Health of NHS and social care staff should be protected during future pandemics, says Yorkshire MP

NHS and social care staff should be the subject of a special covenant to ensure that their own health is not put at unnecessary risk during any future health pandemic.

The call has been made by Hull North MP Dame Diana Johnson who believes the nation’s care heroes now deserve similar status to members of the armed forces – and the new police covenant.

She was speaking during a Queen’s Speech debate in the House of Commons – the Government’s new legislative programme includes proposals to honour and strengthen the armed forces covenant and, in particular, extend support for military veterans.

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“Working shoulder to shoulder with our armed forces this past year to get the country through the Covid pandemic and roll out the vaccine has been our brilliant NHS and social care workforce,” said Dame Diana.

Dame Diana JohnsonDame Diana Johnson
Dame Diana Johnson

“We should remember that by December 2020, nine months into the pandemic, some 850 NHS and social care staff had died from Covid.“Never again should these staff face the prospect of needlessly risking their own health, even their own lives, in the course of doing their job through a lack of PPE or failings in testing.”

Dame Diana says she hopes to work on a cross-party basis as Home Secretary Priti Patel said the new Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, which began its Parliamentary passage this week, also intends to enhance the status of the new police covenant that is being developed.

Home Secretaries, said Ms Patel, will be expected to report to Parliament annually on the care and treatment of officers.

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“The new covenant sets out our commitment to enhance, support and protect those working within, or retired from, policing roles — whether paid or as volunteers—and also their families,” she told MPs.

“It is designed to recognise the unique role played by our society by the police workforce and will initially focus on health and wellbeing, physical protection and family support. This Bill acknowledges the debt that we owe the police.”

But Dame Diana says this does not go far enough if the country is to learning the lessons of the Covid pandemic and honour frontline staff.

“The Home Secretary talked about the police covenant in her opening remarks,” she added. “I hope that the Government will consider instituting a national health, social care and emergency services covenant on similar lines to the existing armed forces covenant — enshrined in law, fully funded and in place as soon as is practicable.

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“These workers deserve much more than a hand clap on the doorstep on a Thursday night, a medal or, now, the prospect of a real-terms pay cut. They have been there for us — all of us — and now we need to be there for them.”