Labour Opposition Day Debate - weekly testing of NHS staff

The way Parliament operates can sometimes make it its own worst enemy.  Opposition Day motions and votes are a good example of this.  These are often used by political opponents, at least the more cynical ones, to play party politics.  Such motions, by their very nature, have no binding effect even if passed, but can be frequently used to demonise MPs who are in fact doing their very best on the issue at hand.

Normally, I choose not to give such votes any oxygen, but this week, I must defend myself - for too many have sadly been misled by nonsense spread on social media which has suggested that I and every other Conservative MP voted "against testing for NHS workers"!

I am an NHS worker myself, as is my wife, as was my father and his father, and as are many of my close friends.  I have always had the best interests of the NHS and its staff at heart.

Covid antigen testing is imperative in managing the pandemic, and I have been working very hard throughout the last few months to fight for provision of testing available in North Wales to match that in the rest of the UK.

I also entirely support regular repeated testing for those who will benefit from it (read about and watch my appearance at Health and Social Care Select Committee from this Tuesday in regard to social care workers:…).

The UK Government’s testing policy for the NHS in England is as determined by the Chief Medical Officer. In summary, this currently comprises of regular testing, with weekly testing if deemed necessary. The Shadow Health Secretary, during the debate on Wednesday, called verbally for “weekly testing of NHS staff ‘if necessary’” i.e. exactly what the policy already is. However, the wording of his motion called for weekly testing irrespective of need.

The NHS continues to prioritise testing of all NHS staff with symptoms, carries out regular testing of asymptomatic staff in situations where there is an incident or outbreak, and regular surveillance testing across staff also. The Government is continually reviewing clinical evidence to ensure regular testing of staff without symptoms is undertaken where appropriate.  The total level of testing per day across the UK now exceeds 200,000 – one of the highest levels per capita in Europe.

Weekly testing for ALL two and a half million people who work in the NHS and Social Care, regardless of role, would mean, for example, committing on a weekly basis to test staff who never see a patient, and staff who are working from home, at the potential expense of testing for other key workers such as police, teachers, retail workers and many others who face risk of exposure.  No responsible government would ever agree to that.

It is very telling that here in Wales, where Labour runs the NHS and oversees social care, there is no blanket weekly testing regime for all, nor any plans to introduce one.

The Welsh Government has been consistently falling behind in offering testing within Wales with respect to England.  I have needed to assist a number of local care homes which have been let down disgracefully.  This is a key reason why North Wales has struggled to bring case numbers down over the last several weeks - and is where any criticism over testing should be being aimed.

To conclude, the Opposition Day Motion on Wednesday was a political stunt.  Testing for NHS staff in England is overseen by the Chief Medical Officer according to clinical need and scientific evidence.  This is how it should be - the detail of the testing regime should absolutely not be decided by votes in the House of Commons.