Coronavirus: Married doctors launch legal challenge over government's PPE failures

‘Every time a healthcare worker becomes hospitalised with Covid-19, it exacts an extraordinary toll on our friends, family and colleagues,’ say couple

Jon Sharman
Friday 24 April 2020 22:26
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Matt Hancock denies UK's failure to take part in EU PPE scheme was a 'political decision'

A married couple who are both doctors are bringing a legal challenge against the government over its failure to provide adequate personal protective equipment (PPE) to health and care workers.

Meenal Viz, a clinical fellow in medicine who is six months pregnant, and GP trainee Nishant Joshi brought the complaint against Public Health England and the Department of Health in a pre-action letter this week.

Both NHS doctors said they had been exposed to patients infected with Covid-19, and challenged the lawfulness of current PPE guidance on when and how the vital gear is used, as well as its availability.

The couple are challenging the guidance on the basis that it diverges from both World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines and Britain’s own health and safety legislation.

They also claim it is unclear, puts health workers at elevated risk of contracting coronavirus, and does not address increased risks to staff who are black or from other minority ethnic groups.

The couple added the guidance does not make clear that healthcare workers have a right to refuse to work without adequate PPE.

The medics called for an urgent review of the guidance and confirmation from Matt Hancock, the health secretary, that the government was urgently sourcing more equipment.

In a statement, they said: “We are incredibly concerned at the ever-growing numbers of healthcare workers who are becoming seriously unwell and dying due to Covid-19.

“It is the government’s duty to protect its healthcare workers, and there is great anxiety amongst staff with regards to safety protocols that seem to change without rhyme or reason.

“Every time a healthcare worker becomes hospitalised with Covid-19, it exacts an extraordinary toll on our friends, family and colleagues.

“To sedate and ventilate your own colleague takes a mental toll on the entire workforce. The government needs to protect us, so that we can protect you.”

More than 80 frontline NHS workers have been confirmed to have died during the coronavirus pandemic.

Meanwhile, reports by the Health Service Journal (HSJ) on Thursday suggested that of the much-anticipated shipment of 400,000 medical gowns arriving from Turkey, only 32,000 had been delivered.

The HSJ cited senior sources in NHS procurement, who estimate that the gowns would last health service workers just a few hours.

Another RAF plane understood to be carrying another shipment of PPE from Turkey landed at Brize Norton in Oxfordshire on Thursday evening, with at least one more flight expected overnight.

In response to the pre-action letter, a Public Health England spokesperson said: “The safety of those working on the front line in health and social care is our number-one priority.

“The UK guidance, written with NHS leaders and agreed by all four chief medical officers, in consultation with royal and medical colleges, recommends the safest level of personal protective equipment.

“The WHO has confirmed that UK guidance is consistent with what it recommends for the highest risk procedures.”

Additional reporting by Press Association

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