Right from the start the battle against coronavirus has been a shared UK fight. The virus doesn’t care about borders and neither can we.
Our plan has been jointly agreed by all four UK governments at COBR. Our four Chief Medical Officers work closely together to coordinate data and scientific insight. Whether in Wrexham or Reading, Cardiff or Coventry, our core goal is to protect the NHS and prevent it from being overwhelmed.
So far, working together, we have succeeded. At no point has anyone with coronavirus been unable to get the care they need because there weren’t enough staff or beds available. Not every country can say this.
But we’ve got to keep up the good work. Recent reports that PPE shipments to England are being prioritised over Wales are simply wrong. As soon as these reports emerged, I called the First Minister to personally reassure him that they were nonsense.
Our PPE plan is designed to make sure every critical worker gets the PPE they need to stay safe. It was put together by all four UK governments, and it’s being delivered with the help of UK institutions like the Armed Forces with backing from the UK Treasury.
Yes, there have been challenges to overcome. At a time when global demand for this equipment is at unprecedented levels, we’re having to rapidly scale up a supply chain designed for 226 hospital trusts so it can deliver to different 58,000 health and care organisations. But we are working through these challenges together as one United Kingdom.
The UK government has brought together the army, industry and the NHS to create the massive PPE distribution network we need. So far, the Government has provided 3.5 million items of PPE to Wales.
We’re making strategic purchases of this equipment from around the world, and we’re calling on UK companies to turn over their factories to PPE production.
So far major British companies like Burberry, Rolls-Royce and Ineos have answered that call, but we’re talking to many more. This is all being overseen by a four-nation oversight board which meets weekly to make sure that supplies are distributed fairly. Our principle is clear: we will always distribute PPE according to local need.
Testing is another area where the four nations are working together. We now have the scale to offer a test to all NHS and social care staff who need one.
As part of this work UK Government has set up a drive-through testing centre in Cardiff, with another to shortly follow in Newport and more on the way. As we ramp up further, working towards our goal of 100,000 tests a day, critical key workers in Wales will have a chance to benefit from our UK-wide network of labs.
Wales also has a crucial contribution to make in our research efforts.
This week we are launching a new Vaccine Taskforce, led by the Chief Scientific Advisor Sir Patrick Vallance. This will accelerate work to develop a vaccine for lasting protection against Covid-19. I hope many Welsh researchers and businesses will be involved in this work.
I want to thank everyone in Wales, England, Scotland and Northern Ireland who have all been playing their part by staying at home to save lives and protect the NHS. Your shared sacrifice – and it is a sacrifice – is starting to work. It’s still some way off, but we are getting closer to the day when we can start returning to normal life.
In the end it’s not a Welsh Health Service or an English Health Service but a National Health Service. We are all on the same team and we will all get through this together, as one United Kingdom.