The government was struggling to keep up with medical concerns today after the deaths of three doctors from Covid-19 infection.
GP Dr Habib Zaidi, aged 76, from Essex, became the first doctor to die from the virus last week and he was followed over the weekend by two hospital doctors. It came as deaths of doctors in Italy passed 50.
Three of Dr Zaidi’s children are also doctors. One daughter Dr Sarah Zaidi, a GP in his practice, the Eastwood Group Practice, Leigh-on-Sea, said: “For that to be the thing that took him is too much to bear. It is reflective of his sacrifice. He had a vocational attitude to service. He was treated as a definitive case. There is little clinical doubt it is coronavirus, the test result is academic.”
One doctors’ group questioned the lack of death benefits for doctors returning to work or opting out of the NHS pension scheme. According to the General Medical Council, 25% of nearly 12,000 doctors accepting temporary registration are over the age of 65. About a third of these returning doctors are qualified GPs.
The British Medical Association, meanwhile, said the high fatality rate of doctors in Italy was an “urgent warning” to the UK government over the supply of personal protective equipment. Chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul spoke after sending a letter of condolence to medical associations in Italy.
He said: “British doctors have looked to Italy with trepidation as the spread here continues, as we are naturally concerned that we may face a challenge of the same scale within weeks. The bravery and compassion shown by our Italian colleagues in the most harrowing circumstances is an inspiration to us. We have particularly noted with frustration your calls for proper personal protective equipment go unheeded, especially in the light of the tragic deaths of more than 50 doctors.”
Doctors’ Association president Dr Samantha Batt-Rawden said: “We were incredibly sad to greet this morning’s news that 50 doctors have died in Italy on the COVID-19 frontline. Our thoughts are with their families at this difficult time. It is therefore morally unforgivable that at a time when we are asking UK doctors to put their lives on the line, that many been told their families won’t be provided for in the event of their death. Worse still many doctors are in this position having been forced out of the NHS pensions scheme by this government’s punitive pensions tax – an issue that should have been solved a year ago.
“Retired doctors, some senior consultants and senior locum GPs who are not eligible already sit in a higher risk group due to their age. These doctors feel a strong moral duty to do all they can to serve patients at this time of national crisis and deserve the same parity of esteem as their colleagues.”
A letter issued by three senior doctors, including NHS medical director Professor Stephen Powis and quoted by the Health Service Journal, promised new guidance “within days” but reiterated present guidance that “recommended PPE to be used by healthcare workers within one metre of a patient with possible or confirmed covid-19 including staff working in hospitals, primary care, ambulance trusts, community care settings, care homes.”
According to internal communications obtained by the Daily Mail today, several NHS trusts in London have been having to restrict testing to patients, warning, on Friday, of a “critical shortage” of tests. The memo says that “under no circumstances” should tests be used for staff.
It happened as the pandemic tightened its grip on western nations. Spain is now reporting more than 800 deaths daily and France about 300. The UK yesterday reported 209 new deaths. The USA has now chronicled more than 140,000 cases of infection and nearly 2,500 deaths. Reporting of deaths varies wildly day-to-day with 525 reported on Saturday and 255 yesterday.