I didn’t intend my first non-fiction Medium post to be political, or even about the coronavirus, but I can no longer hold in the anger I feel towards my Government.
Matt Hancock, Secretary of State for the United Kingdom, has released a video statement this morning and I am incandescent with rage.
Matt Hancock has never been viewed as the brightest bulb on the Christmas tree. Now, however, he has implied that health care workers should be more prudent in their use of personal protective equipment. It is a scarce resource and should not be overused, he says.
The Royal College of Nursing immediately dismissed the idea that staff are overusing or abusing PPE. Dame Donna Kinnair, the RCN’s general secretary, appeared on Radio 4’s Today Programme and later on BBC’s Breakfast.
She was hearing every day from nurses that they did not have enough PPE and said that no PPE was ‘more precious a resource than a health care worker’s life, a nurse’s life, a doctor’s life’.
She is right.
They are our most precious resource and they are people and not just statistics. Mothers, fathers, sons and daughters, friends and neighbours. We must do more to protect them than just staying home or clapping for them on a Thursday night.
Referring to the deaths of 19 health care workers from Covid-19, Hancock says that ‘we aren’t aware of any link from shortages of PPE to these deaths’.
Correlation is not causation, eh Matt?
Front line workers are being exposed to a virus that we know is spread through close contact and on drops in saliva. They are being exposed to the virus on a daily basis. They are exposed to far higher levels of that virus than the general population. They are not only in close contact with confirmed patients, they are also exposed to the most obvious routes of infection — swabbing throats and nostrils, dealing with blood, vomit and faeces, comforting distraught, sick people, comforting their relatives who may also be sick. They are getting infected. They are dying.
Join the damn dots.
Healthcare is stressful and exhausting in the most normal of times. Doctors, nurses and care workers often work long shifts, sometimes on call for days, they get little sleep, they may not eat as regularly or well as they should. They sometimes work nights and sleep days.
All these elements — stress, lack of sleep, nightshifts, irregular diet — are known to depress our immune systems. The NHS has been overstretched for years, mainly due to cuts this current government has made to its funding, adding even more work to their loads.
Depressed immune systems are more vulnerable to developing Covid-19. That would seem an obvious takeaway even if there were no proof in the statistics — but there is proof. A high percentage of Covid-19 deaths are among the elderly or those who already have underlying conditions or comorbidities. They are, of course, more susceptible because they have suppressed immune systems.
Is it possible that combined these two things add up to create a perfect storm for our health workers?
I haven’t come across any official research that proves that more contact increases the severity of the case or leads to a higher likelihood of death. Maybe it’s out there and I haven’t found it. Maybe it’s not been done or proved yet. I’ll keep looking.
From what is known about the virus, it takes hold in the lungs. It doesn’t take a degree in medical sciences to grasp that the higher the level of infection in the environment around us the higher the chance that the virus will get past the body’s initial defence systems — nose, mouth, gullet, gut — and make it to the lungs. A higher percentage of the virus in the lungs means more chance that the virus will attach and start doing its deadly work.
Stopping that from happening is the most vital and obvious step we can take to protect those who work in the medical world.
I’m just a layman trying to pull together what I read in the mainstream. A Secretary of State has staff, resources and access to data not available in the public realm. Matt Hancock should have far more than a mere layman’s understanding of the virus. His statement about being unaware of a link between infection and PPE is at best facile and at worst criminal.
The UK Government has already been slow to ensure supplies of PPE to frontline workers. Every few days a new goal has been put forward. None of these goals relating to either testing or PPE has been met.
In 2016, a three-day trial called Exercise Cygnus was carried out to discover how ready the UK was to cope with a pandemic. It showed how woefully inadequate our preparations were. We were not in the least ‘oven-ready’ — to steal one of our Prime Minster’s favourite sound bites — for a pandemic.
We are still not ready.
The UK Government has half-truthed, obfuscated and lied its way through this crisis. As one of the richest countries in the world, we should have been prepared. Plans should have been in place to bolster staff, create emergency hospitals, ensure adequate resources, access global supply lines and surely — surely — be able to set up production in-house so if global supplies are exhausted or cut off, we can produce what we need ourselves for testing, gloves, facemasks and other PPE.
Instead, the Government gave a contract to Dyson — yes, the vacuum cleaner manufacturer who is also one of their party donors — to build ventilators. To date, Dyson has not created a single ventilator.
For Matt Hancock to infer that health workers are inappropriately using PPE and causing shortages and then to state that he is not aware of any link between the deaths and a lack of PPE shows exactly what sort of a Government we have.
A Government of ignorance, arrogance and blame gamers.
I’ve stayed UK-centric here because it’s where I live. I have friends and family who work in the NHS and in social care. People I know are at risk because my Government are careless. They are proving daily that they couldn’t care less if people die.
Health workers are not the only ones who deserve better — all frontline workers should have been given access to the protection they need to safely carry out their jobs. The shop, distribution and delivery workers, the truck drivers and transport drivers, the teachers and childcare workers who have stayed at their jobs so others could maintain vital services, the emergency workers and call centre operators and armed forces.
I’m sure I’ve missed some who are keeping our daily lives and our economies going at great personal risk to themselves and their own families.
It is important that we don’t forget and that someday, very soon, we get to hold our Governments accountable. I’m going to stay angry.