The Government must do more to protect our NHS and care staff

Debbie Abrahams asks Minister to support the NHS

Our NHS and care staff are on the frontline battling Covid-19 but there is currently a shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE) which is putting them, and patients, at unacceptable risk.

Whilst I appreciate the pressure Matt Hancock is under – and I’ve thanked him for the work he is doing – as a former Public Health consultant, I think there’s more that we should be doing and I’ve written to him asking for his immediate action.

In my letter, I pointed out that a lack of PPE for frontline workers, and the downgrading of protective requirements last week, could result in doctors, nurses and other care workers contracting Covid-19.

Worse still, they could also transfer the infection to other patients.

We know that medical first responders have been bearing the brunt, with many dying after having become infected themselves caring for others. If they don’t have the full, correctly fitting and fit for purpose (not out of date) PPE kit, this increases the risks to their health.

Shortages of PPE are being reported across the health service and include GP practices as well as hospitals and care homes.

I’ve asked the Health Secretary to tell me what urgent action he is taking to ensure that all health and care workers have appropriate PPE kits across the NHS and in nursing homes – and when will they receive them.

Testing for Covid-19 is also an issue. A number of constituents who work in our NHS, as well as relatives of people in care homes, have contacted me regarding the lack of testing.

With the current guidance stating that whole households should self-isolate for 14 days if anyone develops symptoms, many NHS staff are being prevented from working when they may not even have the virus or may have recovered from infection and have acquired immunity to Covid-19.

The only way they can be sure of being virus-free would be to test all staff with any symptoms and any who request a test.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has called on all Governments to “test, test, test” so we must, rapidly, scale up diagnostic capacity. The manufacture and distribution of so-called ‘bedside’ testing kits, and for post-infection testing, must be a priority.

Testing for care home residents and staff is also a matter of great urgency.

I was at a loss to understand why we stopped testing last week. Testing is the only way we will fully understand the transmission dynamics of the virus.

For example, mass testing in Vo, Italy identified asymptomatic people with the virus who were subsequently isolated, stopping the spread of the infection. Under our current testing regime this won’t happen. Those people oblivious to the fact they are infected because they feel fine and who may not be behaving responsibly regarding social distancing, will be spreading the virus with anyone they come into close contact.

This hidden, or submerged infection, is a significant risk of the spread of the virus in the population; this is not being adequately addressed in the UK’s strategy.  I have also asked about ensuring that we have enough critical care beds locally and about taking up the EU’s offer regarding the shared medical equipment protocol through a joint procurement initiative; this would help ensure that we have the required ventilators and testing kits which are available in the EU.

Again, I must stress I appreciate the demands on Government ministers, like Matt Hancock, at the moment, but transparency and communication are essential during crises such as these.

As such, I will be push for an urgent response to the points I’ve raised and, when I get it, I will share it with you.

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