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Today's Headlines

May 18, 2020 5:43 PM
By Danny Simm

Lib Dems launch calls for more mental health support for health and care staff

The Liberal Democrats are today calling on the Government to ramp up mental health support for health and care staff to ensure "world-class" support for those tackling the virus head on.

  • COVID-19 will leave a deep scar on our health and care workforce, who have gone above and beyond to tackle this dreadful virus. Thousands have lost colleagues, endured serious illness, or faced significant trauma.
  • Whilst we can hope to get a grip on COVID-19 in the coming months, the mental health impacts will last a lifetime. That is why the Liberal Democrats are proposing a series of measures to ensure no-one slips through the net as the scale of the mental health impact of this crisis emerges.
  • Our proposals include a mental health support hotline, open to staff 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Our hospitals and care services are staffed around the clock, so the support services staff need should be too. In addition, we propose measures to ensure NHS and care staff are not penalised for days off due to ill health.
  • The UK mental health response to COVID-19 should be world-class. That means investing now to prepare for the challenges ahead. The clap for carers is not just a gesture - people want to see those on the frontline supported right through this crisis and beyond. Ministers must get on top of the mental health impact of COVID-19 by backing our measures to support our vital NHS and care staff when they need it most.
  • The party have put forward a package of mental health measures designed for rapid roll-out across the NHS and care sectors, including:
    • 24/7 access to mental health support for health and social care workers, through a dedicated helpline
    • Guarantees that health and care staff will no longer be penalised for time off due to mental or physical ill health by scrapping the Bradford scoring system and other HR practices that can create a culture of presenteeism
    • Introduce an 'occupational health passport' so workers do not have to relive mental health traumas if or when they change jobs
    • Additional training to ensure there are mental health first-aiders in every health and care workforce
    • Steps to standardise the quality and service offer to ensure that every health and social care worker can access the same, high standard of mental care support regardless of the region in which they are base.

Lib Dems: Govt must step up provision for vulnerable children

The IFS have today published a report revealing that children from better-off households are spending 30% more time each day on educational activities than are children from the poorest fifth of households.

  • The Liberal Democrats have been clear that we cannot fix the disadvantage gap without also addressing the looming crisis amongst our vulnerable children. The Government must set up an emergency taskforce to coordinate its response, and for out-of-work supply teachers and recently retired teachers to be recruited to help identify and help the kids most in need.
  • Too many children still do not have access to the internet and their own devices, and there is huge variation in practice. To halt an ever growing disadvantage gap, the Government should also provide all disadvantaged students with the tools they need and set a minimum requirement for online school provision.
  • We all want schools to reopen to more pupils, but it has to be safe for them first. We need to see the full scientific advice that the Government has based its strategy on, and to have a grown-up conversation in this country about the risks and rewards. It must be safety first, and our primary goal has to be making sure the most disadvantaged kids are safe and able to learn.

Govt must not pursue isolationist approach to vaccine

Yesterday, the Government announced an additional £84m to accelerate coronavirus vaccine research.

  • Any progress on a vaccine to fight coronavirus is welcome, but we must not solely base all our hopes on this one trial, nor should we turn our backs on international cooperation should we be successful.
  • We have seen the importance of international cooperation, whether it has been sourcing ventilators, processing tests when our own laboratories could not process them all, or in working with others to fly back citizens stuck abroad. Whether we are the first to be successful, or another country is, it is vital we continue to fight the virus with other countries rather than pursuing an isolationist approach as we have seen from the President of the United States.
  • In the mean time, the Government must not lose sight of ensuring we have a comprehensive test, trace and isolate system in place to keep people safe until a successful vaccine is readily available.

Lib Dems: Govt putting ideology above people's lives in refusing to extend Brexit talks

It was reported yesterday that civil servants dealing with coronavirus have been redeployed to no-deal planning.

  • The Government's continuing rejection of calls for an extension to Brexit talks is reckless and flies in the face of the current efforts by everyone to tackle the coronavirus crisis. The reports that civil servants are being diverted from dealing with the virus to no-deal planning, as well as Michael Gove's stubborn response this morning, shows the Government is determined to see the British public go from one crisis to the next.
  • As we witness coronavirus continue to take lives across the UK, especially in our care homes and on the frontline, it is outrageous that the Government are pulling resources away from tackling the spread of the disease. This Conservative Government are putting ideology above people's lives, when far too many have already been tragically lost.

Govt approach to tracing 'totally inadequate'

Yesterday, Michael Gove announced that more than 17,000 coronavirus contact tracers have now been recruited.

  • The Liberal Democrats have been calling for a comprehensive test, trace and isolate strategy from early in the crisis and like so many have been frustrated by the slowness in Ministers' actions.
  • Yet the Government's latest approach on tracing is totally inadequate. The experience in other countries suggests we will need more than 18,000 people to undertake the tracing work.
  • Ministers must listen to others on tracing given their testing strategy has been so poorly delivered. Even now, the UK's testing capacity, in particular the speed of testing, and the availability of protective equipment for frontline workers must be stepped up if we are to slow the spread of coronavirus.
  • We have seen what has happened in our care homes due to the Government's failure to properly protect people from the virus. It is simply not true for Ministers to now assert they put a 'protective ring' around care homes when everyone knows that is false, and it only adds insult to injury for the bereaved.
  • Government Ministers must now get a grip on the crisis urgently rather than wasting time patting themselves on the back when in truth they have been shambolic.

Govt must be transparent if they want public support for reopening schools

On Saturday, Gavin Williamson used the daily press conference to try and reassure parents over the controversial school plans to send more children back to school on June 1st.

  • The Secretary of State was right to point out that whilst schools stay closed, disadvantaged and vulnerable children will fall the furthest behind. However, that does not mean their safety should not come first.
  • It shouldn't have taken the Education Secretary this long to realise parents, children and teaching staff will need reassurance as they look at reopening schools, but the Government must now follow through.
  • SAGE must not only release the other options that were considered for reopening schools, but the conclusions that led to the current guidance. That is the only way Ministers can ensure the British public will support the measures they are introducing as they begin to relax lockdown.

Lib Dems call for permanent remote voting option for MPs

The Liberal Democrats are calling for the new online system enabling MPs to vote remotely to be made permanent, after the successful first vote under the system last week.

  • The system, using the online "MemberHub" portal, has been introduced in the House of Commons as a temporary measure to allow MPs to vote on legislation and other motions from home during the coronavirus pandemic.
  • The Party believes permanent remote voting would remove the reliance on pairing agreements, which have proved controversial such as when a Conservative MP voted in a knife-edge Brexit vote in 2018 despite being paired with former Lib Dem leader Jo Swinson, away on maternity leave.
  • It is right that, like everyone else, MPs stay at home as much as possible to protect the NHS and save lives. But proper parliamentary scrutiny of the Government's actions is essential, and allowing MPs to vote remotely is therefore absolutely vital.
  • Now that the system up and running, there is no good reason not to make it permanent. It shouldn't have taken a pandemic to drag Parliament into the 21st century. But now that it has, we must not see Parliament go back again when this crisis is over.
  • Liberal Democrats have been working for years to make Parliament more accessible and will continue to do so.