Health minister calls for politicians to ‘celebrate the huge achievements’ over coronavirus response

Tory health minister Lord Bethell in the House of Lords. Photograph: Parliament TV.

Tory health minister Lord Bethell in the House of Lords. Photograph: Parliament TV. - Credit: Archant

A health minister has accused for opposition politicians to be more positive about the government's coronavirus response, after opposition politicians accused it of being a 'massive shambolic mess'.

Lord Bethell acknowledged the nation has been hit 'extremely hard' by the pandemic and while he was sure the government will be found to have made mistakes, he also hailed the work and effort seen in tackling the pandemic.

The Tory frontbencher rejected accusations that steps taken by the government had 'in any way been characterised by failure or disappointment'.

Citing the examples of the testing network, the drive for ventilators and the Nightingale hospitals, he called for the tone of the debate 'to be just a little more positive and celebrate the huge achievements of those who have thrown their hearts and souls into the response to coronavirus'.

Liberal Democrat Baroness Randerson challenged the Tory peer, who she said he appeared to be saying 'how well the government has done throughout this whole pandemic'.

Lord Bethell praised the NHS Nightingale hospital, set up in response to the coronavirus pandemic. P

Lord Bethell praised the NHS Nightingale hospital, set up in response to the coronavirus pandemic. Photograph: Stefan Rousseau/PA. - Credit: PA

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She said: 'If that's the case, how have we come to the point where well over 35,000 people have died?

'I invite the minister to tell us now where the government went wrong.'

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Lord Bethell said: 'I apologise if I give the impression that I am in any way complacent or if I am unapologetic for what we have done.

'This is an awful disease that has hit this country extremely hard and not everything we have done has worked as well as we had hoped.

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'Undoubtedly when we look back, there will be judged that the government has made mistakes. Of that I am sure.

'But I do want to try and convey the enormous commitment and the enormous focus that the government, the NHS and the people who were involved in the greater project have thrown into this project.

'It is not a massive shambolic mess littered with political stupidity and corruption as is implied by some of the critics of the government.

'Actually it has been a venture that has had a huge amount of innovation, collaboration and goodwill behind it.

'I am afraid I cannot help but seek to salute and pay tribute to those who are involved.'

Labour peer Lord Liddle said it was becoming clear the UK had the highest number of deaths in Europe.

He added: 'This gives a new and tragic meaning to the concept of British exceptionalism. Does he not agree that there will have to be some kind of independent inquiry into where this all went wrong?'

Lord Bethell said: 'We have been hit really hard as a nation by this disease and it is heartbreaking. I would have loved this country to somehow dodged the bullet and not been the country that was hit so hard.

'We all feel it. We all feel a great sense of responsibility and a great sense of sadness there have been so many lives lost.'

He added: 'I don't know why we were hit so hard.

'I don't know if the government made massive and colossal mistakes as its critics suggest and we actually got it all completely wrong.'

But he stressed the nationwide response had not lacked 'energy, innovation and enthusiasm'.

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