24th June: We need to support the mental health of NHS Staff after coronavirus

As other Members have said this afternoon, all through this crisis the staff across the health and care system, whether NHS staff or those working in the private sector, have made huge efforts and sacrifices to look after people who need their help. I therefore welcome this opportunity to pay tribute to them, and to honour those who have given their lives while fighting to save others. A huge number of people in Meon Valley have contributed to the response to covid-19, working in our hospitals and care homes, or by providing support to neighbours and relatives, alongside other key workers.

The motion states that at least 312 people working across the NHS and social care have died during the outbreak, but I think it is important to get another analysis, such as the one that the Office for National Statistics released in May, which covers England and Wales. I realise that there have been different approaches to collecting data across the devolved Governments, so I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will press them to produce similarly definitive data so that we can make informed judgments about the effectiveness of measures over time, and the risks to those in minority communities working in the NHS and in care homes. Every death caused by this illness is a tragedy for a family, and for friends and colleagues, and I feel their loss.

The motion mentions preparedness for the coming winter, when we may need to protect our NHS again, and that means protecting those who work for it. We need to establish and maintain routine testing for staff in all areas of healthcare, which I hope will become a simpler process if the trial currently underway in Southampton, based on saliva samples, gives positive results.

However, although the burden of covid is easing, there is a risk that we will see a surge in demand for health services unrelated to it, as the diagnosis of other conditions has been suppressed during the outbreak. I know that GPs and hospital staff are anxious to get back to normal and have been contacting patients. Already the figures show an average reduction of 33% in the use of the emergency departments at my three local hospitals, in Winchester, Southampton and Portsmouth, so people need to know that the NHS is open for business.

It is vital that staff get an opportunity to recover. Most have been working non-stop since January, and they need a break. If we do see a second wave this winter, we must be ready to deal with it effectively and properly from the outset. The last few months have been deeply traumatic for health and care staff, and I urge the ​Government to ensure that all staff who need it get mental health support. I welcome the round-the-clock mental health support line, but I hope that every care setting has procedures in place to help colleagues. We also know that the period of confinement has been very difficult for the many people with mental health needs. We talk about parity of esteem for mental health, and this is the time to prove that it actually gets parity.

Lastly, I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care and those in his Department, who, like all key workers, have not stopped and have been quick to respond to events and to us as MPs. This has been an unprecedented coronavirus for this country. We have put in place many measures very quickly. I thank everyone who has been part of that, on behalf of my constituents in Meon Valley. I am confident that we are much better prepared for the future.