Doctors’ leaders have launched a High Court challenge against the Government for its refusal to launch an urgent inquiry into shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE) for NHS staff and other frontline care workers.
A declare for judicial evaluation has been lodged with the court docket by the Doctors’ Association UK, Hourglass, a charity which works to prevent abuse and neglect of older individuals.
The challenge sets out the Department of Health’s legal obligation under the Human Rights Act 1998 and Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights to commence an immediate and independent investigation into whether failures to provide adequate PPE may have caused or contributed to the deaths or serious illness from COVID-19 of workers in the health and social care sectors, as well as patients and care home residents.
There have been at least 180 deaths of NHS staff and 131 deaths of social care workers in England.
Commenting on the charity’s move to join the Doctor’s Association UK and the Good Law Project in bringing legal action, Hourglass CEO, Richard Robinson, said:
“Recent figures have shown that at least 40% of all coronavirus deaths so far have occurred in care homes – the very places dedicated to keeping older people safe in their later years. The under-reporting of deaths, the lack of personal protective equipment (PPE) and testing available to staff, and the practice of transferring untested hospital patients into care facilities without sufficient processes for managing infection have all contributed to the deaths of over 130 staff and more than 20,000 care home residents.
“Indeed, our care homes have effectively been left to fend for themselves throughout the pandemic, as staff – in some cases left with nothing but bin bags for protection – risk their own lives to care for some of the most vulnerable people in our society. This cannot continue.
“As lockdown restrictions ease, it is vital that lessons are learned from our response to the pandemic before we encounter a second wave. There can be no excuse for a repeat of the carnage we’ve seen in our care homes over the last few months. The government must act now and commit to an urgent public inquiry before yet more lives are lost.”
Jolyon Maugham, Director of Good Law Project said: “You may think we will get a public inquiry, one day. Fine, perhaps we will. But for it to be meaningful it must have sensible terms of reference. It must be independent, by which we mean not led by a handpicked civil servant. And it must be soon – because we need to learn lessons before a second or third wave. These are the things at stake in this case – justice to the 200 who have lost their lives in public service requires it.”
Dr Rinesh Parmar, Chair of the Doctors’ Association UK (DAUK) said: “We have seen over the last few weeks that the UK has one of the highest death rates from COVID-19 in the world. Health and social care workers rose to the challenge, returned to the frontline from retirement and pulled out all the stops to save lives. Some had no PPE, others had inadequate, out of date perishing supplies. Alongside caring for patients, we’ve cared for colleagues and also faced the sad and grim reality of losing colleagues, who themselves were caring for patients.
“As we recover from the first wave of COVID-19 there is a real and credible possibility that we will face a second wave in the coming months or into the winter. Now is the time to learn key lessons to enable us to avoid future pitfalls, protect the frontline and ultimately save lives. Our calls for a public inquiry and our petition of nearly 120,000 signatures have all fallen on deaf ears as the government buries its head in the sand and steadfastly refuses to commit to the learning required to prevent further tragedies.”