The United Kingdom was the first country in the world to authorise a vaccine against Covid-19 and today we have three authorised vaccines; more than any country in the world. This is a fantastic development and while there is still some way to go, it provides fresh hope that we can and will beat this pandemic.
The Government’s priority is to save as many lives as possible, as quickly as possible, while also reducing the hospitalisations that are creating such pressure on hospitals like the Great Western here in Swindon.
I am regular contact with senior colleagues in the Government and our local health providers too about the progress of our vaccine rollout and I am encouraged that over four million people across the UK have now received their first dose, at an incredible pace of roughly 140 jabs a minute.
Here in Swindon the rollout is going well with more and more surgeries taking advantage of the vaccines, either at the GWH or at The Steam Museum. I know that people and their families are naturally anxious to see as much progress as possible, but we are on track to deliver on our commitment to offer a first vaccine to everyone in the most vulnerable groups by 15th February. I understand that these groups have so far accounted for 88% of Covid-19 deaths, so it is vital that they receive the vaccine as soon as possible.
The programme will then be expanded so all adults can be vaccinated by the autumn.
As always, I am working on a range of other issues too. My family’s experience of autism has taught me that people with so-called neurodivergent conditions – autism, ADHD, dyspraxia and dyslexia – have so much to offer when they get the right help. But sadly, they still face stigmas and outdated prejudices that too often result in deeply unjust outcomes.
That is why I am proud in my role as Justice Secretary, along with the Health Secretary, to have led and announced landmark reforms to the Mental Health Act which will help reduce stigmas and improve the care of people with mental health conditions, including those who end up in the criminal justice system.
There are too many repeat low-level offenders with acute mental health problems, often started or made worse by drugs and alcohol, unable to get the medical help which would stop them committing crime.
Prisons should be places where offenders are rightly punished for their crimes, not simply somewhere to send those whose biggest danger is their own mental health.
We will end that outdated practise of using prisons as so-called ‘places of safety’ for defendants waiting for a mental health assessment or a hospital bed. Instead, judges will work with medical professionals so they can always be taken directly to a hospital from court.
Too many innocent people have been injured and killed over the years by those who should be being cared for in hospital. These changes will help to prevent future victims and also give existing ones the right to know when their attacker is granted community leave or discharged from hospital, bringing them in line with victims of other serious crimes.
My number one responsibility as Lord Chancellor always has been, and always will be, to keep the public safe. But in a year that has highlighted the importance of looking after our mental health and supporting vulnerable people, it is only right that we build back better, safer and fairer to create a system that allows everyone to get the help they need, when they need it.
Not only will this make our country fairer, but ultimately safer too.