Good afternoon and welcome to my regular South West Surrey update No. 78. As of today, we have a total of 722,409 positive cases of COVID-19 with 43,646 confirmed deaths in the UK. There have been 8,469 confirmed cases in Surrey and sadly 75 confirmed deaths, with an estimated 230 active cases in Waverley. All data is accurate as of 11am this morning.
Restrictions Over the weekend, London was officially put into tier 2 or ‘high’ alert level. This means that people can no longer meet non-household groups inside and that groups of six can only meet outside. The situation in Surrey remains stable, but cases are on the rise, and Waverley remains an area of ‘concern’ which means that there will be a focus on reminding people about the current guidance. You can read it in full and check what restrictions are in place here but it cannot be an unreasonable assumption to think we will follow London which means the opportunity to socialise outside household bubbles may be limited.
New Tests From this week a new test is being rolled out known as “lateral flow” involving swab samples examined on the spot by a portable machine, not requiring a lab for processing and giving an answer within an hour. If the trials work they will be transformational, allowing for example relatives to be tested on the spot before visiting a care home. Initially the plan is to use them to help control localised outbreaks particularly in areas currently subject to a ‘Very High’ alert level. We are still on track for 500,000 tests a day by the end of October for the traditional PCR swab system so some welcome good news for the much-criticised testing processes. Say it quietly but together these mean we could be a step closer to population testing - about 2 million tests a day if it were to be once a month - which is what I argued for in the House last week.
On Saturday I was on Radio 4’s Today Programme, talking to Mishal Husain about the same issues shortly after Sir John Bell had told her about the new faster tests. I also said that that it is essential the country acts fast and decisively before the virus gets out of control and that it is really important to end the war of words between local and national leaders so that we can get a clear public health message across to the public. You can listen to the whole interview here (from 8:30 am onwards) and Nick Timothy has written a thoughtful opinion piece in the Telegraph todayabout what these issues tell us about our rather creaky constitution.
The key number to remember for anyone with pandemic-related difficulties remains 0300 200 1008 the Surrey Helpline run by Surrey County Council (Mon-Fri 9 am to 5 pm).
WHAT’S GOING ON IN WESTMINSTER
Select Committee Double Bill Tomorrow the Health and Social Care Select Committee will be taking evidence on NHS and Social Care Workforce Burnout and Resilience. Data shows that the NHS faces a shortage of doctors and nurses, and ‘burnout’ is one of the major reasons that people are choosing to leave the NHS earlier than they would - as well as being a risk to patients if people end up making mistakes under pressure. Part of the answer has to be the publication of independent assessments of the staffing levels we will require over the next five to ten years together with a plan that shows how we intend to do that. Then on Wednesday morning I will be co-hosting an evidence session with Greg Clark to look at the way modelling and forecasting has worked during the pandemic (including those controversial Imperial predictions by Neil Ferguson.) You can tune in to both here.
WHAT’S GOING ON IN SOUTH WEST SURREY
Green home funding Waverley residents on lower than average incomes will be able to apply for a grant worth up to £10,000 to help improve the energy efficiency of their homes. The government has made available £6.2m to help Surrey households make home improvements that will save them money on future energy bills and lower the UK's carbon emissions. Private and social housing landlords can receive up to £5,000 to cover two-thirds the cost of installing solid wall insulation. As funding is time-limited, contact Action Surrey as soon as possible on 0800 783 2503 or via www.actionsurrey.org/enquiries to check your eligibility for support.
Mental Health Survey Last week – following my mental health round table with local and national NHS leadership - I launched my mental health survey, to help me and policymakers (here in Surrey and at the national level) understand our local experience when it comes to mental health services. Please do complete the survey – it's completely anonymous - and share it with friends and family. The higher the response the more ammunition I will have to fight our corner on better resourcing for these vital services locally.
Farnham Board Survey While we’re on surveys, there is still time to complete the Farnham infrastructure survey – who are looking at what can be done to improve the traffic situation in the town - before it closes at the end of the month. You can complete it here.
See my list of local groups working to support vulnerable residents here.
THE ECONOMY AND JOBS
Support to pay energy bills The energy regulator Ofgem is introducing new rules from 15 December to help vulnerable customers who struggle to pay their energy bills this winter. Suppliers will be required to offer emergency credit to customers who cannot top-up prepayment meters. And if customers are in debt, suppliers must put them on "realistic and sustainable" repayment plans. More details here.
WHAT ELSE IS GOING ON
Drinking on the Parliamentary estate What is it about MPs and drinking? Having never been part of the booze culture here in Westminster I find myself wondering whether I have missed out on all the best parties or whether this is a rather unfair amount of bad press involving only a small minority of MPs… I thought it would be worth sharing the full story.
And finally A really lovely twitter thread about ‘happiness.’ Never let it be said your local MP only brings you doom and gloom in these emails…