The TUC has called on the government to set up a public inquiry looking into the “grotesque” failure to provide frontline workers with adequate personal protective equipment.
The federation of trade unions, made up of 50 organisations with a total of around 5.6 million members, has urged ministers to commit to starting an independent, judge-led inquiry by the end of 2020.
Not giving staff sufficient PPE has exposed them to unnecessary risk, the TUC says, as it points out that more than 80 health and social care workers have lost their lives to coronavirus so far.
Advice was issued by Public Health England over the weekend telling health workers to reuse equipment if their supply was running low, which sparked urgent concerns among medical bodies.
The TUC has recommended that the inquiry being called for investigates the following:
- Why there were delays in the planning for and delivery of PPE;
- Whether guidance about the need for PPE in diverse workplace settings was timely and robust;
- Whether staff were put under pressure to work with inadequate or out-of-date PPE; and if so why;
- Whether staff were threatened with disciplinary action for raising concerns about the lack of PPE; and if so why;
- Why the NHS, social and residential care and other workplace settings have struggled to source PPE from suppliers.
Commenting on the fresh demands, TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Every day frontline workers are being forced to risk their lives because they don’t have the proper protective equipment.
“And now they are being told just to make do. This is a grotesque failure of planning and preparedness. It must never be allowed to happen again. Our NHS, social care and key workers deserve better.
“Right now, the government must sort out the PPE crisis urgently. But we are also calling on ministers to commit to an independent, public inquiry into the failure to provide frontline workers with adequate PPE, kicking off by the end of this year.
“And to every key worker out there worried about getting the PPE they need, I say this: your unions will support you if you refuse to work without adequate protection. We have your backs.”
The NHS Confederation and NHS Providers publicly criticised ministers for the first time on Sunday, as they spoke out against the government announcing PPE deliveries that failed to materialise.
A shipment including 400,000 much-needed surgical gowns was due from Turkey, but did not arrive in the UK when expected. No explanation has been provided by No 10 for the delay.
The TUC has highlighted reports of home care staff making masks at home and smocks from bin liners. The GMB has reported that one member had to buy paper masks for herself and colleagues.
In an IPPR/YouGov poll of UK healthcare professionals last week, 72% said the government had not done enough during the Covid-19 outbreak to prevent and test health and care workers for illness.