An Indian-origin husband and wife doctor couple have launched legal action against the UK government over the shortage of as lack of personal protective equipment (PPE) and guidance to use it by the National Health Service (NHS) as it deals with the coronavirus pandemic.
Clinical fellow in medicine Dr Meenal Viz, who is also six months pregnant and her general practitioner (GP) trainee husband Dr Nishant Joshi are challenging the lawfulness of the PPE guidance and its shortage.
The basis of their challenge is that the guidance issued by the government deviates from that of World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines and Britain’s own safety legislation.
In the wake of over 80 NHS staff dying due to the infection and also disproportionate number of Black and Asian workers amongst them being at a greater risk makes the situation grim for the couple who say they have been exposed to Covid-19 patients.
The couple, in a statement issued through the London-headquartered law firm Bindmans LLP, said, “We are incredibly concerned at the ever-growing numbers of healthcare workers who are becoming seriously unwell and dying due to Covid-19. It is the government’s duty to protect its healthcare workers, and there is great anxiety amongst staff with regards to safety protocols that seem to change without rhyme or reason.”
They added, “Every time a healthcare worker becomes hospitalised with Covid-19, it exacts an extraordinary toll on our friends, family and colleagues. To sedate and ventilate your own colleague takes a mental toll on the entire workforce.”
The legal firm of the couple also wrote a letter to the Health Secretary of UK, Matt Hancock, demanding an “urgent review” of the official PPE guidance as well as question and complain the manner in which equipment was being sourced.
“The government owes an apology to these bereaved families, many of whom were unable to be with their loved ones in their dying moments. Their trauma and grief is unimaginable we want to ensure that no other family has to endure this suffering,” said the couple.
The couple want that the guidance for the PPE should comply with that of the WHO standards; to elaborate on the risks associated with using different types of PPE and finally to “clarify the right of staff to refuse to work where they consider PPE to be inadequate”.
“All we ask for is accountability from decision-makers, and that all evidence leading to these decisions should be published and transparent,” the couple said.
Calling for government to protect their frontline staff, Meenal Viz and her GP trainee husband Nishant Joshi said, “We are doctors, we are nurses and we are healthcare workers we will be there for you in your time of need. We will be there for your family. The government needs to protect us, so that we can protect you.”
The couple have also been running a social media campaign to crowd fund their legal costs.
A recent survey conducted of over 2,000 health care workers by BAPIO, an organisation representing Indian physicians in the UK showed that “lack of PPEs was major concern.”
BAPIO in a statement in this contest of worrisome situation with PPE added that, “Social distancing cannot be adhered to in clinical practice and was therefore not regarded as practical. The survey confirms being BAME is a significant independent risk factor in contracting Covid-19 irrespective of comorbidities. It was hugely concerning to note 64 colleagues reported being reprimanded for wearing/ wanting PPE.”
Basmah Sahib, Bindmans LLP Solicitor for the couple has also raised this very issue of being “reprimanded for wanting PPE” said, “No healthcare worker should face disciplinary action just for requesting proper protective equipment. We hope the guidance will be brought up to the standards of the WHO and that hospitals will update their practices accordingly.”
Shortage of PPE has been a constant question raised by journalists in the daily press briefings at the Downing Street. New leader of the Labour Party, Sir Keir Starmer, sitting in opposition, on the very first day of government’s return from the recess questioned the foreign secretary, Dominic Raab deputising for PM Boris Johsnon during PMQ’s, “There is a pattern emerging here. We were slow into lockdown, slow on testing, slow on protective equipment, and slow to take up [PPE] offers from British firms.”