Monday 5th October It is eerily quiet in the House of Commons, many MPs are taking part in the party conference that is happening online, so they are shut in their offices zooming in and out of fringe meetings and round tables.
At the Department for Education I have a busy day of internal meetings. It is National Adoption Week next week and World Mental Health day this Saturday. For the former I am keen to press for a deeper look at how we could improve on our adoption services, for example in the UK it is very rare for an older child to be adopted but this happens regularly in the US. For mental health day I am working with the team to produce a huge “state of the nation” report which looks at all the research and surveys that have taken place into children and young people’s mental health during Covid.
In the evening I join other MPs waiting for the debate on the Covert Human Intelligence Sources Bill to finish. This bill has practically unanimous support but 20 MPs decide to press it to a vote so that can oppose it. This means that over two hundred of us have to pass through the voting lobby which, even though we are careful, does increase the risk of Covid spreading. Steps 10,337
Tuesday 6th October Busy day at the Department working on the review of Special Educational Needs and Disabilities, meeting the Minister for Scotland on the differences between laws affecting children in England and Scotland. As Minister I reply to debate in Westminster Hall on antisemitism in Universities. The cases are rising, and racism and religious hatred should never be allowed. More votes and it is late in the evening when I catch up with listening to the PM’s speech at conference. Steps 14,082
Wednesday 7th October The Speaker has advised all those present in Parliament to wear masks when not in our offices or socially distanced in the Chamber. I have a good catch up with the Early Years team – more children are back in nurseries and pre-schools which is so important for their development. I work on a new strategy for Family Hubs, the one in Chelmsford is excellent and I would like to encourage more across the country. The afternoon is peppered with votes including on corona virus measures. I sign off the mental health “state of the nation” which shows that whilst there may have been some increase in concern about well-being, in general levels of children’s happiness is stable. This has been a very difficult time for children and families, and I am so impressed by all those who care for children and their resilience. Steps 11,291
Thursday 8th October Back to back day of online meetings from home, catching up with issues affecting children’s services across the country. Take a walk to get away from the PC! Steps 4,166
Friday 9th October A busy series of calls and online visits regarding health with the Deputy Chief Medical Officer and the Head of Public Health for Essex, as well as locally with Springfield Hospital and the Head of the Clinical Commissioning Group for Mid Essex.
It started with some good news from Springfield Hospital. They are working extremely hard to care for non-covid related patients and around three quarters of the patients they are treating are NHS patients. During the peak of the virus earlier this year they diverted surgeons, nurses and anaesthetists from Springfield to help with the ITU beds at Broomfield. This is not happening at the moment. However, they are only able to treat about 86% of the capacity that they had pre-covid so this means that waiting lists are still lengthy. They are prioritising cancer surgery as well as more urgent cases such as eye surgery and urology. About half their NHS patients are referred to them from Broomfield in order to help with hospital capacity and the other half are referrals from GPs. There is concern that if there is another spike in Covid cases affecting our local hospitals then some of the urgent non-covid work that is done at Springfield may again need to be delayed.
On a national level the Deputy Chief Medical Officer warned us of his grave concerns. Cases are rising across the country and the R rate is between 1.2 and 1.5. There is evidence that in the most strongly affected areas of the North West, North East and now Midlands there is an increase in cases amongst older people as well as in younger age groups. This inevitably will lead to increased hospitalisations which we are already starting to see. The Director of Public Health for Essex warned Essex MPs of the very significant increase in cases in Essex in recent days. Please follow the guidance, Hands, Face, Space and above all maintain social distancing to help prevent this spread.
For my catch up with the Head of our local Clinical Commissioning Group I was joined by Dr Elizabeth Towers from the Whitley House GP practice. Local GPs surgeries worked hard in vaccinating many more over 65 year-olds against flu this year than normal, and the jab will be rolled out to younger age groups starting next month – the CCG promised me more info to follow. Most GP practices are seeing patients face to face as well as online or by phone depending on the cases. I was also told that the CCG is working with GPs on projects to help those recovering from the symptoms of long Covid. I was also told about Wood Street Surgery, this has not closed permanently but due to the small size of this surgery it is not considered safe to open it in a Covid-secure manner during the pandemic. Whilst we do know much more about Covid than we did in March it remains a deadly disease for many people especially in older age groups and long-covid is impacting young and old. If cases to continue to rise this will impact on important treatments for patients with other conditions.
During the day I also had an uplifting call with the Head of Chelmsford College, Andy Sparks, who told me of all the work that they are doing to support students at this time. The numbers of students taking their excellent Public Services course has increased and plans are moving ahead for their new building which will focus on energy-efficient construction courses. However, he was also very frustrated that a new phone mast has been installed outside the College without the City Council notifying the college of the planning application. At this time of pandemic, we have all realised how important connectivity is, and we do need phone masts, but they must be well-sited. I fear this policy by the City Council of not writing to property owners about nearby planning applications could affect many Chelmsford residents.
My day finished with an interesting call with the deputy Ambassadors from Finland, Sweden, Denmark, the Netherlands, Norway, Belgium and Iceland. As well as discussing the talks about a UK/EU trade deal they wanted to pick my brains about the support we have been giving to vulnerable children during Covid. It’s always helpful to hear what neighbours are doing and share ideas. Steps – not a lot!
Saturday 10th October Many congratulations to our deeply committed Senior Coroner for Essex, Caroline Beasley Murray for her OBE today. It is truly deserved. The Coroner sees the worst of the worst. I am always so deeply impressed by Caroline’s commitment to help those affected.