NHS workers don’t want applause, they want PPE | Letters

Readers on the shocking lack of personal protective equipment and government ineptitude that is leading to the deaths of frontline staff

I am a retired consultant paediatrician. My beautiful, intelligent and brave son, daughter-in-law and niece are frontline junior doctors. One works in an ICU where, like around a third of staff, he does not have a respirator mask that fits, or adequate supplies of eye protection. Another is on a Covid-19 palliative care ward for the elderly, and the third works on long-stay psychiatric wards; both are caring for symptomatic patients who understand nothing of not having direct physical contact. They are told by managers not to make a fuss when they ask for FFP3 masks, long-sleeve gowns and visors.

Over 50 NHS staff have now died from this infection. I think we will look back and see that it is not only the failure to stockpile equipment, the privatisation of NHS logistics, the dependency on importing foreign-made personal protective equipment, and the inability to rapidly repurpose local industry, but also the inadequacy of Public Health England recommendations in terms of protecting staff, that will have led to many avoidable deaths. I am staggered to read that some senior figures in NHS England regard PHE advice as “excessive” (NHS staff told ‘wear aprons’ as protective gowns run out, 17 April). I wonder whether their opinion would change if they did a shift with one of my young relatives?
Dr John Puntis
Co-chair, Keep Our NHS Public

• So the government has finally admitted that PPE is running out (PPE including gowns and masks running out, admits UK government, 18 April). It has done nothing but lie for weeks. PPE has been insufficient since this crisis began, as you are reporting on an almost daily basis. How many health professionals and social care workers have died already due to lack of adequate protection?

You report that the government has ordered 400,000 gowns from Turkey. But you say the NHS needs 150,000 gowns a day, so this new order will last less than three days – if it exists, if it ever arrives. Then what? When will the next order be placed? Why isn’t everyone shouting about this? The incompetence is stunning. Everyone must support an all-NHS strike. They have every right to protection. Then let’s clap.
Marge Berer

• Like John Crace (The politics sketch, 14 April), I listened to Thérèse Coffey with mounting disbelief on Tuesday; I heard her on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme. My 78-year-old husband is in a local care home with late-stage Alzheimer’s. The staff are heroic, having moved on-site, sleeping in a borrowed caravan and a tent two weeks at a time, 24/7, to minimise risk of the virus entering the care home. Despite this, the home now has two potential cases of Covid-19, but testing was only available when there were five or more suspected cases. There are 16 residents, so this meant that one-third had to show symptoms before this happens, if then. (Matt Hancock has since said testing will be made available for all care home staff and residents, but no deadline has been given for this to be implemented.)

In addition, staff are wearing homemade face shields kindly produced by a local primary school on its 3D printer. Support from the community is invaluable, but it is no substitute for effective clinical PPE for frontline staff. The NHS has now grudgingly agreed to provide masks in addition to the usual gloves and flimsy aprons, but the lack of systematic testing for care staff and those in vulnerable communities is a disgrace. Coffey’s words on being well prepared are meaningless unless action follows.
Ann Jolly
Emsworth, Hampshire

• As the mistakes this government has made regarding the supply of PPE are becoming clearer by the day (UK missed three chances to join EU scheme to bulk-buy PPE, 13 April), so too is the need for transparency, accountability and a proper apology. The stubborn refusal of MPs to admit to their failings – or offer a sincere apology – has shocked even those of us who were willing to give the government the benefit of the doubt for the sake of national unity.

It’s the actions and words of figures like Matt Hancock and Priti Patel that reveal the true nature of the Conservative party’s attitude towards the NHS, not hollow displays of solidarity performed on the steps of 10 Downing Street. My wife, a frontline NHS worker, does not want this government’s applause. Like her colleagues, she simply wants the equipment she needs to do her job safely. In the absence of that, she wants our elected representatives to be transparent and accountable. And that starts with a proper apology.
Andy Moore

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