On Wednesday 24th June Parliamentary business was controlled by the Labour opposition as part of a regular Opposition Day Debate. This is a day when the Labour Party can lay down any motion they want, in Parliament, for us to debate and vote on. This isn’t legislation and it has no legal force – it’s a way for Parliament (“the House”) to say something collectively. Often, as you would expect from the opposition, this is highly party political and used to generate a headline.
I’d love to say that this is a time when we should all be pulling together so party politics was put to one side. That wasn’t the case though.
In the debate, Labour sought to suggest the Government, and every Conservative MP – me included – are against testing because we voted against their motion. Nothing could be further from the truth. But that’s the headline that is unfortunately circulating, mainly in some very left wing publications like The London Economic. But those headlines are being shared on social media and understandably causing concern.
The Labour motion called for testing of all NHS staff on a weekly basis. I’m not against that, and I would have supported it if that’s what the experts said was needed. But it isn’t. The experts, including the Chief Medical Officer, have said that we should be focusing our testing on high-risk areas. That means symptomatic testing for everyone with symptoms, including all NHS and other healthcare staff; and asymptomatic testing where there is an incident, outbreak or high risk.
That’s why we have put such a mammoth, national effort, into ramping up testing so significantly. Capacity is now over 200,000 tests a day, including both symptomatic and asymptomatic testing. We have regional testing centres across the country, and mobile testing units in more localised places frequently. We’ve been fortunate in Burnley to have had one of those units at Turf Moor on a number of occasions. Anyone who needs a test can get one. And where an outbreak occurs, proactive testing is put in place almost instantly.
Anyone who needs a test – NHS staff or otherwise – can get one.
I know the headline is worrying. I’d be annoyed if I read the headline and didn’t know the background. But it’s wrong. I support testing our NHS workers and I support following the science. Responding to Covid is not about what looks good in a newspaper, it’s about doing what is best for people. If and when the Chief Medical Officer says we need to put testing in place every week or fortnight for healthcare workers, I'll be the first to support doing it.
I have no doubt that soon I’ll see my inbox filling up exponentially with emails from people angry at my vote; or social media posts calling out the ‘nasty tories’. All this does is detract me and my team from helping the people who really need it. Because everyone who contacts me gets a response. And all because Labour want to score their cheap political points.