Evoke Dunkirk spirit to speed up Covid-19 vaccination effort, ministers told

Ministers have been urged to evoke the Dunkirk spirit to unleash an army of vaccinators to free Britain from lockdown.

Delays caused by “health and safety paperwork” and “institutional red tape” must be removed to aid the effort, MPs heard.

Concerns over the impact of postal delays on people receiving invitations to attend Covid-19 jab appointments were also raised by MPs during a Commons debate on the pandemic.

Speaking in the chamber, Conservative MP James Sunderland (Bracknell) said: “In 1940 when our small boats set sail for Dunkirk nobody stopped to check through health and safety paperwork or through institutional red tape.

“So would the minister please confirm that the Government will cut through unnecessary bureaucracy as we embark upon the vaccine rollout and also that they will throw the kitchen sink at this with the help of our armed forces?”

British Army Brigadier Joe Fossey
British Army Brigadier Joe Fossey

Health Minister Edward Argar replied: “He is absolutely right to highlight the amazing work of our armed forces as has been highlighted in this chamber earlier this afternoon.

“He is also right to highlight the spirit of getting things done and he will have seen that (Health Secretary Matt Hancock) has been very clear that while making no compromises on safety for patients and for those receiving the vaccine, he is working very hard to make sure that any bureaucratic barriers which do not support patient safety are removed to ensure the speedy and effective rollout of this vaccine.”

Conservative Sir Charles Walker said a number of his Broxbourne constituents are waiting to be informed by post about their vaccine appointment.

He said: “There are difficulties at the moment with the post through nobody’s fault but the virus’s.

“Could (Mr Argar) make sure he keeps an eye on postal services to ensure that if post isn’t the best way, another way is found to let people know that their number is coming out of the draw for the vaccine?”

Mr Argar said the department “will continue to look at making sure that every means appropriate is utilised to make sure people get notified when their turn is up so they have every opportunity to get that life-saving injection”.

Labour MP Catherine West (Hornsey and Wood Green) added: “Would he share with me perhaps a suggestion for the Royal Mail that given that youth unemployment is shooting up, it may be a time to take on some extra staff for Royal Mail to cover the sick because it is crucial that people hear when is their appointment so that they don’t miss that golden opportunity to get the jab?”

Mr Argar said he hoped Royal Mail would “reflect carefully” on Ms West’s remarks.

For Labour, shadow health minister Liz Kendall criticised the Government’s “ambiguity and delay” in tackling the pandemic.

She said: “I do not believe that the severity of the situation we are now in was inevitable. Over the last nine months, the Government has continually changed its message to the public and been repeatedly too slow to act. Even though we know this virus ruthlessly exploits ambiguity and delay.”

Covid outbreaks in care homes have tripled in a month; homes are reporting staff absence of up to 40%; & weekly death rates are the highest since May. We need urgent action to support social care & daily vaccination rates for residents and staff – my question in Parliament today. pic.twitter.com/kM4f0h9qJ5

— Liz Kendall (@leicesterliz) January 12, 2021

Ms Kendall also warned: “The number of Covid outbreaks in care homes has tripled in the last month.

“Care homes are reporting staff shortages of up to 40% and the latest weekly death rates in care homes, out today, 824 deaths for the week ending the 8th January, have doubled since November and are the highest since May.

“Ministers must heed these warnings and they must act.”

SNP health spokeswoman Dr Philippa Whitford said the UK needs to avoid importing any more dangerous Covid variants by “tightly controlling the external borders”, adding: “Through co-operation with the devolved nations and the Republic of Ireland, try to make the whole common travel area Covid-secure.”

Dr Whitford also said the current lockdown “needs to be maintained long enough to fully suppress the current outbreak”.

Conservative former health minister Steve Brine raised frustrations over vaccination appointments being postponed in his Winchester constituency due to “problems of supply”, adding: “We can’t duck the fact that’s hurt public confidence.”

Mr Brine said deliveries for next week “look much better” for his county.