We are six weeks into the deepest health emergency in our lifetimes. Whilst lockdown has clearly slowed the spread of the virus and thankfully the number of deaths is falling, every one of those deaths is a tragedy for the friends and families so often unable to be with their loved ones at the end.

With the number of Covid-19 deaths now nearing 27,000, the fact remains that we seem to be on course to have one of the highest mortality rates anywhere in the world, apart from America.

The NHS has performed exceptionally well and we have every reason to be proud of the quality of our hospitals. Yet the care sector did not receive the attention it deserved and is now particularly badly affected. There have been widespread problems with securing an adequate supply of protective clothing and equipment.

Key workers in all sectors, private and public, are under phenomenal pressure and many are putting themselves in harm’s way daily. Lockdown itself is creating its own problems, from domestic abuse to worsening mental health, and as I discuss in more detail further down, too many people are delaying treatment for other health conditions and we need that to change.

We also have to face the fact that the virus itself, which has inflicted suffering and death amongst people of all ages and in every corner of society, is also hitting our most vulnerable and our most deprived, and in many cases, our black and minority ethnic communities, harder still.

Meanwhile, the social and economic shockwaves of Covid-19 are spreading ever wider, as jobs are lost, incomes fall and businesses are at risk, despite the biggest government intervention we have ever seen. It is almost impossible to over-estimate the scale of the challenge we will face, not just over weeks but possibly for years to come, with, amongst many other things, latest reports suggesting that 8 million people now face food insecurity in Britain.

A jobs-led recovery, which must be our priority, will need to be accompanied by measures which ensure adequate and secure incomes and which help people manage the risks which often follow on from the original crisis- evictions, home repossessions, and debt. We went into this with rising poverty, especially ‘in work’ poverty, and public services stretched thin after many years of inadequate funding. That can’t be the new normal as we emerge from it.

Nor should we forget the global dimension of coronavirus – anything up to 265 million people worldwide could be pushed into acute food poverty, according to the World Food Programme, fuelling conflict and creating ever more refugees. Truly, we are all in this together, and the need for effective global leadership is acute – no one country alone can deal with the pandemic or its consequences.

Nationally, there is wide public acceptance of the lockdown – possibly greater than the Government had previously assumed would be the case. However, it is important that we have the greatest possible transparency about how decisions will be made to move beyond it.

An exit strategy does not have to start now for there to be an informed debate about how the Government’s five tests for lifting the lockdown will be measured. That also means an honest assessment of progress on the key preconditions, including on testing and contact tracing capacity, as my councillor colleagues on Westminster Council are pressing for locally. Until a vaccine is available, and that is not imminent, testing and tracing, the continuation of social distancing and continued reliance on the quality of our health care are going to be crucial.

Yet whilst all this is true, there is still much to celebrate and be proud of. First and foremost our health and care service workers, of course, and all the other key workers keeping the country going. The volunteers helping friends and neighbours, as well as those taking part in the Mutual Aid groups and the network of charities, community organisation and faith groups. The businesses contributing to all this – there are many – but a special mention to the Ida restaurant in Queen’s Park and the Seashell in Lisson Grove, supplying meals to local people and to NHS workers.

For all the shopping and cooking, food delivery, fund-raising, communicating and caring, we should be very thankful. We have lost much but gained something very precious as well, and let’s hope we can hold on to it when all this is over.

Stay safe and let me know your thoughts and questions. See below for a few updates and details of where to get advice, information and help.

Wishing you all the very best through this difficult time.

Karen Buck MP


Latest news from Imperial NHS

We remain in the debt of the health and care workers who put themselves on the line caring for the public in this emergency – only yesterday we received the desperately sad news that a third worker in the Imperial Trust has died in service.

As of Monday the 27 April, Imperial College Healthcare (which includes St Mary’s) was caring for 212 patients who were positive for coronavirus – the seventh successive daily reduction in the number of inpatients with Covid-19. Imperial say:

“Of these patients, 85 were being cared for in critical care on ventilators. We had a total of 103 patients being cared for in critical care on ventilators. This is still a 50 per cent increase on our usual critical care/ventilator capacity of 68 beds but a reduction in demand compared with the recent peak of need, when we had 156 beds available. We had reported a total of 337 deaths of patients with coronavirus via NHS England. As of Sunday 26 April, 583 patients with coronavirus had recovered and been discharged.

We have supply challenges with surgical gowns due to a national shortage. Home furnishing retailer Dunelm has worked with our Trust’s procurement team to repurpose part of its manufacturing plant to produce surgical gowns for the NHS. These are the long-sleeved, fluid-resistant gowns which are a key line of defence for staff caring for patients with coronavirus in higher risk areas, such as intensive care units. The first batch of 4,000 gowns is being distributed across hospitals in north-west London, including our Charing Cross, St Mary’s and Hammersmith sites”

My colleagues in Parliament and I continue to press the Government on the supply of PPE for workers in health and care settings, and on the ramping up of testing, which will also be so critical in helping us emerge from lockdown. Along with a number of other MPs I have been happy to sign the ‘Every Doctor’ pledge:

I pledge to #ProtectNHSworkers by giving them the support and protection they need to fight the spread of the coronavirus.

To do this, I commit to these 5 demands:

  1. Regular access to healthcare worker testing
  2. PPE for all healthcare workers in line with WHO standards
  3. Death-in-service benefit for all NHS staff
  4. Sick pay for locum healthcare workers
  5. Hospital accommodation for those living with vulnerable people

Social care

Whilst our NHS continues to rise to the challenge, it is becoming ever clearer that urgent action is needed to stem the crisis in the care sector outside hospital, especially care homes. My councillor colleagues are pressing Westminster Council on PPE provision in local care homes, whilst following the publication of new ONS and CQC statistics showing one-third of deaths due to Covid-19 were in care homes in the week ending 17th April, Liz Kendall, Labour’s Shadow Social Care Minister has today written to Matt Hancock to lay out six key areas of action from the Government to address the growing Covid-19 crisis faced by social care.

The letter calls for action on:

  1. A new intermediate care strategy for people being discharged from hospital who test positive for Covid-19, and to support struggling care homes
  2. Improved access to, and priority testing for social care workers
  3. Guaranteeing all care workers get the PPE they need: for domiciliary care workers and Personal Assistants employed via Direct Payments, as well as staff in residential care
  4. Ensuring social care has “whatever resources it takes” to deal with the Covid-19 pandemic
  5. New leadership for social care sector, with a new Chief Care Officer
  6. Daily reporting of Covid-19 deaths outside hospital, including in care homes.

Please spread the word- don’t put off getting help for other health conditions!

It is also becoming increasingly obvious that many people are not seeking urgent health care for other serious conditions, either because they fear that the NHS is overwhelmed or because they worry about coronavirus in our hospitals. In April 2019 there were over 2.1million attendances at A&E departments in England; data published by Public Health England suggests that attendances over this month are around 50% lower. The British Heart Foundation earlier in the month also reported a fall in 50% in the number of people attending with heart attacks, raising concerns that people are not getting the potentially life-saving care that is still available.

Both nationally and locally, NHS doctors and managers are stressing how important it is NOT to delay getting help.

NHS chief executive Sir Simon Stevens said: “While NHS staff have pulled out all the stops to deal with coronavirus they have also worked hard to ensure that patients who don’t have COVID-19 can safely access essential services.

“So whether you or loved one have the symptoms of a heart attack or stroke, are a parent worried about their child or have concerns about conditions such as cancer you should seek help in the way you always would.

Ignoring problems can have serious consequences – now or in the future.

As part of the NHS’ rapid response to the greatest public health challenge in its history, hospitals have freed up more than 33,000 beds, the equivalent of 50 new hospitals, over the last few weeks.

An unprecedented deal with the independent sector has put their 8,000 beds and 20,000 staff at the NHS’ disposal, and seven Nightingale hospitals have been rapidly set up around the country, providing over 3,500 more beds to help local hospitals ensure all those who need care can get it.

This significant increase in capacity, combined with effective social distancing by the public slowing the spread of the virus, has meant that the NHS has so far successfully been able to meet everyone’s need, with capacity to spare.

Professor Russell Viner, President of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health said: “If your child is unwell the NHS is here for you. If you’re worried, please get in touch with your GP, use NHS 111, or in serious cases come and see us in hospital. Children are unlikely to be unwell with Covid, but they do get sick and when this happens we want to see them.”

Professor Carrie MacEwen, Chair of The Academy of Medical Royal Colleges, said: “We are very concerned that patients may not be accessing the NHS for care because they either don’t want to be a burden or because they are fearful about catching the virus. “Everyone should know that the NHS is still open for business and it is vitally important that if people have serious conditions or concerns they seek help. This campaign is an important step in ensuring that people are encouraged to get the care they need when they need it.”

Dr Sonya Babu-Narayan, Associate Medical Director at the British Heart Foundation, said: “Whilst many things right now are uncertain, one thing that we can be certain of is that heart attacks kill. If people put off seeking urgent medical help when they are having heart attack symptoms they put their life at risk.

“Also vitally important are the many thousands of people in the UK living with existing heart conditions, like heart failure, who will also need to be able to access care immediately if their condition worsens.

“Our message is clear, do not delay seeking help. If you are experiencing symptoms of a heart attack call 999 immediately. If you have a heart condition which is getting worse don’t delay in seeking medical advice and help. You are not a burden, the NHS remains ready to treat you.”

Juliet Bouverie, Chief Executive of the Stroke Association, said: “It’s hugely reassuring to know how hard NHS staff are working to ensure that everyone gets the urgent care they need, despite the huge pressures that coronavirus has imposed.

“If you suspect that you, or someone you’re with, may be having a stroke don’t hesitate to seek medical help. Think FAST: Face, Arms, Speech – it’s Time to call 999.

“A stroke is a medical emergency as is a mini-stroke. Don’t dismiss it as ‘just a funny-turn’. The quicker you’re diagnosed and treated for a stroke, the better your chances of making a good recovery.”

Access to urgent dental services

Although routine face-to-face dental care has been suspended across the country, please also be aware that urgent dental care is available in London and arrangements are in place to ensure patients can access urgent dental care during the pandemic period.

Access to the Urgent Care Hubs

The following process has been implemented in London to ensure patients can access urgent dental care:

  • All NHS dental practices are expected to provide urgent telephone advice and triage. Anyone with a regular dentist should, as a first step, call their practice. Patients should not visit the practice. The dentist will assess the patient’s condition, give advice, and if needed, issue prescriptions for painkillers or antibiotics which can then be collected from, or delivered by a local pharmacy.
  • Anyone without a regular dentist may refer to www.nhs.uk/service-search/find-a-dentist to obtain details of a local practice.
  • If, following triage by a dentist, the patient is assessed as requiring  urgent face-to-face treatment, they will be directed to ring 111 where they will be triaged by the Dental Triage service.  (Any patient that falls into the above category will be informed that they will be subject to a second layer of triage).
  • Following assessment by the Dental Triage Service, if the patients need an onward referral, this will be made to one of the Urgent Dental Care Hubs (dependent on the service available at the time of call). The UDCH will contact the patient, and clinically assess them before any active treatment is offered. This is to ensure they have the correct demographic information and relevant medical history, as well as mitigating any COVID-19 concerns.
  • Following remote assessment by the UDCH, if felt clinically appropriate, the patient will be directed to attend for a face-to-face consultation.

Community safety

Whilst the good news is that many common crimes, such as burglary, are well down, there are has been a rising number of complaints about anti-social behaviour. Some of this involves neighbours and some is in public spaces, and includes concerns about the lack of social distancing. Particular hotspots flagged with me in the last two weeks or so include the area around Church Street and the market, Inverness Terrace and the Maida Hill piazza.

When these issues are flagged with me I continue to raise them with the police and Westminster Council when appropriate. The police have the responsibility to implement the Coronavirus Act in the interests of public health, so these are new powers, with a high degree of discretion available to them. Often the police will aim to advise and warn people on social distancing, rather than use more formal enforcement powers, like fines, but these are available and are being used.

The very rapid action to take rough sleepers off the streets during the current health emergency has also brought new pressures, since many rough sleepers have complex needs, including mental health and addiction issues in some cases. Support services are being provided in partnership with the charities which have expertise in this area, like St Mungos and Depaul, but the sheer speed and scale of the operation has definitely brought challenges which will have to be addressed, not least in respect of day to day services.

I was pleased to be able to do a ‘socially distanced’ walk around with the police last week to see some of this for myself and to talk through the issues that have been raised with me.

Domestic abuse

Lockdown pressures have very clearly led to an increase in domestic abuse, and I am receiving regular updates from Westminster police about the local position.  This week, Parliament considered the Domestic Abuse Act again, which we hope will become law very soon, and I am particularly keen to see an improvement in housing services to help those fleeing violence and abuse at home.

REMEMBER and pass on:

If you need help immediately, call 999. If you can’t speak safely press 55 to indicate you are in danger

The Domestic Abuse helpline is open 24/7 on 0808 200 0247

It could be a long, hot summer, let’s look after the kids

And for tens of thousands of children and young people, including many who are highly vulnerable, it will be a summer without school or college, without the certainty of what will come in September, without a holiday or travel, without work or money.

Lockdown has created its own tensions and many young people with poor mental health will struggle even more as a consequence. Before this crisis, Westminster’s youth, holiday and out-of-school programmes were cut down to almost nothing as a result of council spending cuts. Some were restored but not enough – the Avenues Youth Club, serving the highly deprived Mozart estate, was only opening a day a week. That’s why I have written to Westminster Council calling for the development of a summer plan for local young people, appropriate to where we may be as we come out of lockdown, but designed to offer activity and support to those who need it.

I’ve written about it here.

The brilliant Young Westminster Foundation has produced a very valuable report looking at local needs and pressures, amplified as they have been by the Coronavirus crisis. You can read that here.

Getting ready for the economic impact of coronavirus

The effects of the public health crisis on our economy are already obvious, but we won’t see the full story until later in the summer. As it is, millions of people have lost income, and are struggling, in some cases even to put food on the table. The risks of mass unemployment, personal debt, evictions and repossessions are huge and will be long-lasting.

New figures from the Independent Food Aid Network (IFAN) have revealed the shocking impact of the coronavirus crisis on food poverty. Its findings show that the number of food parcels issued across 147 of its foodbanks (which include our own North Paddington Foodbank) increased by an average of almost 60% between 20 February and 20 March A report from the Food Foundation published in early April revealed that 1.5 million people had gone a whole day without eating since the start of the lockdown.

The Government’s immediate action to save jobs were bold and I and my Labour colleagues have supported them, including the furlough scheme, whilst seeing that more needs to be done to help small businesses, the self-employed and those in the ‘gig economy’, to improve the effectiveness and generosity of the social security system and to protect people’s homes as the crisis unfolds.

We urgently need clarity about the future status of the Job Retention (‘furlough’) scheme, and clearer guidance about its implementation. The Government must make clear to employers that the Scheme is not just available to them, but that they must make use of it wherever feasible. The Chancellor should underwrite 100% of loans for SMEs. It is welcome that he has now accepted the case for 100% underwriting for the smallest loans.

There remain very serious issues about the working of CBILS for SMEs seeking more than £50,000 support. They will be asking why they cannot have quick turnaround loans to get them through the crisis and whether CBILS will remain as slow and cumbersome as it has so far been. There are also massive challenges facing businesses for whom debt is not the answer. These issues will only become more pressing.

The Government should also act urgently to protect the incomes of those who are falling outside existing schemes and onto Universal Credit. We are also calling for additional action to support those manufacturers who are not able to access the Coronavirus Corporate Finance Facility (CCFF).

Meanwhile, Sadiq Khan has been developing London specific proposals, such as the fund to help the creative sector, announced on the 30th April, and to support London’s charities and voluntary organisations.

My staff and I continue to make representations on behalf of individuals who come to me with specific issues, and together with my colleagues in Parliament, to lobby for improvements to the various support schemes.

Amongst a number of particular issues I have been working on are help for the early years sector, since the unusual mix of public and private funding has meant that government programmes have not worked as well as they should to keep childcare provision sustainable.

Non-urgent construction works

Councillors and I continue to receive lots of complaints about the noise, nuisance and lack of social distancing on construction sites where non-urgent work is being carried out. As I have previously reported, I wrote to the Government minister on this, and was told that the wish was for this work to continue in the economic interest. Sadly, neither Westminster Council nor I can act unless there are obvious potential safety breaches. Together with my local Labour councillor colleagues, we have now written again asking for the powers to decide what works should continue under lockdown should go to the local authority. It seems most sensible to decide this locally rather than in Whitehall. You can see the letter here.

Where to go for advice and assistance

In Westminster

In the first instance if you need help or you know of anyone who needs help as a result of COVID-19: send the details to westminsterconnects@westminster.gov.uk, via the website or call 020 7641 1222, open 8am to 10pm, 7 days a week.

Westminster Connects can help with:

  • shopping for food/supplies
  • delivering food/supplies to vulnerable residents
  • picking up and delivering prescriptions
  • having a friendly phone conversation with those at risk of loneliness when in isolation
  • walking dogs for those self-isolating
  • supporting with critical transport needs
  • helping with digital skills coaching

If you are concerned about an adult who you think requires social care and support, or you have a safeguarding concern, please phone 020 7641 1444 or 020 7641 1175 or email adultsocialcare@westminster.gov.uk.

If you are concerned about a child and you have a safeguarding concern, please phone 0207 641 4000 or email AccesstoChildrensServices@westminster.gov.uk.

Where to go for advice on benefits, debts and bills, and more :

Westminster Citizens Advice Bureau


0300 330 1191

More about the new version of Employment Support Allowance (ESA) benefit for those who maybe self-isolating due to C-19 symptoms or have other ill-health or a disability: www.gov.uk/guidance/new-style-employment-and-support-allowance

There’s also the new Self-employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS) which they can sign up to: www.gov.uk/government/publications/guidance-to-employers-and-businesses-about-covid-19/covid-19-support-for-businesses

Or the Business Interruption Scheme for SMEs with income of <£50K : www.british-business-bank.co.uk/ourpartners/coronavirus-business-interruption-loan-scheme-cbils-2/for-businesses-and-advisors/

Working age and entitled to means-tested benefits?

You can also contact

Paying the bills and keeping warm

Check this page from Citizen’s Advice.

Energy suppliers have launched an emergency package of support to ensure that customers are able to keep their gas and electricity supply. If you have Residents with pre-payment metres but can’t leave their house, speak to your supplier who can offer things like having a pre-loaded gas or electricity card sent to them in the post or having funds added remotely to your credit. If you are struggling with your bill, ask for help from your supplier. More info here:


Where to go for housing advice: 

Facing homelessness?

If you rent your home and are facing an eviction STAY PUT- no legal action can be taken to evict you for at least the next three months

But if you are homeless for other reasons:

Westminster Shelter – contact them either by email at Westminster@shelter.org.uk or phone 0344 515 2048.

Westminster Council are strongly advising people not to visit the Homelessness Office in Bruckner Street if possible. Instead anyone wishing to access the service should call 0207 641 1000 or complete the online form at www.westminster.gov.uk/homelessness.

Shelter’s national advice pages are also very helpful:


Information in other languages

For general coronavirus information in many languages click here.

Consumer advice

Which? has created a free dedicated consumer rights hub to keep people updated with useful information and advice.

This includes what people should do about cancelled travel arrangements, postponed events and insurance issues; right through to helping people to spot fake news and scams, how to manage their finances if they find themselves in an uncertain situation, and recommending technology to help them stay in touch with elderly and self-isolated friends and family.

Mental health

It is inevitable that many people will struggle with their mental health during this emergency, including with feelings of anxiety and depression- and sometimes for the first time. There are LOTS of useful helplines and sources of advice available:

Mind: 0300 123 3393 

Mental Health Foundation


In a mental health emergency, call:

  • 0800 0234 650
  • Samaritans: 116 123 
  • Childline: 0800 1111 

Talking to children about coronavirus: 


Food supplies and price hiking 

The Government are confident about food and other supply lines being maintained so there is no need for panic buying (although it is worth mentioning that some extra demand on stores reflects the closures of all the cafés and places where people eat out, school meals etc.)

Some shop owners have behaved badly in hiking prices for scarce items and we are flagging this with the Council’s Trading Standards officers (though be aware they are very stretched.) The Competition and Markets Authority is also warning of action in cases of profiteering.

Here are some useful ways to report examples you come across:

Westminster Council Trading Standards – via their Report It app on the website 

  • National Consumer helpline 0808 223 1133 
  • Competition and Markets Authority 0203 738 600 

Help with your business

Businesses struggling to find advice should contact Westminster’s Business Unit on businessunit@westminster.gov.uk or 020 7641 2070. Officers can arrange a dedicated 15minute telephone consultations during usual business hours between Mon – Fri.

All the main websites for advice and information:

Official Government Advice on a range of Covid-19 and other issues:

Coronavirus (COVID-19:) what you need to do – click on the link:

Government Advice

Guidance and updates from the NHS on the coronavirus outbreak: click here: National Guidance

Mayor of London 

Get the latest information and guidance for those living and working in London. Click here: London Guidance 

Vulnerable People

Get coronavirus support as an extremely vulnerable person. Apply here

Working Tax Credit Uprating – Update 

Working Tax Credits payments will be increased by £1,045 to £3,040 per year from 6 April 2020 until 5 April 2021.

The amount a claimant or household will benefit from will depend on their circumstances, including their level of household income. But the increase could mean up to an extra £20 each week.

The increased payments will come into effect on the 6 April, but individual payment dates will vary. Only contact HMRC if you have not received an increased payment by 18 May. Find out more about Working Tax Credit payments on the HMRC app or through a Personal Tax Account

Claiming Universal Credit

Nearly a million people have made claims for Universal Credit in the last two weeks- making this the biggest rise in social security claims ever.

Many temporary changes have been made to help people claiming or receiving benefits, details of which are here.

A USEFUL TIP– if you are unable to complete your claim in one go because the system is overloaded, and worry that you may lose out because of this TAKE A SCREEN GRAB or print the screen in an email as evidence for back-dating.

Ways to volunteer and to donate

If you would like to volunteer locally, you can register through the Westminster Council website:


Unfortunately it is always true that some others will take advantage and use people’s vulnerability to commit fraud, so please do be aware of the risk and, if you are helping out, check the guidelines for safeguarding – the One Westminster website is very useful.

Where to donate locally:

North Paddington Foodbank www.npfoodbank.org.uk/

Donate to our local NHS

Donate to the Imperial Health Charity to help our local hospitals fight the COVID-19 outbreak. Donate Here

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