#ProtectUs call

Unite calls for government leadership amid national PPE shortage

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Personal protection equipment (PPE) for frontline workers in the coronavirus epidemic has risen again as the main issue this week after deaths from the virus have continued to jump to exponential levels.

The UK is on track to potentially become the worst affected country in Europe after the total death toll has skyrocketed to more than 11,000 over the Easter bank holiday weekend.

Frontline workers, from NHS staff to care workers, bus workers and many more are not being provided with protective kit on a consistent, across-the-board basis, which exposes them to far greater risk. Already, more than 20 NHS workers have died after contracting Covid-19.

The government has said that it has delivered more than 700m pieces of PPE across the UK but NHS staff have highlighted that this is not enough, with many pieces such as gloves and masks being single use. There is, according to NHS Providers chief executive Chris Hopson, a ‘critically low’ supply of hospital gowns, which are usually imported from China.

Government ministers came under fire over the Easter bank holiday weekend over comments on PPE, with the health secretary Matt Hancock slammed for telling NHS staff not to use ‘too much’ PPE.

 “We need everyone to treat PPE like the precious resource it is,” Hancock said on Friday. “Everyone should use the equipment they clinically need, in line with the guidelines: no more and no less.”

Hancock was also criticised for failing to apologise to NHS staff for the shortage of PPE, with home secretary Priti Patel also criticised for a non-apology when she said she was ‘sorry if people feel’ the government has failed to address PPE shortages.  

The Daily Mirror today (April 14) launched a campaign called #ProtectUs, backed by Unite, which makes a number of key demands, including that frontline NHS staff get protective kit as a matter of urgency and that other key workers such as carers and cleaners get PPE as well.

The Mirror has also reiterated Unite’s calls for manufacturers to be brought together as part of a national effort to produce PPE, in the same way they are now producing ventilators, and that a special minister responsible for PPE is appointed by the government with urgency.

“We are demanding PPE is provided for NHS staff, carers, cleaners, porters, transport workers and anyone else who may be at risk,” the Mirror wrote.

“In the First World War the way the heroes in the trenches were let down by the officer class was compared to lions being led by donkeys.

“In the campaign against the coronavirus our angels on the medical frontline are being commanded by dullards.

“You should no more consider requesting our NHS staff and carers to tend for the vulnerable without gowns and masks than you would countenance sending soldiers over the top without rifles and helmets.”

Unite general secretary Len McCluskey praised the campaign.

“Fantastic to have the Mirror getting behind UK’s workers at the time that they need it most. Key workers are putting their lives on the line to keep us safe,” he said.

Unite national officer Bobby Morton today (April 14) reiterated Unite’s call for PPE and other safety measures to be urgently implemented across the board for all bus drivers.

“I accept that some kind of action has taken place in London,” he told BBC Radio 4 this morning. “But that’s not the same across the country. What I’m looking for from bus operators is that the risk should be eradicated, not reduced.”

As part of the Mirror’s #ProtectUs campaign launch, Unite assistant general secretary Steve Turner wrote a comment piece on PPE for frontline workers, in which he called on the government to show leadership so that all key workers get the protective gear they so desperately need.

“The government should be totally engaged, sleeves rolled up in the procurement, production and supply of PPE to frontline workers.  Instead we have mixed messages and no central leadership,” he wrote.

“Unite has been proud to work with employers and individuals around the country to create a volunteer `army’ to manufacture the millions of pieces of protective kit so desperately needed in our hospitals, warehouses, garages and factories.

“But this is an army with no general.”

Unite has previously highlighted that with so many manufacturing workers now furloughed or underused, the focus now should be to repurpose factories and their workforces to produce the PPE kit desperately needed by the NHS, social care providers and other frontline workers across the UK.

But for this to happen, government planning and coordination must be set in motion with urgency, Turner said last week.

“There is no reason why we cannot ramp up production across the UK – with government planning and coordination between those coming forward to provide lifesaving PPE for all, from our NHS to local government, from food manufacturing to parcel delivery,” he said. “Unite members stand ready to deliver. Our movement – an army of millions – knows what must be done in the national interest and how to deliver it. We appeal to government: make that call to arms and make it now.”

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