A doctors’ organisation is to go to court in a bid to force an urgent inquiry into the failures that led to NHS staff with inadequate protective equipment.
The Doctors’ Association is citing human rights legislation in a bid to get a court to order a rapid investigation – aimed at ensuring the NHS is properly prepared for another surge of Covid-19 cases. The association says that Italy is the only country with comparable numbers of deaths of healthcare workers.
It has been joined by a charity for the elderly, which wants the investigation to include the crisis in care homes, which went on for weeks before it was acknowledged. The organisations said they had issued instructions yesterday to a find of solicitors, Bindman, to issue judicial review proceedings. They are being backed by the Good Law Project.
Doctors’ Association chair Dr Rinesh Parmar said: “With over 300 healthcare worker deaths due to Covid-19, the UK is an international outlier – only Italy has similar death rates amongst its healthcare staff. Yet the government have told us that looking into the issue now will distract officials, thus risk causing further deaths. This is a nonsense. It is our members and colleagues who are working non-stop to save lives – indeed, the only ones who have stopped are those who are shielding, sick or have died.
“Now is precisely the time to hold a rapid, focused inquiry into the provision of PPE to healthcare workers. There may be a second wave, and it may be soon. We know there has been an inadequate supply of out of date and perishing stock; we know our standards have fallen short of WHO and European CDC guidance. ”
He added: “It would be unconscionable to ask our NHS and care sector to face that second wave without learning lessons from the first. The pride of politicians and officials cannot take precedence over the lives and safety of our healthcare workers.”
Hourglass chief executive Richard Robinson said: “Recent figures have shown that at least 40% of all coronavirus deaths so far have occurred in care homes – the very places dedicated to keeping older people safe in their later years. The under-reporting of deaths, the lack of personal protective equipment and testing available to staff, and the practice of transferring untested hospital patients into care facilities without sufficient processes for managing infection have all contributed to the deaths of over 130 staff and more than 20,000 care home residents.
“Indeed, our care homes have effectively been left to fend for themselves throughout the pandemic, as staff – in some cases left with nothing but bin bags for protection – risk their own lives to care for some of the most vulnerable people in our society. This cannot continue.”
Jolyon Maugham, of the Good Law Project, added: “You may think we will get a public inquiry, one day. Fine, perhaps we will. But for it to be meaningful it must have sensible terms of reference. It must be independent, by which we mean not led by a handpicked civil servant. And it must be soon – because we need to learn lessons before a second or third wave.”
* Health Secretary Matt Hancock yesterday claimed the virus was “in retreat” after the Monday death toll for the UK fell to 55. He said: “When you look across the board, it is clear that coronavirus is in retreat across the country. But we must be vigilant and we must be cautious, and we are taking a safety-first approach. It means that we can proceed with our plan of making some changes, for instance looking towards the proposals that have been made next week on the retail sector, and that people can have confidence to take their children to school in the three years that we’ve opened so far.”