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COVID-19: Frontline workers left ‘risking lives to provide treatment’

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Hospitals were prioritised at the start of COVID Hospitals were prioritised at the start of COVID

The Government has been criticised for failing to shield healthcare professionals from coronavirus due to poor management of protective equipment.

The findings of a report by the Public Accounts Committee has found that "Inadequate" pandemic planning and equipment stockpiling left frontline workers risking their own and their families' lives to provide care. Additionally, the decision to prioritise hospitals at the beginning of the pandemic meant social care providers were left exposed by lack of PPE.

“The lessons of the PAC report need learning and applying urgently, as many of the failings still exist nearly a year later. Nursing staff working hospitals, community and care homes are still being denied adequate PPE. Trusts and employers should not be forced into setting their own rules to protect their staff because the government guidance is unclear,’ said Dame Donna Kinnair, Chief Executive and General Secretary of the Royal College of Nursing.

Read more: Nursing and midwifery workforce numbers continue to grow

‘There is also an urgent need to collect more information about the impact on all nursing staff, particularly those from a BAME background who we know were put at greater risk, to make sure they are better protected in the future. The government must now ensure all nursing staff, wherever they work, have the highest level of protection so they never again are forced to work while putting themselves at risk.’

According to the report, The Government's failure to be transparent about its buying decisions in the pandemic, publish contracts in a timely manner, maintain proper records of key decisions, left it open to accusations of poor value for money, conflicts of interest and preferential treatment of some suppliers. Additionally, the Government made extensive use of emergency procurement regulations to procure more than £10 billion of goods and services without competition. While government had plans and a stockpile of PPE, these proved inadequate for the COVID-19 pandemic.

Read more: Increase in number of nurses ‘not a sign government strategy is working’ warns RCN

‘Within the pages of this report is the appalling and awful truth about health and social care staff having to care for people with COVID-19 or suspected COVID-19 without any or enough PPE to protect themselves from infection. This should never have happened and lives should not have been put at risk because of it,’ said the BMA Chair of Council Dr Chaand Nagpaul.

‘The BMA gave evidence to the Committee, which is quoted in this report, drawing on wide feedback received from doctors throughout the nation. We knew from our survey of over 16,000 of our members in April of last year that just 12% of doctors felt fully protected in their workplace from the virus and half of the respondents had resorted to purchasing their own PPE or relied on donations. At the same time, the Government was assuring us that there were adequate plans and adequate stockpiles, and the message to us was: “Don’t worry; we have enough.’

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