‘Lessons must be learnt’ from PPE shortages during pandemic

It is “essential” that the forthcoming public inquiry into the Covid-19 pandemic examines why there was not sufficient and adequate public protective equipment to go around initially, according to a new report.
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It is “essential” that the forthcoming public inquiry into the Covid-19 pandemic examines why there was not sufficient and adequate public PPE to go around initially, according to a new report.

The circumstances and rationale behind the changing PPE advice in different settings across health and care sectors must also be considerd as part of the inquiry, said the report that features contributions from charities and unions.

“It is absolutely essential that the public inquiry examines why there wasn’t sufficient and adequate PPE to go round”

David Arnold

Coordinated by Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice – comprising 4,000 people who have lost loved ones to the virus – it lays out “critical areas” that the campaign group  state the upcoming Covid-19 public inquiry must cover.

Titled Learn Lessons, Save Lives, the report was presented to the government today, with findings including the well-documented lack of “adequate and sufficient” PPE for health and care workers.

In May, the prime minister announced that he intended to launch an inquiry into the pandemic in the first half of 2022, though the terms of reference are yet to be announced.

Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice said it received as yet unfulfilled promises from Boris Johnson that it would be “consulted” on the scope of the public inquiry into the Covid-19 response that it campaigned for.

As a result, the group has compiled the report to voice its concerns along with those of health care workers and public health experts.

It includes contributions from organisations including Unison, the British Medical Association, the National Care Association, Shelter, and Amnesty International.

The report features a Unison survey from 2020, showing 46% of participants had raised concerns with their employers about PPE, 16% that their employer did not provide them with correct PPE in accordance with public health guidelines and 23% were not sure if their PPE complied.

It highlighted that during the early stages of the pandemic Unison had said “changes to guidance were predicated on supply and distribution issues, rather than anything scientific”.

“It’s essential the public inquiry examines every aspect of how and why they were left defenceless”

Christina McAnea

Community and domiciliary care and ambulance were among the sectors with the highest volumes of calls to the union with concerns, according to the report, which featured anonymous comments recorded in March 2020.

One union member, who works in social care, said that they had access to aprons and gloves but no masks. They said their company “watered down” the handwash to make it go further.

Another member, who works in a care home, said they were not provided with the correct PPE, and that 12 cases of Covid-19 had been detected among patients.

Unison general secretary Christina McAnea said it was “essential” the government take notice of the findings of the report for its public inquiry.

Ms McAnea said: “Thousands of frontline health and care workers were infected with Covid-19 as they went about their vital work and far too many died.

“Despite repeated calls for proper protection, many were left without the correct safety equipment that could have made all the difference.

“It’s essential the public inquiry examines every aspect of how and why they were left defenceless. Lessons have to be learned and people should be held to account where they’re responsible for failings and negligence.”

Similarly, David Arnold, policy officer at Unison, said: “Frontline health and care workers, as well as members of the wider teams that support them, were infected with and died from Covid-19 during the pandemic.

“It is absolutely essential that the public inquiry examines why there wasn’t sufficient and adequate PPE to go round,” he said.

BMA council chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul said: “It is clear that the government failed to properly plan for a pandemic, with the disastrous lack of PPE supplies leading to an inability to protect frontline staff being exposed to the virus without adequate protection.”

The Royal College of Nursing did not directly contribute to the report but agreed with its conclusions on the importance of questions around PPE for the public inquiry.

“Everybody agrees that this inquiry must be focused on learning the lessons that will save as many lives as possible going forward”

Lobby Akinnola

RCN Council chair Carol Popplestone said: “The emergence of the new variant of the virus shows very clearly the importance of learning lessons from the pandemic response and there can be no further delays to the start of a public inquiry.

“Nursing staff will want answers to why they were, for instance, left without adequate protection from substandard and often lacking PPE.

“They also faced confusing guidance on protecting themselves as well as their patients,” she noted. “Staff in all settings, from hospitals to care homes were left dangerously exposed in ways that will last long in the memory.

“If there is not action now to demonstrate the desire from government to learn from and act on where things went wrong there is real concern that there will be a repeat of the failures that cost so much damage,” she warned.

In response to the campaign group’s report, a government spokesperson repeated Mr Johnson’s pledge to consult with bereaved families and other groups on the terms of reference of the public inquiry.

“We will ensure the inquiry gets to the bottom of many of the questions thousands of bereaved families have about the pandemic,” they said.

“We have committed to holding a full public inquiry as soon as is reasonably possible, and will appoint the chair of the inquiry by Christmas and consult bereaved families and other groups on the terms of reference before they are finalised.

“It is critical we understand what happened in detail, but at the moment it is right that public servants continue to focus their efforts on tackling the pandemic before moving on to the inquiry in spring,” they said.

Lobby Akinnola, of Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice, added: “We’ve lost over 160,000 people to this virus and that loss must not be in vain.

“Everybody agrees that this inquiry must be focused on learning the lessons that will save as many lives as possible going forward,” she said, noting that those most negatively impacted must be heard from.

“From the government’s pandemic preparedness to public health measures, to support for care homes and NHS staff and hospitals, this report demonstrates the huge scope of the forthcoming inquiry.

“The pandemic has touched all corners of our society and we know that this is going to be the biggest inquiry in British history: we can’t afford to get it wrong,” said Ms Akinnola.

Source: Nursing Times

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