On International Workers’ Memorial Day today (April 28), Unite remembers those who have died but equally just as important fights for those living.
That’s why personal protective equipment (PPE) for all essential workers remains at the very top of the union’s agenda, especially for those at the very frontline of the coronavirus crisis in health and social care settings.
The issue of PPE for health workers was today (April 28) dramatically raised by the 18-year-old son of a consultant urologist in London, Abdul Mabud Chowdhury, who died after contracting Covid-19.
The late Abdul’s son, Intisar Chowdhury, phoned into the Nick Ferrari radio show on LBC today and directly confronted health secretary Matt Hancock, who was a guest on the show.
Intisar noted that his father had written a letter to prime minister Boris Johnson over his concerns over PPE.
“When he was unwell he wrote an open letter to the prime minister appealing for more PPE for NHS frontline workers, it was a request that was ignored, two weeks later he passed away and since then over 100 NHS and social care workers have passed away from contracting the virus,” he said.
He asked Hancock whether he regrets not taking his father’s concerns seriously. Hancock responded that he did take such concerns seriously but stopped short of addressing the government’s serious failures over PPE.
Meanwhile, the BBC Panorama programme uncovered on Monday (April 27) night these very failings that the government has so far refused to acknowledge. The programme revealed that the government failed to include vital pieces of protective kit in its stockpile launched in 2009 designed to cope with a pandemic – and ignored warnings by its own advisers to buy these items.
Gowns are among the items of PPE in shortest supply in the current crisis. The BBC highlighted that the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (Nervtag), which advises the government on pandemic preparation, told the government to order more gowns as far back as last June.
Professor Johnson Ashton, a public health expert, slammed the government’s lack of preparedness.
“The consequence of not planning; not ordering kit; not having stockpiles is that we are sending into the front line doctors, nurses, other health workers and social care workers without the equipment to keep them safe,” he told Panorama.
Unite lead officer for health in London Sarah Cook also today (April 28) highlighted the government’s failures on PPE.
“I think the fact that the government wasn’t fully prepared for the crisis in the first place despite the Exercise Cygnus that happened in 2016 has created a situation where the NHS has been running to catch up,” she told the LBC today. “Although in some place there has been adequate PPE and reasonable supplies, in other places we’ve seen the opposite.”
Exercise Cygnus was a simulation exercise carried out by the health service in 2016 to measure the impact of a flu pandemic – and it concluded that the NHS would collapse from lack of resources if a pandemic hit. The full results of the exercise remain classified, even as campaigners now seek to get them published.
Cook went on to tell the LBC that health workers “would do anything other than to be in this terrible situation”.
“It’s very unusual for International Workers’ Memorial Day that we would be raising issues for so many workers across so many sectors that have lost their lives due to the Covid-19 virus,” she noted.
“I think staff feel very concerned that they’re getting the appropriate PPE for the care situation that they find themselves in,” she continued.
“We have staff working out in the community with vulnerable people and families and young children who were late to the party in terms of getting PPE and they’ll have concerns about the quality of PPE. But that’s a national issue and it isn’t uniform across the country which is what we would want to see. We would want to have confidence both for the public but also for our members that the right PPE is in the right place at the right time.”