End PPE postcode lottery call
Cabinet must act now to save workers’ lives
But in a letter to Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove, Unite assistant general secretary Steve Turner says this can only happen when the government plays its role in bringing the full resources of the nation together in a ‘heroic effort to see off the invisible enemy that is Covid-19’.
There are daily accounts of a postcode lottery in the supply and distribution of PPE, even in the NHS and care services, both in the media and directly to Unite from members on the frontline as well as manufacturers.
The coronavirus has had a massive on all NHS workers and social care staff. “Pressures on our ambulance members, for example, are unprecedented with the profession not currently being given the correct guidance as to whom they should take to hospital,” explains Unite national officer for health Colenzo Jarrett-Thorpe.
“They are also not being given the correct level of personal protective equipment (PPE) if they suspect a patient has Covid-19,” he continued. “Ambulance workers are putting their health, perhaps their lives, at risk, by not receiving the correct PPE and also by not receiving the correct fit test training to wear the PPE.
“Unite is urgently calling for ambulance workers to be given clear guidance regarding triaging which patients should be taken to hospital and more action on PPE which needs to be supplied to paramedics, so they are able to do their essential duties,” Thorpe added.
In his letter to Gove, Turner pointed out that the fractured nature of the government’s response has led to local manufacturers and SMEs rising to the challenge by supporting services, such as hospitals, care homes and hospices that are close to their facilities. But isolated services are getting very little, and in some cases nothing, either from the NHS central distribution or manufacturers that have stepped in to help.
Unite is calling for a specific minister for PPE, with cabinet level responsibility to coordinate the actions of government departments, to prevent this lottery deepening.
Turner, who leads Unite’s campaigning work on PPE manufacture and availability in coordination with industry federations, says the efforts of individual government departments are at risk of going to waste without such a minister.
“The current postcode lottery in respect of supply and distribution, even to our NHS and frontline care services must end,” believes Turner. “This will only happen, however, when government plays its role, as only it can, in bringing the full resources of the nation together in a heroic effort to see off the invisible enemy that is COVID-19.
“We are at war and thousands are dying. What is now needed is a wartime plan to coordinate our response and that requires a minister with authority, clout and nothing else to distract them from their sole purpose which should incorporate PPE and our need for ramping up our testing capabilities, which are woefully inadequate right now,” added Turner.
Ask any health care worker and they’d agree. “It is humbling to see social media posts which show some NHS staff risking their lives as they go to care for patients with coronavirus,” reports Colenzo Jarrett-Thorpe. “The situation is even direr in social care settings, as care staff do their utmost for the elderly with inadequate protective kit.
“I think the public’s patience with ministers is wearing very thin as they continue to say that there is enough PPE in the system, when there are numerous reports from frontline staff that this is simply not the case,” adds Thorpe.
Steve Turner agrees. “A workforce scared to go to work now because it feels exposed will not inspire confidence in others to return to work when that time comes. Our reps are fed up with our members being let down, a mounting frustration that their union shares.
“Workers are frightened – and this will turn to anger,” Turner warns. “They want to know that the government recognises that its first duty is to protect the people of the country. They can signal that now, this minute, by putting someone in charge of PPE provision and testing.
“This disease is no flash in the pan. We will be living with its impacts for many months to come. Government has to show it understands this, that it has got a grip and that it will tell the country who in the cabinet is now fully responsible for this core public health defence,” Turner added.
In a separate letter to Jeremy Hunt, chair of the House of Commons health and social care select committee, Unite has called for an urgent inquiry into the difficulties of procurement, UK manufacture and distribution of both personal protective equipment and COVID-19 test kits.
Turner said, “I’m pleased to say that it’s been agreed that my request for an urgent inquiry will be circulated to committee members ahead of their meeting tomorrow (April 16).”
By UNITElive team