lockdown, we are taking careful steps out of this pandemic.
Now Madam Deputy Speaker, there are 7,218 people in hospital with COVID across the UK – down from a peak of almost 40,000 just 7 weeks ago.
The rate of hospitalisations has halved in just the past 16 days.
And, thankfully, the rate at which people are dying has fallen by a third in the last week.
As a result, I can tell the House that we are – from today – writing to all those clinically extremely vulnerable people, to let them know that shielding will come to an end on 31 March.
I want to thank all those who have shown such fortitude – and all those who have done so much to look after the most vulnerable.
The shielding programme truly has been Britain at its best – pulling together to help those most in need.
And Madam Deputy Speaker, I know that colleagues in the NHS and social care are beginning cautiously to look to the recovery ahead.
I know everyone in this House is proud of the life-saving work we’ve seen in hospitals across the county.
Yet we also know that our battles against COVID-19 have meant there are things we’ve not been able to do – like routine treatments and operations.
And the challenges of COVID are still with us.
We must continue to treat patients with the disease, bolster our vital mission of infection control, while also laying the groundwork for a recovery that gets us back to where we need to be.
We’ve backed the NHS at every point in this pandemic, so they can treat patients, stay safe and save lives.
And I’m delighted to inform the House that we’re backing them again today with a further £6.6 billion of funding for the first half of this coming financial year.
This money is in addition to the £3 billion committed at the Spending Review last November to help the NHS meet the additional costs of COVID, while critically starting the work on the elective recovery ahead.
Due to the pandemic, the waiting list for elective treatment in January was almost 4.6 million, and 304,000 people are waiting more than a year for an operation or diagnostic.
Before the pandemic, we reduced the number of 52 week-waits – so people waiting more than a year – from 20,000 in 2010 to 1,600, and we were in fact on track to get that number to zero Madam Deputy Speaker, before the pandemic hit.
This backlog of elective work is an inevitable consequence of the pandemic, and I know how NHS colleagues are as determined as I am to put it right.
We’re also putting £594 million towards safe hospital discharge.
Over the last year, the NHS’s existing discharge programme freed up over 6,000 beds – and with it the valuable time of 11,000 NHS staff.
We’re grateful, we can be grateful that we’re seeing so many people leave hospital, and our discharge programme has shown the way forward, ensuring people can get the very best care outside of our hospitals, helping them off our wards and into the right settings with the right support at the right time.
Our £500 million mental health recovery package will help tackle the challenges that the pandemic has wrought in access to mental health services.
And I can also confirm that we will be extending enhanced discharge arrangements for mental health patients, getting patients safely from hospital into healthy community settings, providing better care and freeing up thousands of beds.
And this challenge of mental ill health is so important.
We all need to keep looking out for each other and doing all we can to strengthen our mental health.
Tackling mental ill health is a core objective of our NHS long Term Plan.
And this government is committed to seeing mental health treated on a par with physical health, and deliver on the long-needed reforms that we have set out.
Adult social care funding
Madam Deputy Speaker, I remain equally committed to supporting the vital work of our colleagues in adult social care.
Last Monday, we reopened care homes to visitors, with a careful policy of a single regular visitor who will be tested and wear PPE.
I know how important this is – and I know colleagues will be cheered by the stories we hear each day of more and more residents safely reunited with the people they love.
It means everything to them.
I can today announce a further £341 million to support adult social care with the costs of infection prevention control and testing that will make sure visits are safe for everyone.
This takes the total infection control fund and testing support to more than £1.6 billion, alongside the free PPE that care homes receive.
Future support and close
Madam Deputy Speaker, the pandemic has tested our NHS and our social care system like never before.
That they have risen to meet the challenges of the past year is down to the incredible dedication and hard-work of colleagues.
They have our thanks. We will deliver on our commitments.
We will build 40 new hospitals.
We will hire 50,000 more nurses.
We will vaccinate this country ahead of almost all others.
We will back our NHS and social care, as we build back better for everyone.
And I commend this statement to the House.