Health bosses have threatened to sack at least two workers who asked for protective kit.
A Sussex healthcare assistant (HCA) has been “restricted” from working after she refused to work without proper Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) in an area for confirmed coronavirus patients.
The suspended worker says seven workers were involved in a standoff with a manager at Eastbourne District General Hospital on Tuesday of last week, 14 April. They didn’t feel safe working in just surgical masks and aprons rather than the higher grade masks and gowns.
In a letter to health secretary Matt Hancock, the HCA writes that she arrived to find other workers standing against a wall and "they all said, 'We are standing here because there is no PPE and so we are not working. You can stand here with us if you agree.' I agreed with them—as long as we are provided with PPE we will work, without PPE we won't."
The healthcare assistant said a more senior manager gave them the equipment after a nurse was sent home with 38.9 degrees temperature.
Bosses at East Sussex Healthcare NHS Trust told her she was “restricted” from working for “refusing to wear PPE in line with national guidance”.
Health workers have slammed the level of PPE available. The Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) regulator has said workers can “decide to refuse to provide care or treatment to an individual because it is not safe for you to do so”.
And even the official Public Health England (PHE) guidance says workers should have full kit when working with confirmed coronavirus cases.
The health care assistant told the Metro newspaper, “‘I said to her as the patients are confirmed to have coronavirus, the guidelines are to wear an FFP3 mask and full gown, goggles and visor upon entrance into a red zone.
“At this point she said, ‘Why are you fighting?’. I said to her given I’m an ethnic minority please refrain from using language like that as that can be misconstrued, no-one is fighting.
“I was both flabbergasted and appalled that a person in a band 6 position would even use such language and refuse adequate PPE provisions."
The healthcare assistant said she felt particularly vulnerable as a black women because BAME people have been badly affected by coronavirus.
She also told Hancock, "people end up risking their lives to keep their jobs".
Meanwhile, Outsourcer ISS has begun disciplinary proceedings against a cleaner at Queen Elizabeth Hospital Woolwich in south east London. He complained after being told he couldn’t wear a face mask despite living with his vulnerable brother.
After the cleaner raised concerns, ISS falsely claimed they were disciplining him for “violent behaviour”.
Helen O’Connor, GMB union organiser, said, “It is simply staggering that a complaint about a lack of PPE in hospitals can lead to a worker being disciplined.
“GMB will vigorously protect members’ health and safety in the workplace where it is being threatened by poor practice. Any member who feels their health and safety is being put at risk though a lack of PPE should contact us immediately.
“We will continue to campaign for all these outsourced services to be brought back in house.”
Words of support need to be turned into action.
The suspension of the two health workers shows up the Tory hypocrisy over the NHS and the lie of “national unity”.
Tories and bosses claim “we’re all in it together” and say health workers are “heroes” when people clap for the NHS on Thursdays. They then discipline workers who demand health and safety.
Activists in the People Before Profit: Health Worker Covid Activists Group have raised the slogan “No kit—no care”. They plan a day of action on Tuesday of next week when the health unions have called a national minute’s silence.
Unions should organise action to win PPE for all and fully back any workers who refuse to work without it.