Promises, gestures and questions

Gloves, mask and disinfectant - fast delivery yo where it is needed

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


  1. I do not know the writer’s political affiliation, but this piece reads rather like a party political broadcast for the “Everything you do is wrong Ya Boo” party.

    Fighting an unknown virus from scratch has challenged everyone. All countries have experienced problems with PPE – at least friends in Spain say so and recently German doctors posed naked to highlight their countries shortcomings. Of course, mistakes have been made. With the benefit of hindsight it’s easy to see where. Using the same faculty I could kick myself for not putting the six numbers in the right order last week. Unfortunately, in this situation we must deal with events as fast as we can and try to get ahead. The Nightingale hospitals have done that in creating capacity. UK Production of ventilators have ensured all who need them have one. PPE has been sourced from every point on the planet including the UK. At a time when chemical shortages limited testing the government threw everything at the problem and seems certain to have hit the 100,000 yesterday.

    Nothing is perfect and learning ‘on the job’ is always difficult, but I think our government and NHS medical staff are to be congratulated on their amazing response. The fact that NHS supply with its 7,000 buyers were caught napping and not one of them has seen fit to publicly explain why, indicates a problem with management that needs fixing. The proper use of hindsight is that when as crises is over, it is examined in detail, not to score points, but to learn lessons for the future.

  2. Thank you Charles for taking the time and trouble to write this personal article and highlighting many key points.

    To Michael Wood, please note that this article appears in the Opinions section of Rye News. Charlies is entitled to his opinions (just as you are).

    I concur with Michael’s point that our NHS medical staff are to be congratulated on their amazing response. But let’s not forget all the other people who make it possible for the medical staff to do their jobs including cleaners, drivers and other support workers.

    Finally, I cannot agree that our government “are to be congratulated on their amazing response”. The government’s success/failure can be objectively measured. Deaths per head of population in the UK are currently the fourth highest in the world. If that is “success”, what would failure look like?

  3. Bite the bullet Charlie! You know you want to. I’ve got an old smart phone you can have and you can do Zoom and WhatsApp and all those other apps that intrigue you and you really wish you could. How can anyone want to forego the pleasure of FaceTime!? It’s not hard. If you can work email you can work it all. I will help you if needed as will all your other switched on friends. xxxxx

  4. Thank you, Ash Madden. Yes, I do understand that comments are personal – that’s why I wrote as I did.

    The government has followed the scientific and medical advice from the start. I do not know what else they should have done. International comparisons are not especially useful at this stage. Deaths are measured in different ways and of course population density plays a large part too. When it’s over the critics and arm chair experts can have a field day. Until then, I will continue to trust the government, its advisers and praise their achievements.

  5. Thank you Kenneth for giving the link to Andrew Bamji’s article.
    I have just read it. A most interesting read. And of course well written erudite and knowledgable assessment of the science of what the Covid-19 can cause in some people and a solution in treating the symptoms and thus giving more people the chance of a full recovery.
    It was positive and gave hope for the future.

  6. In Andrew Bamji’s article “The Wry Observer’s Covid-19 update (17)”, he castigates the “jackals and wolves of the press waiting and waiting for the testing programme not to reach his (Matt Hancock) magic total of 100,000 daily on the magic day, the 30th April so that they could shriek “FAIL” and fall upon him and tear him to bits.” Andrew comments: “Well, sorry, wolves. We got there.”

    Today, the BBC reports: “More than 86,000 tests were provided in the 24 hours up to 09:00 BST on Thursday, missing the government’s 100,000-a-day target for a fifth day running.

  7. The capacity is there! It simply wasn’t filled. But I’m sorry to say that i have been unimpressed with journalists trying to find fault with everything and you will find more examples in other blogs. As Michael Wood said, hindsight makes it easy to see what went wrong and undoubtedly there were things that did. The care home issue is one; in medicine, though, as I learned for 40 years or so, it can take ages to work out what’s going on, but you cannot see it at the time. When it’s all over I expect every country will agonise over what should have been done, but each will agonise over something different.

    One point I would add; if there’s a successful treatment for the severe complications then the danger reduces substantially. Meanwhile those at highest risk should be shielded. Readers may have seen calls on the national news yesterday for ethnic minority workers to be shielded – which I suggested a week ago. But keep reading and I will try and update you with all the research findings flooding in. And flooding they are!

  8. Of course everything we have seen and heard about the bbc,from brexit to Panorama, has been one sided,too the people gullible enough to watch their biased programmes, and selected i take any comments,trying to belittle the goverment,with a pinch of salt.

  9. Thank you to Andrew Bamji for a wise, informed, scientifically-based and objective assessment of the covid-19 situation.

  10. I totally agree with John Tolhurst the BBC have their own agenda.
    The whole world used to listen to the BBC not anymore.
    I don’t trust our government statistics and any other government even less.

  11. Andrew: I assume the target of 100,000 tests per day is based on medical science advice on how to “flatten the curve.” I would be interested to know why you think that that target has not regularly been achieved. Is it
    because people are not voluntarily coming forward for tests in sufficient numbers?
    because contact tracing of close and casual contacts is not working adequately?
    because vulnerable groups are not being targeting adequately?
    In your opinion, how can the situation be improved?


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