Liberal Democrats

F12: The Government’s Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic

Motion as passed by conference

Federal Policy Committee

Mover: Munira Wilson MP (Spokesperson for Health and Social Care).

Summation: Belinda Brooks-Gordon.

Conference records its deep sorrow at the suffering and loss of life caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, both at home and abroad, which has resulted in 41,504 confirmed deaths in the UK by 1 September 2020 and a much higher number of total excess deaths; the toll has been disproportionately high on the most deprived communities, Disabled people, members of Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic communities and residents in care homes.

Conference regrets the enormous economic damage caused by the virus and the hardship many people are facing, with the most vulnerable the worst affected.

Conference regrets the disproportionate impact that the COVID-19 crisis has had on Disabled people; with unlawful blanket 'Do Not Resuscitate' orders forced on Disabled people, including in some cases with no communication or explanation to patients or their loved ones despite this being a legal requirement; and people with at least one pre-existing condition representing 91% of deaths involving COVID-19.

Conference pays tribute to the extraordinary efforts and sacrifices made by NHS and care workers and many others during this crisis.

Conference believes that it is becoming increasingly clear that the UK Government failed to prepare properly for a pandemic and has been slow to act; in particular conference believes that:

  1. The level of testing was initially far too low and took too long to ramp up.
  2. There was a failure to ensure adequate supplies of protective equipment reaching the frontline workers.
  3. A shocking tragedy has unfolded in our care homes and Government claims to have put a ‘protective ring’ around the care sector ring hollow.
  4. The much-vaunted ‘world-beating’ contact tracing app originally promised for mid-April will now not be ready until sometime ‘during the winter’.
  5. The Prime Minister has failed to communicate competently and created more confusion with his own behaviour, that of his advisors, and the lack of Government’s plans.
  6. Ministers failed to work hard enough to get four-nation agreement on many action points, which hampered communications, despite similar and shared problems on protective equipment, testing, care homes in all four nations.
  7. There has also been a failure to take full advantage of the strengths of local government.
  8. The decision to include, within the Coronavirus Acts, easements to weaken local authority duties in relation to social care and education, fundamentally undermined the rights of Disabled people, leaving them even more vulnerable in the face of the pandemic and potentially contributing to Disabled people making up two-thirds of the COVID-19 death toll.

Conference condemns the decision of the Government to axe Public Health England in the middle of a pandemic with no clear plan on how to manage key health improvement functions. Conference deplores the top-down centralised testing system imposed by Whitehall, rather than harnessing existing expertise in local health teams and regional testing.

Conference notes that the requirement for public contracts to be subjected to competitive tender was suspended by the government in March leading to billions of pounds of contracts being sometimes given to companies that could not fulfil the contract and in some cases to companies with personal links to government officials, something we have seen before during no deal Brexit preparations; this has also been worsened by a suspension of parliamentary scrutiny at a time when it is needed most.

Conference further believes the leaked details of 'Operation Moonshot' seem to show all of the problems of these contracts on a much bigger scale than at any other point throughout this pandemic, and show the importance of the open, competitive tender process.

Conference resolves that there must be a statutory independent inquiry with the strongest possible powers to review the Government’s actions, so we can learn lessons to avoid this chaos again.

Conference calls on the Conservative Government to:

  1. Support those working on the frontline, in the NHS and social care, and emergency services by:
    1. Ensuring they have the protective equipment they need, now.
    2. Providing the mental health support they need.
    3. Giving them a pay award that properly recognises their service.
    4. Granting all foreign nationals working in the NHS and social care indefinite leave to remain.
  2. Deliver a competent strategy to test, trace and isolate needed to prevent a new surge as lockdown restrictions are eased.
  3. Launch an independent inquiry now so that lessons can be learnt as to how to handle this crisis and prepare for the winter period and future outbreaks and/or pandemics; the inquiry should work alongside those in other nations of the UK to share knowledge and experience and examine the different policy choices made.
  4. Introduce a new Safe Trace Law to provide a clear legal framework for the collection, storage and use of people’s personal data for tracing purposes, whether through an app or by human tracers.
  5. Restore the rights of Disabled people by scrapping the easements within the Coronavirus Act and provide increased support for Disabled people within the education, social care and mental health systems for the duration of the pandemic.
  6. Improve mental health support during the crisis by:
    1. Properly signposting the mental health support available during the coronavirus crisis.
    2. Sending public health leaflets, including advice on looking after mental health and details of organisations offering mental health support during the crisis, to all homes.
    3. Increasing the level of funding for mental health charities offering support during the coronavirus crisis, to reduce pressure on the NHS.
    4. Providing additional investment in mental health services.
  7. Work to deliver the ambition for a healthier nation, during and beyond COVID-19, by supporting people to lead more active and healthy lives through investment in public health and putting health and wellbeing for all at the heart of government, and without using regressive language that seeks to blame or shame people.
  8. Develop a rehabilitation strategy for investing in and increasing services to help people recover from COVID-19 including:
    1. Provision to ensure enough staff capacity to meet rising needs.
    2. Expanding the multi-disciplinary rehabilitation workforce to deliver ongoing rehabilitation.
    3. Guarantees that people being discharged from hospitals will have timely access to rehabilitation services and that these services will be personalised to meet people’s individual needs.
    4. The needs of those suffering from non-COVID-related conditions not to be compromised as a result of the increase in COVID-19 rehabilitation needs.
    5. Action to support the 1.5 million people shielding and self-isolating who were unable to access rehabilitation in a conventional way and may need new support.
    6. Retaining the flexibility that community rehabilitation teams have developed to address local population need once normal services are resumed and is not lost.
  9. Recognise the existence of ‘Long Covid’ where patients experience debilitating symptoms for many weeks or even months after infection, and take appropriate steps to respond including:
    1. The commissioning of urgent research into long-term COVID-19 disease in order to investigate its causes and identify a range of interventions to treat patients.
    2. The development of protocols and care pathways to ensure that all practitioners are empowered to treat long-term COVID-19 patients appropriately.
    3. The creation of multi-disciplinary clinics for the assessment, testing, diagnosis and care of long-term COVID-19 patients.
  10. Tackle the disproportionate impact of coronavirus on black, Asian and minority ethnic communities, including by implementing a cross-government Race Equality Strategy.
  11. Improve how the Government works and communicates with local government and local public health teams who have the greatest understanding of their communities and are best placed to engage with people effectively.
  12. Respect and engage with devolved governments to improve all four administrations response to COVID-19.
  13. Improve and maintain public awareness of the virus and how to minimise risk of transmission by:
    1. Maintaining a clear, unambiguous, and simple messaging campaign on advice to the public that is as specific as possible and considers the different rules in different parts of the nation.
    2. Reinstating the daily coronavirus briefings.
    3. Requesting national and regional broadcasters to report on the local level of infection present in England, across all news platforms including broadcast, radio and online.
  14. Launch an inquiry, at the soonest possible date, into the way in which public contracts have been granted without tender during the pandemic, in order to learn any lessons from the wasting of taxpayer money and hampering of our crisis response, as well as the amendment of regulation 32(2)(c) of the Public Contract Regulations 2015 to ensure that safeguards are in place to prevent any potential misconduct in public procurement during any future crisis.
  15. Restore and maintain the processes of parliamentary scrutiny, and where feasible, competitive tender with public contracts at this critical stage in the pandemic, where significant funds will be paid from the public purse for projects such as mass testing.

Applicability: England only; except 1. d) (lines 39–40), 3. (lines 43–46) and 11. (lines 90–91), which are Federal; and 4. (lines 47–49) which is England and Wales.

Mover: 7 minutes; summation of motion and movers and summation of any amendments: 4 minutes; all other speakers: 3 minutes.

The deadline for amendments to this motion is 17.00, Wednesday 23 September. Amendments selected for debate will be printed in Saturday’s Conference Daily.

The deadline for requests for separate votes is 10.00, Friday 25 September; see page 5 of the Agenda for further details.

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