“Give us PPE”, photo Surrey Unison   (Click to enlarge: opens in new window)

Barbara Clare, Stevenage Socialist Party

I was astounded as to the extent of the government’s PPE failures and how NHS staff are being put at risk. The daily items of ‘PPE’ reported by Downing Street include detergent, paper towels, clinical waste bags, cleaning equipment, each individual glove (not pairs) and plastic aprons that provide limited protection.

Some hospitals reported only receiving ten gowns a day from government deliveries, leaving them to buy extras themselves. Libby, a union rep, displayed items donated by the public – aprons, bin bags, homemade items and swimming goggles. One employee showed a white use-by-date sticker stuck over an original yellow one on the box of a recent delivery – both were out of date.

The Panorama programme explained that for almost a decade a pandemic has been designated the greatest threat to Britain. However the government didn’t stockpile any gowns, even though at the end of 2019 advisers said they were needed.

Professor John Ashton said it’s “breathtaking”. No visors or swabs were stockpiled either, and not a single body bag. When Covid-19 started, we still had time to stockpile.

At the start of the pandemic the government had 33 million respirator masks, but only 12 million have been handed out! The government has refused to say where the rest have gone.

The TV programme anonymously quotes from two heads of procurement at NHS Trusts.

One said: “We’ve been told not to talk about shortages outside of meetings and calls. They don’t want people to know how bad it is.” The other said: “The supply chain is erratic, unpredictable and incompetent.”

Covid-19 was originally classed as a High Consequence Infectious Disease (HCID). HCID guidelines state that all staff should wear a respirator mask, full face visor and a gown, and that the government has a legal obligation to make sure NHS staff have this kit.

Government PPE guidance has changed because of shortages. On 19 March, the government downgraded Covid-19. Now, recommended PPE is an apron, gloves and a flimsy surgical mask.

Why on earth shouldn’t coronavirus be in the most serious category of classification? Some members of the committee responsible told the BBC it had to be a ‘pragmatic’ decision based on availability of PPE.

One quote from an NHS worker stood out: “Calling us heroes just makes it okay when we die.” How many lives will be lost because of the scandalous shortage of PPE?