I will stand still for a minute on Remembrance Sunday in November because my father and grandfather were killed in two world wars. But I do not want to be in the position of having to stand still because one of my children has been killed by the coronavirus and two (of the four) are at risk, and my trust in our government is wearing thin.
One is a hospital doctor. The other works in a supermarket. Both need to be tested urgently if they fall ill – and both need protective equipment (PPE) – but one more than the other. And in both areas our government has failed them – by making false assumptions.
Testing (until the last few days) mainly relied on “drive through” centres , but the “capacity” to test has not been matched by people turning up to get tested – to ministers’ apparent surprise.
PPE has relied on orders placed abroad (and probably price) and we saw an RAF plane being sent to Turkey to pick up one batch – and front line workers, and their representatives, have continued to complain about PPE shortfalls and testing issues.
So, why has it gone so badly wrong? On testing, government has assumed everyone has a car to get to “drive through” centres – but how many low paid front line and key workers do? Around a quarter of UK households (1 in 4) do not.
Government also assumes (as the roll-out of drive through centres has been slow, and patchy) that front line workers who may have become infected will be prepared, after an exhausting shift, to drive (if they have a car) long distances to be tested – particularly when feeling ill.
Government also assumed it could get PPE from its usual cheap sources abroad (when factories in places like Bangladesh were shutting down) and after the World Health Organisation (WHO) had declared a global pandemic on March 11 – and everyone globally was looking for PPE.
Indeed, it took government a month until April 10 (and six weeks after the first case transmitted within the UK) to give British manufacturers a tender so that on Tuesday this week our health minister could say “a whole host of factories here in the UK are making PPE”. Pity they were not asked earlier, or we would not have had to send the RAF to Turkey.
My son works in a supermarket in Bath – and was told to self isolate by NHS 111 in late March due to his symptoms. No tests were available then, but he recovered – and it was probably panic buying in his store which triggered his asthma. Testing was available more recently though, and Bath residents were told to go to the drive through centre in Worcester – a long way away. However he cannot afford a car on the minimum wage.
Front line workers’ representatives like the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) and the British Medical Association (BMA) – as well as Unison, the union representing many low paid workers in the NHS and in the care sector – have been complaining about both testing and PPE, but a lot of what they and we are told frequently are “promises, promises”.
And one of the latest announcements is the magic wand of “track and trace” using an “app” on your phone to help the NHS track down everyone who might have the coronavirus.
But this assumes that –
- everybody has a mobile phone
- that phone can use “apps” and
- the owner knows how to install the “app” so it can be used
I do have a phone. A £5 Nokia my kids bought me. If it has any “apps” I do not know where they are or how to use them – and I doubt it can add an “app”.
It is now 14 weeks since government started checking Chinese arrivals at airports for the virus, and it is now 13 weeks since WHO declared a public health emergency.
It is also 13 weeks since we had the first case of the virus in the UK (Chinese visitors in York) and nine weeks since we had the first case transmitted inside the UK.
And I am still waiting for government to get things right – and not just be responding to complaints from front line and key workers – too many of whom have died, and are dying – whether they be doctors and nurses, care home workers, supermarket staff, or bus and taxi drivers.
On Thursday this week, April 30, Niall Dickson, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, representing organisations across the healthcare sector, said :
“The PPE issue has not been resolved, although our members are reporting improvements in supplies reaching the front line. It is unacceptable that any frontline staff should have to work with fear and uncertainty about the equipment they’ll receive.
“Our members continue to identify that key health and care workers face barriers to accessing testing themselves. It is so important that the Government continues to engage with health leaders on agreeing suitable and easily accessible sites for NHS and social care workers to get tested”.
Image Credits: Omni Matryx / Pixabay https://pixabay.com/photos/corona-coronavirus-covid-covid-19-5017617/.