In my last news letter I outlined the key changes to the coronavirus lockdown rules announced by the Prime Minister which I hope provided clarification on the new rules that have been put in place.
This week, below, I want to give you as much information as possible about the plans for school re-opening. There are also updates on antibody testing and grant funding for businesses.
Parliament is also starting to be more active, so there are some updates on what I have been doing remotely on issues that are important to Crewe & Nantwich residents. As your Member of Parliament I will continue to raise your concerns in Parliament.
I was glad to see the new bill that ends the automatic release of terrorists and increases the minimum time they have to spend in prison introduced into parliament this week. You can read more about it below.
Last but not least I want to say thanks to Mister Softee U.K. -Ice Cream Van Mister Desserts for visiting Leighton this week! They were very popular with staff, on what was a very sunny day! I was lucky to be there volunteering as a doctor on the day they came in.
Dr Kieran Mullan
MP for Crewe & Nantwich
I think the first thing to recognise is no final decision about expanded opening has been made and the exact approach is expected to be tailored to each setting. I am aware that Cheshire East has said they are advising schools not to expand opening on June 1st. I have written to ask whether this is going to be enforced even where a school wants to expand its opening on the 1st of June. Ultimately I think after wider factors are reviewed by government it is good for local authorities to work with, advise and support schools but choice should be left to them in this early stage.
I also know teachers are worried but the data here shows that actually teachers have been less likely to pass away from the virus than the rest of the working age population, despite being in schools with key worker children (6.7 and 3.3 per 100,000 have passed away for males and females respectively compared to 9.9 and 5.2 for the rest of the working age population).
Where schools cannot operate within the new guidelines, they will expand only to the extent they can and if the wider spread of the virus has not continued to fall as necessary no changes will be made. I do believe, however school’s should be able to make their own decision and decide themselves whether are able to reopen, this should not be a blanket decision made by local authorities.
The government is asking schools to plan for children in Reception, Year 1 and Year 6 to return to school, in smaller class sizes from June 1, only if the five key tests set by government justify the changes at the time. As Cheshire East are not currently supporting this you will need to find out from your childrens school what they currently plan to do.
The Government will closely monitor the number of COVID-19 cases during this period and currently the statistics show that the number of COVID-19 cases in the UK are declining. The ambition is for all primary school children to return to school before the summer, if this is feasible.
Importantly, whatever the government say, no parent will be fined for not sending their children to school. The decision will ultimately be left to parents. Now that the R-rate is reducing and the spread of the virus decreasing, we need to constantly balance the risks of harm from the virus with the risks of harm from the lockdown.
In schools we know there are consequences to lock down as well, particularly for vulnerable children. Recently, the independent Children’s Commissioner for England, Anne Longfield, called for the Government and teaching unions to work together constructively to get children back into school as soon as possible. A number of figures from a number of parties supporting returning as soon as possible including former Home and Health Secretary Alan Johnson and former Education Secretary David Blunkett. You can listen to what Alan Johnson says about this on LBC Radio:
The Government has provided a planning guide for Primary schools returning: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/preparing-for-the-wider-opening-of-schools-from-1-june/planning-guide-for-primary-schools
For older pupils, the Government hopes to get Year 10 and 12 pupils who have key exams next year some face-to-face contact with their teachers, to supplement their remote education. At this stage, it is unlikely that other secondary pupils will return to school before the summer.
The Chief Scientific Advisor for schools has written to the cross-party groups of MPs looking into the science of our approach to coronavirus to confirm he has full confidence in the plans to reopen educational institutions. This is on top of the wider panel of government scientific advisors supporting this approach.
It will remain absolutely vital that whatever we do, we avoid the risk of a second peak that overwhelms the NHS and importantly does not waste the huge sacrifices the British people have made in lockdown to get the virus under control.
If you want to read all the detailed government advice on this issue you can read it here:
I have been delighted to have received photos from parents with the smiling faces of their children with the certificates I launched last week with Cheshire Police and Leighton. We will be releasing another version next week for key worker children who have been at school. If you haven't yet downloaded or collected one you can from this link:
Social Care Infection Control Funding
Cheshire East Council is to receive a share of a £600 million Infection Control Fund, launched to reduce the transmission of coronavirus on care homes. The Council is in line for £5,320,292 to support local care homes, with 4,110 care home beds currently registered in the area.
The additional funding will be used ensure that care homes can continue their efforts to prevent the spread of coronavirus by assisting them cover the costs of implementing measures to reduce transmission. This includes rolling out training on infection control for staff, reducing transmission by supporting providers to reduce workforce movements and stepping up NHS clinical support to care homes. The fund comes on top of £3.2 billion that has already been made available to local authorities to support key public services, including social care. This forms part of a wider package of support the Government is making available to care homes, which includes ensuring all care homes have they support they need with staffing and accessing PPE and providing a named clinical contact from the NHS for every single care home.
I am continuing to back measures to support care homes across Crewe and Nantwich who have provided a vital service during the coronavirus outbreak. .
Improving Fire Safety Standards
This week I took part in a virtual meeting of the All Party Group on Fire Safety where we discussed the Beechmere fire and related fire safety issues with a number of experts.
Whilst a lot of my work as the MP at the moment is of course focused on corona virus I want to try and continue working on other issues important to Crewe & Nantwich residents.
Everyone will remember the terrible fire at Beechmere last year. Whilst no one died in the fire the loss of peoples homes and possessions was devastating. Whilst the community response was fantastic, having attended an event with residents I know for many their lives are completely changed. If you know any residents struggling still please ask them to contact me and I will try to help.
At the time I researched problems found with timber framed buildings in the past (https://www.drkieranmullan.org.uk/…/beechmere-what-i-have-f…) and wrote to the government to ensure this was considered as part of the Grenfell fire inquiries. The All Party Group on Fire Safety will make submissions to government on how to make improvements on a whole range of fire safety issues.
Today I have also asked Cheshire Fire and Rescue Service to update me on the investigation into the fire. I know people still want answers as to how the fire unfolded.
This week the government introduced legislation that will end the automatic release of terrorists and increase the minimum time they have to spend in prison, ensuring the worst criminals serve the sentence they deserve.
Terrorists face a minimum of 14 years behind bars for serious offences and tougher monitoring, as a new Bill enters Parliament today (20 May 2020). Read more about it here:
Justice Select Committee
This week the Justice Select Committee, of which I am member, has been focusing on domestic abuse and assaults of police and emergency staff.
There has been a reported increase in domestic abuse cases and assaults on police and emergency workers during the COVID-19 lockdown. This matter was a key subject of questioning at a Justice Committee evidence session with the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) and head of the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), Max Hill QC, which took place on Thursday 21st May.
During questioning, Mr Hill confirmed that domestic abuse cases had risen by 3% during the COVID-19 lockdown and he assured members that these cases were being treated with priority.
Mr Hill also stated that the conviction rate of those who had assaulted police and emergency staff was high, with the conviction rate ‘hovering at around 97%’.
The CPS has prioritised prosecuting cases of domestic abuse, serious sexual offences and abuse of children. But the pandemic has lengthened the already large backlog of cases of all sorts that come to court. This is caused by the necessity of social distancing and other Covid-19 related problems over the attendance of victims, defendants, lawyers and others.
Discretionary Grant Fund
This grant fund, which was announced earlier this month, has be put in place to allow local authorities to support certain small businesses that were previously outside the scope of the business grant fund scheme. Additional information about the help available for businesses can be found here: https://www.gov.uk/coronavirus/business-support
Cheshire East Council are continuing to work on system to make this money available and ensure this grant is available for the worst hit businesses who require support during this challenging time. I have given feedback based on business struggling that have contacted me. I will monitor for the scheme going live so if you want me to update you let me know. Email on firstname.lastname@example.org
Coronavirus Antibody Testing
The Government will offer all NHS and care staff in England a test, via the new national antibody testing programme, with patients and care residents eligible at their clinician’s request. This new programme will provide tens of thousands of antibody tests per day across the UK from next week.
The new antibody testing programme, which will start next week, follows the substantial expansion of the UK’s swab testing capacity, which saw the creation of the country’s biggest network of diagnostic labs completed in record time. Swab testing confirms whether or not someone currently has the virus that causes COVID-19.
Under the new programme announced this week, highly accurate laboratory-based antibody tests will be used to tell whether someone has already had the virus, to provide accurate data about the antibodies they have developed in response. This information will be vital in helping clinicians and scientists to better understand the prevalence of the virus in different regions across the country.
The Government are also trailing a rapid coronavirus test in Hampshire which can be taken in a clinical setting and return results, on site, within twenty minutes. These new tests will not need to be sent to a laboratory and would enable extremely efficient testing across the country. So far the test has been shown to be highly effective and it is currently being testing in A&E departments, GP testing hubs and care homes in Hampshire.