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Tue, 27 October 2020

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Dozens Of MPs' Questions On Coronavirus Testing, Data And PPE Have Been Ignored By Ministers During The Pandemic

Dozens Of MPs' Questions On Coronavirus Testing, Data And PPE Have Been Ignored By Ministers During The Pandemic

Dozens of MPs questions, including some on testing, have been ignored by ministers (Credit: PA)

3 min read

The government has ignored dozens of questions from shadow ministers on issues including coronavirus testing, data sharing and PPE throughout the pandemic, parliamentary databases show.

More than 50 written questions, including some tabled by shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth and Lib Dem health spokesperson Munira Wilson, have gone unanswered by the Department of Health and Social Care since March.

Among them are requests for the timeframe for data sharing on positive Covid-19 tests between GPs, local councils and NHS trusts; how many people have been offered tests more than 75 miles from their homes and how many NHS trusts are offering antibody tests for staff.

MPs also asked how many social care providers had received extra personal protective equipment; for data on travel and quarantine restrictions and what measures had been put in place to ensure cancer dignoses are not missed while the NHS is under extra pressure - none of which were responded to.

Dozens more have received "placeholder" answers in which ministers have promised to return with more information, but are yet to respond further. 

And a specific question put forward by Labour MP Catherine West, which asks for the average response time from the department to ministerial letters over the last five months, was also dodged.

Health minister Edward Argar said: "The Department of Health and Social Care has indicated that it will not be possible to answer this question within the usual time period. An answer is being prepared and will be provided as soon as it is available."

Parliamentary convention dictates that MPs can expect to receive an answer to their written questions within seven days. 

MPs have also complained of a lack of engagement with the department in the Commons, with Labour's Conor McGinn raising a point of order on the issue on Tuesday.

The St Helens MP said he had tried to contact ministers "every day, by phone and email" to discuss rumours of a local lockdown in Merseyside and "had no reply or even acknowledgment".

"On Firday, news of a lockdown in large parts of the north west was released by the government to the media and public," he added.

"I still had not received contact of any kind from the Department of Health, until I was offered meeting yesterday, days after the announcement, which was frankly neither use nor ornament.

"I realise we have suspended normal practices in this House, but I hadn't realised we had ended established courtesies."

Mr McGinn asked Commons speaker Lindsay Hoyle if he "could advise how I and many other members might get the government to understand that MPs want to assist in communicating the importance of these vital messages to our constituents".

"If we don't know what they are, we can't," he added.

Mr Hoyle, who reprimanded health secretary Matt Hancock for failing to tell MPs of major changes to lockdown rules before making the information public, said it was "absolutely correct" that government departments should respond earlier.

"We should not be waiting and waiting and waiting and [I would] remind ministers and their departments of their responsibility of contacting members who are going to be affected [by rule changes]," he added.

"It does not help the department, it does not help MPs to represent their constituents.

"Members matter, MPs are elected and I expect those responses early, not at their convenience."

The Department of Health and Social Care has been contacted for comment.

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