Health workers are organising a day of action after Tory minister Matt Hancock sparked outrage for telling them to not to overuse protective kit.
Supporters of the Health Worker Coronavirus Activists Group will take part in a variety of workplace actions to demand “health before profit” on Thursday.
Hancock said workers had to “treat PPE like the precious resource it is” last Friday. “Everyone should use the equipment they clinically need, in line with the guidelines—no more and no less,” he said.
Brenda, an occupational therapist at Homerton hospital in east London, said workers are “absolutely furious and disgusted”.
“It makes it sound like the masks were more important than our lives,” she told Socialist Worker.
“Workers are a precious resource—this is not a war and we are not soldiers.”
She added, “One of my big fears was a colleague dying and now we’ve found out one of our doctors has died from Covid-19.
“He had warned the government about PPE.”
Just three weeks ago Doctor Abdul Mabud Chowdhury had urged Boris Johnson to “urgently” provide PPE for “each and every NHS worker” in Britain.
The Tory government has confirmed 19 deaths of health workers, but the number is thought to be higher.
Michael Rees, who sits on the BMA doctors’ organisation’s national council, tweeted last Saturday, “BMA sources indicate 28 NHS staff have died from coronavirus not 19.”
One nurse in south Essex told Socialist Worker that the lack of PPE was “corporate manslaughter”. “It’s diabolical,” she said. “We are dealing with large cohorts of coronavirus positive patients.
“There is no ventilation and staff are in there for eight or 12 hour shifts so the likelihood of transmission is considerably high.”
Workers have asked for the FFP3 mask—which offers more protection—and gowns to cover their uniforms. “We’re told we don’t need them,” said the nurse.
“Frontline staff were told they can all wear the surgical mask, plastic apron and gloves.
“But the surgical mask is not as tight and is not protecting. The FFP3s are even being denied to some A&E staff.
“Staff who are not in the resuscitation room where the very sickest are intubated are denied the masks.
“But the resuscitation rooms are right by the main A&E areas, and the doors open and close many times.”
Brenda was experiencing similar problems in Homerton.
She said she had to get FFP3 masks from her friend who works at a building materials store.
A decade of Tory cuts and privatisation has left the NHS woefully under-prepared.
Earlier this month it was revealed that the Department of Health had rejected advice to stockpile eye protection in case of a virus outbreak.
In 2015—under then-health secretary Jeremy Hunt—advisers recommended “eye protection for all hospital, community, ambulance and social care staff who have close contact with pandemic influenza patients” .
Department of Health officials told them to reconsider their recommendations because of “the very large incremental cost of eye protection”.
Anger over the NHS is an opportunity to build opposition to the Tories who have gambled with people’s lives.
Health unions have been slow to take action because their leaders want to sit alongside ministers and managers at the top table.
But unrest at the grassroots and the mounting death toll has pushed them to make calls for proper kit. Dave Prentis, Unison union general secretary, said the “time for excuses has passed” over PPE failures.
The Royal College of Nursing told members they could “refuse to work” without PPE as a “last resort”.
Workers at some hospitals have won some victories over health and safety guidance.
At Homerton hospital, in east London, workers demanded that management alter the guidance over PPE.
“You could see how relieved people were when the guidance changed last week,” said occupational therapist Brenda.
Activists also organised a solidarity with bus workers selfie. Brenda said, “Bus drivers are just as important as we are, but have no PPE at all and don’t have so much support from the public as we do.
“When I asked my team about doing the selfie, they thought that’s a really good idea.”
Workers at other hospitals should take the lead of Homerton staff and show solidarity with bus workers. And trade unions at other workplaces should twin with hospitals to support health workers.
Meanwhile at other hospitals, people come outside during the “Clap for the NHS”—a clear opportunity to protest over the healthcare crisis during social distancing.
Doctors will have to “score” tens of thousands of patients to determine if they qualify for lifesaving treatment.
A new NHS tool will score patient according to their age, frailty and underlying conditions.
Those who score more than eight points would likely not be admitted for intensive care.
A doctor could override the tool’s recommendation.
In another sign of the Tory-induced NHS crisis, some medicines used in intensive care units (ICU) are “in relatively short supply”.
One doctor said, “These drugs are being rationed by the Department of Health and Social Care.”
They said they had stock of just several days’ worth of key medicines and could use other drugs, but it would mean patients “take significantly longer to wake”.
“The normal ICU stay with pneumonia caused by flu is five days, but we’re up to 15-20 days with Covid patients,” they said.
“This means another patient cannot be admitted for lifesaving treatment. It’s extremely worrying.”
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