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HM Govt - Covid-19 Briefings spinning on PPE

April 29, 2020 12:00 PM
Originally published by East Suffolk Liberal Democrats


On March 26th we published a piece on the Government's response to the Coronavirus pandemic. We were supportive of the Government decision to follow the science and accepted that the statement that the country held the required PPE stock but there were inevitable logistical problems in getting PPE to the front line. We also raised questions about the country's planning for the pandemic and underlined the importance of getting all front line staff full protection and safety equipment.

'Supporting the front line. (from eastsuffolk-libdems.org article 26/3/20)

It is clear that the planning to procure sufficient Personal Protective Equipment PPE has been slow given the UK had an early warning from the far east at the beginning of the year. We have been repeatedly told by Public Health (England) and Ministers that the problem has been logistics. The stock was there in storage it was just a matter of getting it to the hospitals and then later that the army would be mobilised to distribute it.'

We are now in week five of the Covid-19 lockdown and well past 21,000 deaths in hospitals plus an additional estimated 35-40% deaths in care homes and in the community. We have already lost over 100 NHS and Care staff to the virus and still we learn of shortages of vital PPE in both NHS hospitals and GP surgeries and care homes. Staff working round the clock with thousands of vulnerable residents in UK care homes have seemingly been treated as second class service providers and largely left to fend for themselves in a global procurement war. Are we now facing a situation where the guidance on PPE is being changed in order to fit the narrative?

Testing and Tracing ()The government deliberately stopped testing and tracing (clearly a proven strategy in many other countries) early in the campaign. Testing is belatedly back on the agenda and a loudly trumpeted promise to deliver 100,000 tests by the end of April and has staggered to pass 50% with many care home staff unable to travel the distance to testing centres. Now with just two testing days to go, a huge swathe of the population is being offered a test and the target for numbers actually tested becomes a unit of capacity.

Clearly something has gone seriously wrong and no end of spinning by government spokespeople and occasionally government experts who risk treading a dangerous path by straying into political territory, is going to protect them once this pandemic has been finally laid to rest with a vaccine and an independent enquiry. As Peter Black says in his blog reproduced below, - it is reasonable to expect when lives are at risk a higher level of honesty and humility from politicians about any mistakes that have been made. The families, friends and colleagues of all those who have lost their lives as a result of this pandemic have the right to expect some answers.

Now following the BBC Panorama investigation into the PPE Procurement has shone light on a lack of planning and preparedness for a pandemic and we have to ask how much of the Governments daily briefings especially in answering questions on the availabilty of PPE have been spin and are the politicians simply covering for a lack of preparedness when they knew that the UK was ill equipped to fight a major pandemic.

In his recent blog 'Out-of-control spin on PPE' Welsh Liberal Democrats Councillor Peter Black highlights some of the issues raised in the programme.

Most people expect politicians to try to spin their way out of a difficult situation, however, when people's lives are at risk then surely it is reasonable to want a higher level of honesty and some humility about any mistakes that have been made.

That is certainly the expectation most of us have with the ongoing saga over the shortages of personal protective equipment for health and social care staff. It is only now that some of the failings around this issue are starting to emerge, and at the very least an apology is called for, alongside a public inquiry once all this is over to make sure that we don't make the same mistakes again.

The BBC report that an investigation by BBC Panorama found that vital items were left out of the stockpile of PPE when it was set up in 2009 and that the government subsequently ignored a warning from its own advisers to buy missing equipment:

The expert committee that advises the government on pandemics, the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (Nervtag), recommended the purchase of gowns last June.

Gowns are currently one of the items in shortest supply in the UK and they are now difficult to source because of the global shortage of PPE.

Doctors and nurses have complained that there are also shortages of the life-saving FFP3 respirator masks.

Panorama has discovered that millions of FFP3 respirator masks are unaccounted for.

There were 33 million on the original 2009 procurement list for the stockpile, but only 12 million have been handed out.

The government refuses to explain where the other masks have gone.

The BBC adds that Panorama has spoken to a number of NHS insiders about PPE who wish to remain anonymous.

"There is a complete lack of transparency from the government. They are creating panic, as we don't know if they can supply us so we are scrambling to get it elsewhere," a head of procurement told the programme.

The government also failed to stockpile visors, the swabs needed for testing and the body bags needed for the dead.

Professor John Ashton, a public health expert and long-standing critic of the government, told the programme the lack of preparation was breathtaking.

"The consequence of not planning; not ordering kit; not having stockpiles is that we are sending into the front line doctors, nurses, other health workers and social care workers without the equipment to keep them safe," he said.

The government's priority now must be to put this right. However, once this is all over there needs to be answers as to why recommendations were not followed and why we were so unprepared for this pandemic.

# posted by Peter Black :