Families of NHS and social care workers who have died after contracting coronavirus in the course of their duties will receive a £60,000 payment from the taxpayer, Matt Hancock has announced.
The health and social care secretary said 82 NHS workers and 16 social care staff have died during the crisis. “I feel a deep personal sense of duty that we must care for their loved ones,” he added. He announced the creation of a new life assurance scheme, funded by the taxpayer, which would support families.
Hancock has repeatedly been challenged over whether frontline workers have enough personal protective equipment (PPE) to prevent them from contracting the disease.
Speaking at the daily Downing Street press conference, where he announced an increase of 360 in the number of hospital deaths from the virus, Hancock said the NHS had been able to make treatment available to everyone who needed it, throughout the crisis.
The health secretary announced the NHS would restart some non-urgent operations – and called on patients to continue using the health service as they normally would.
Ministers are concerned that while it has suppressed Covid-19 cases, the lockdown is creating its own risks to public health because people are anxious about going to hospital with other conditions.
“Our message is that the NHS is open: help us to help you,” Hancock said. He urged members of the public suffering chest pain, or who fear they may be having a stroke or heart attack, to use A&E.
With the government weighing up how and when it can modify the stringent physical distancing measures imposed on 23 March, after Boris Johnsons return to work, Hancock stressed it was too soon for the public to change their behaviour.
“Were coming through this peak,” he said. “It will count for nothing if we let this slip now and risk a second peak.”
Hancock also answered a question from a member of the public for the first time at the press conference. Lynn from Skipton in North Yorkshire asked if allowing people to hug their grandchildren again would be one of the first steps as the restrictions are lifted.
The chief medical officer, Prof Chris Whitty, signalled that older people who are vulnerable can expect to have to be “shielded” away from physical contact with their family for an extended period.
“If shes in a group which is vulnerable, then the answer is it might well be prudent for her not to get into a situation where she is putting herself at risk,” he said. “It is important that people who are vulnerable continue to be protected, even after whatever the next steps are, occur.”
Hancock added: “We understand the impact of not being able to hug your closest family. If affects us, too.”