On the day the prime minister announced lifting lockdown restrictions, but simultaneously hinted at their reimposition in view of very worrying surges in the Indian covid variant, doctors took to the streets again.
Their campaigning body – EveryDoctor – beamed giant illuminated messages onto the walls of official buildings in London to draw attention to PPE needs (personal protective equipment). There were three hashtags:
All the illuminated messages contained the caption “You didn’t give us safe PPE”.
Doctors are taking the government to court
Concern that something went seriously wrong is widespread in the health and social care sectors. And because it’s been difficult to get to the bottom of all this, and find out about government planning, doctors have referred their concerns to the courts.
This Tuesday, 18 May, a hearing will start in the High Court. This will examine the government’s decisions earlier in the pandemic to award PPE contracts worth £650m to a handful of inexperienced companies and to firms that, in many cases, had few assets and little or no experience of manufacturing or procuring PPE. The question is why it did so.
We all remember sitting at home fashioning masks and PPE out of bin bags, and the scramble to provide nurses, doctors and care home staff with aprons, face coverings, scrubs and anything that might protect them from the virus. And we all know how lethal the consequences were for those caring for us.
“Everyone understands now just how important personal protective equipment was in keeping medics safe during the pandemic, yet for too long our members and NHS staff up and down the country were given faulty gear and sometimes had no PPE at all. So many lives were lost, including more than 880 health and social care workers.”Dr Patterson, chief executive of EveryDoctor.
Images beamed on buildings
So last night, to help make people aware of the impending court action pursued with the Good Law Project, EveryDoctor shone statements onto buildings, including the Department of Health, NHS England, the Department of Health and Social Care, Health England, and the ExCel centre – former home of one of the country’s Nightingale Covid-19 centres.
“We wanted to get the message across to the public about just how important this case is …. we are taking the government to court to find out why they weren’t prepared. Like us, the British public will want to know why companies that had little or no history of manufacturing or procurement won massive contracts, and why many of these companies were seemingly fast-tracked in so-called VIP lanes to the top of the bidding pile.”
Did that frustrate speedy acquisition of appropriate quality PPE?
“The government didn’t give us safe PPE and we want to ensure that NHS workers – our members – never face being unprotected in a pandemic again”, Dr Patterson said. She added that the public and NHS staff also need to know what the government’s plans are for the future, to prevent another PPE catastrophe.
It’s a question MPs want answered too. Yvette Cooper began this year by asking the prime minister about people being able to fly into the UK without being tested and being allowed to travel on public transport from the airports. They had flown in from places where covid variants of concern were spreading. Some 1,600 per week flew in from India.
The head of the joint committee on vaccination and immunisation has warned that the vaccines we use are less effective against both mild disease and against transmission. To prevent disease, he calls for bringing forward second doses rather than pushing vaccine out to younger groups whose immunity won’t start to build for three weeks.
Yvette Cooper and Dr Patterson have said that disaster is inevitable only IF proper planning is not done. On Tuesday, the court case should shed a light on just what the state of play is and just how the government plans to protect NHS and social care workers.