Monday 22nd November MPs are debating amendments to the Health and Social Care Bill. This will protect individuals and families against unpredictable and potentially catastrophic care costs. From October 2023, no eligible person starting adult social care will have to pay more than £86,000 for personal care over their lifetime. The Bill also increases the threshold above which people must meet the full cost of their care to £100,000. This is more than four times the current limit of £23,250. Everybody will be better off under the system that is being proposed than the one currently in operation. We vote late into the evening.
Tuesday 23rd November I join mourners in Westminster Cathedral for the funeral of Sir David Amess MP. The cathedral is packed. A choir of young adults with learning disabilities from Southend start the service with a beautiful sung prayer. Sir David’s coffin is followed by a guard of honour formed by the door keepers from the House of Commons, a personal message from the Pope is read out. It is one of the saddest services I have ever attended but also deeply beautiful. It is so hard, but we must stand firm against terrorism, and not give in.
Votes continue late on the Health and Social Care Bill.
Wednesday 24th November The situation in Ethiopia is getting worse, I record a message to British Nationals in the country urging them to leave whilst flights remain available. After PMQs I head to Gatwick Airport for a late flight to Senegal, arriving well after midnight.
Thursday 25th November I am in Senegal to open a major defence conference which the UK has put together as part of our leadership of the G7 this year. The Gulf of Guinea, along the west coast of Africa currently suffers from 95% of the world’s piracy attacks. This affects the £6 billion of UK trade that passes through these waters. The conference brings together naval leaders and experts from all round the region as well as internationally who are working together to tackle the piracy and improve maritime security. Afterwards I visit the UK naval ship, HMS Trent that is currently on operations helping to train on counter-piracy.
At the British Council I meet students who are learning English thanks to UK programmes. This helps to increase their skills and open up employment opportunities, which will help the country’s economy grow. I launch a new set of English language teaching aids that we are sending to over 6,000 teachers.
I am very moved by a visit to a women’s health clinic that has been established thanks to UK Aid. This gives women access to family planning advice and contraception, meaning that they have choice and control over their lives.
A boat trip lets me see the Port of Senegal close up. It’s a busy port but is now at capacity. The UK development agency, British International Investment, is working with the independent port operators DP World to build a new port in Senegal and two other African countries. This is part of our strategy to offer honest and reliable infrastructure financing across the world, helping to improve economies and improve trade. I meet with the Minister for the Economy to discuss further trade opportunities for the UK.
I hear the news that a new Covid variant has been discovered in South Africa. Thank you to the world class scientists in South Africa who have identified this quickly and alerted the world. However, it is worrying. We are reintroducing red-listing.
My final visit of the day is to the Pasteur Institute where I see first hand the production of Covid tests. The Institute has a long history of making Yellow Fever vaccines and the UK helped the institute to put together a business plan to manufacture more vaccinations. Thanks to this business plan the Institute is now set to open one of the first Covid vaccination manufacturing facilities in Africa next year.
After a quick bite to eat with the World Bank representatives I head back to the airport for the overnight flight home. It is a long way to go for just a day, but I have seen and done so much.
Friday 26th November My Chelmsford day gets interspersed with some calls to some of the African countries that have been added to the UK travel red list. There is shock and concern as this will affect their economies and tourism, but they are also grateful when I offer support from UK scientists so that together we can work to understand this new variant better.
I have a long meeting with Royal Mail. Unfortunately, due to a big Covid outbreak, they have not been able to get on top of the very difficult situation and clear mail back-logs as quickly as they hoped. However, the Covid outbreak is now over, staff are back at work and more staff are being brought in from other mail distribution centres to help. It is clearly going to take some time to get this resolved and the Royal Mail team were deeply apologetic. My own assistant is working flat out to help get deliveries prioritised to constituents who have not received post for long periods.
I join other Mid Essex MPs on a call with our NHS Clinical Commissioning Group about GP surgeries. There is huge pressure on our GP services, partly due to many people not visiting GPs during lockdowns, and people needing extra support from their GPs as they wait for operations and other procedures which have been delayed due to the pandemic. A leading GP explains that by doing phone and online consultations as well as face to face appointments they are currently able to support many more patients than would be possible if all appointments are face to face. GPs in the mid Essex area are doing more face-to-face appointments than the national average but I am concerned that some people who have needed appointments have not been able to get them quickly. The CCG have promised to look at this.
Roger Hirst, our Police Fire and Crime Commissioner brings together MPs and the Fire Service to discuss cladding issues that affect some Chelmsford buildings. Many of the issues in Chelmsford are now being resolved and I will work with the Fire Service on those that are not.
Saturday 27th November and Sunday 28th November We get the news that a case of the Omicron variant is identified in Brentwood, this is obviously worrying for local people. My thoughts are with all those, both here and overseas who are affected and the scientists and health workers.