Nadhim Zahawi, Minister for Covid Vaccine Deployment, answers MPs’ questions on the effect of covid-19 on child health services, the VAT treatment of patient transport service providers and quarantine-free travel for people who are fully vaccinated.
Covid-19: Child Health Services
What steps he plans to take in response to the findings of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health on the effect of covid-19 on child health services, published on 14 June 2021. (902636)
My apologies, Mr Speaker; I have lost my voice slightly. I was at Wembley on Sunday night and I have to say that those young lions outperformed. We are so proud of them, and I am certain that in 15 months’ time the nation will get behind them in Qatar and they will outperform again.
I thank the hon. Member for raising this really important question. We are committed to protecting vulnerable children and ensuring that every child receives the best start in life.
Children’s and young people’s health has been severely impacted by the pandemic, but it is the mental health impact of lockdown and school closures that is perhaps most concerning. Some 12% of in-patient paediatric beds are now occupied by those admitted because of severe mental health problems. That is double what it was in 2019. Does the Minister agree that children and young people have suffered greatly as a result of lockdown and that their health should now be prioritised in our recovery? If so, what steps will he take to put children at the heart of all policies and implement an overarching child health strategy?
I am grateful for the hon. Member’s question. Our mental health recovery action plan will allow us to deliver additional support for 22,500 more children to have access to community health services—I know that the Minister for Patient Safety, Suicide Prevention and Mental Health would say that community access is incredibly effective—and for 2,000 more children to access eating disorder services. It will also help to increase the coverage of mental health support teams in schools and colleges from 29 to 400 by April 2023. That makes it all the more important, as the Secretary of State has outlined, that we get to step 4: it is critical to delivering the recovery action plan.
Patient Transport: VAT
What recent discussions he has had with the Chancellor of the Exchequer on the effect on patients of the VAT treatment of patient transport service providers. (902637)
While the Department of Health and Social Care takes a keen interest in any tax situation that may affect patients, any discussions surrounding the VAT treatment of patient transport services would need to be conducted with relevant officials in Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs. Services for the transportation of the sick and injured are exempt from VAT.
Non-emergency patient transport services provide vital support to those who have no other way of reaching hospital and medical appointments, in addition to those who require specialist transport. An inconsistency in the VAT treatment of providers currently means that some can claim VAT relief while others cannot, despite providing the same services in the same type of vehicles. Would the Minister consider meeting representatives of the sector to better understand the impact and, hopefully, find a way forward?
I am very happy for myself and the Under-Secretary of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St Edmunds (Jo Churchill), to meet with others about that. Of course, I cannot comment on specific cases, and I would recommend that the services in question take up their concerns with Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs as well.
What discussions he has had with his (a) European and (b) US counterparts on progressing (i) mutual quarantine-free travel for people who are fully vaccinated against covid-19 and (ii) international covid-19 vaccine pass recognition. (902638)
I thank the hon. Lady for her question. We are working with the United States authorities, with the EU and with other international partners to ensure a safe return to international travel while managing public health risks. We support a global consistent minimum technical standard for covid status notification. Of course, the NHS app with the NHS covid pass is now accepted in 33 countries around the world.
The continued lack of recognition of vaccination status between the UK and the EU is putting the UK at a competitive disadvantage, according to the Association of British Travel Agents, especially when compared with the steps taken by the EU and the US. Both the US and the EU now have standardised digital ways to prove vaccination status, so will the Minister clarify why there is an ongoing delay in resolving this matter?
The European Medicines Agency and our regulator, the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency, work incredibly closely together, and the EMA has authorised the vaccines that are approved by the MHRA. All vaccines that are authorised and deployed in the UK have been subjected to rigorous checks, including individual batch testing and site inspection. Our two regulators work incredibly closely together and I am confident that we will continue to do so and ensure that any issues are resolved as quickly as possible, working with the manufacturers as well.