Health and Social Care Secretary’s statement on coronavirus (COVID-19): 27 April 2020

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Welcome back to Downing Street for today’s coronavirus briefing.

Before we start, I wanted to let you know that today’s briefing will follow a bit of a new format.

Following significant demand, as well as questions from the media, we will take our first question from a member of the public.

This is going to become a regular feature of these briefings. The questions are selected by an independent polling organisation and, just like the journalist’s questions, we don’t see the questions in advance.

But we’ll give them the very best answers we can.

In the past few hours, since we announced this new approach, we’ve had over 15,000 questions submitted. And you can ask a question yourself, by going to gov.uk/ask.

Today, I’m joined by Professor Chris Whitty and Professor Stephen Powis, the NHS Medical Director.

The government is working through our action plan, and at its core the objective is to protect life and to protect the NHS. Both by slowing the spread of the virus so we flatten the curve and by ensuring that the NHS always has more than enough capacity to provide critical care for all those who need it.

According to the most recent figures, there have been 719,910 tests for coronavirus so far in the UK, including 37,024 yesterday. 157,149 people have tested positive. That’s an increase of 4,310 cases since yesterday. 15,051 people are currently in hospital with coronavirus, down from 15,239 yesterday. And, sadly, of those hospitalised with the virus, 21,092 have now died. That’s an increase of 360 fatalities.

We must never lose sight of the human cost of coronavirus and the pain and the grief that it causes.

And each death serves as a reminder that we must stand firm in our resolve.

Sadly, these death figures include 82 NHS colleagues and 16 colleagues who work in social care.

They dedicated their lives to caring for others. And I feel a deep personal sense of duty that we must care for their loved ones.

Today, I am able to announce that the government is setting up a Life Assurance Scheme for NHS and social care frontline colleagues.

Families of staff who die from coronavirus in the course of their essential frontline work will receive a £60,000 payment.

Of course, nothing replaces the loss of a loved one. But we want to do everything we can to support families who are dealing with this grief.

And, as a government, we are looking closely at other professions that work on the frontline against coronavirus, who also do not have access to such schemes, to see where this may be required.

This crisis has shown that this country values our health and care workers so much.

And I want to pay tribute to the perseverance of the British public who, even this warm Spring weekend, in their vast majority, did the right thing and stayed home to protect the NHS.

Thus far, in this crisis, at every single hour of every single day, the NHS has always had the capacity to treat the people who need that treatment.

I’m glad to be able to report that there are now 3,190 spare critical care beds.

Indeed, 42% of oxygen-supported beds in the NHS now lie empty.

And, in most parts of the country, the number of people in hospital with coronavirus is beginning to fall.

One of reasons NHS capacity has always exceeded need is because of our amazing programme of NHS Nightingale hospitals.

Today, I was proud to attend, virtually, the opening of the 8th of our 10 Nightingale hospitals across the UK, again, built in a matter of weeks.

This Nightingale Hospital project stands as a monument to this nation’s ability to get things done when it matters.

This is one of the most ambitious projects this country has ever seen in peacetime and I’d like to thank the NHS, the armed forces and all the companies that have worked side by side to make these plans a reality.

The Nightingale project is just one of the measures that’s boosted capacity all across the NHS.

By re-enlisting thousands of former staff, former clinicians and enrolling early thousands of students, we’ve boosted the workforce of the NHS.

And we have changed forever the digital capability of the NHS.

I think many people who have now used online GP consultations and online outpatient visits won’t ever go back. And I pay tribute to the staff who have worked in different ways to how they would ever have imagined and who have been more flexible and open to change when it was really needed.

So, where there have been advances amongst these huge challenges of this crisis, we must not lose them.

However, we also know that fewer people are coming to the NHS when they need to.

A&E attendances have dropped to 221,000 emergency department attendances in the last week, compared to 477,000 for the same week last year. That’s more than 50%.

Now, some of this drop is due to lower road traffic and people following the social distancing rules.

Some of it will be due to people accessing the NHS in ways that work better for them, like online or through pharmacies. And that’s a good thing.

But, in some cases, we know that the drop is due to people not coming forward and using the NHS for critical things that matter.

Our message is that the NHS is open. Help us to help you. So, if you’re worried about chest pains for instance, maybe you might be having a heart attack or a stroke, or you feel a lump and you’re worried about cancer, or you’re a parent concerned about your child, please come forward and seek help as you always would.

It is so important that everybody uses the NHS responsibly.

And the NHS will always be there for you when you need it. Just as it has been there for us all throughout this crisis, and throughout our lives.

And, as the number of hospitalisations from coronavirus begins to fall, I can announce now that starting tomorrow we will begin the restoration of other NHS services, starting with the most urgent, like cancer care and mental health support.

The exact pace of the restoration will be determined by local circumstances on the ground, according to local need and according to the amount of the coronavirus cases that the hospital is having to deal with.

Having written off £13.4 billion worth of historic NHS debt during the coronavirus crisis, I want to ensure that the NHS is always there. In a way that doesn’t just help us to recover from coronavirus as a country, but also puts us in a stronger position for the future.

We are coming through the peak.

We will honour those who have dedicated their lives to caring for others. But, it will count for nothing if we let things slip now and risk a second peak.

I know that the lockdown is hard for so many people. But, let us all have the resolve to see this through.

So please stay at home, protect the NHS and save lives.

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