“This situation is intolerable, health and social care workers are not expendable. We will not rest until our colleagues get the respect they deserve, and the protections they need to safely carry out their jobs which are so crucial for all of us.”
Dr Jonathan Fluxman, Doctor in Unite.
Each year 28th April is International Workers Memorial Day, to commemorate the lives of workers who have died at work. This year the main theme is health and safety in the workplace; these should be a right and not a privilege. Workplace accidents and exposure to hazards like Covid-19 are not inevitable, the great majority occur because employers can’t be bothered or will not protect workers properly.
Doctors in Unite are organising an event on the day to commemorate the lives of the 2,129 health and social care workers (HSCWs) who have died as a result of the pandemic, along with thousands of other essential workers. HSCWs have paid a very heavy price, and black or Asian colleagues have once again been disproportionately affected.
The tragedy of the loss of so many HSCWs is compounded by the fact that many of these deaths have been unnecessary. We will never know how many, but from the start of the pandemic HSCWs have not been properly protected, and this continues to this day. In the beginning there was no PPE for them due to government chaos and incompetence, and staff were forced to use bin liners as PPE.
And within a few months we learned what is probably the most important fact of all about the pandemic: the SARS-CoV-2 virus is airborne and people get infected by breathing it in. Airborne infections need special protective equipment, called respiratory protective equipment (“RPE”) to stop the virus from being breathed in, and the air needs to be cleaned of virus using ventilation systems and air filters.
Still to this day however the great majority of HSCWs are not provided with RPE, and there has been almost no effort to provide clean air in our hospitals and care homes. Despite airborne spread being widely acknowledged elsewhere, in our schools, public buildings, and a Health Department public education program to open our windows for better ventilation, infection control doctors say that airborne transmission does not happen in hospitals and care homes. This defies logic, and indeed the laws of physics, yet they persist in this and refuse to issue RPE to all HSCWs. They will not change official policy to recognise airborne transmission occurs everywhere, or to provide airborne protections, despite widespread opposition from medical and nursing organisations.
Not surprisingly tens of thousands of HSCWs continue to be infected; many are off sick with Covid and at least 150,000 others have developed Long Covid. And for patients it has been a disaster, with very high rates of patients being infected in hospitals and care homes. At least 11,600 patients have died from Covid they caught in hospital, according to the Telegraph. These figures are from 2021, and are certain to be higher now.
This situation is intolerable, health and social care workers are not expendable. We will not rest until our colleagues get the respect they deserve, and the protections they need to safely carry out their jobs which are so crucial for all of us.
Please join us on Thursday at the National Covid Memorial Wall if you are in London, to remember those who have given their lives while working to keep us all safe. Let us also send a strong message to the government and NHS bosses: enough is enough. Protect our health and social care workers now!
- Dr Jonathan Fluxman is a Retired GP and a member of Doctors in Unite. You can follow Doctors in Unite on twitter here.
- Join the International Workers Memorial Day commemoration this Thursday, 28th April, to stand in solidarity with Doctors in Unite and remember the dead while renewing our commitment to fight for the living!
- With a great line up of speakers and campaigners including: Dr Jackie Applebee, Doctors in Unite; Dave Carr, Unite rep and ICU Nurse; Shelly Asquith, TUC National H&S Officer; Colenzo Jarett-Thorpe, Unite National officer for health; Helen O’Connor, GMB, ex nurse and NHS union organiser; Dr Meenal Viz, campaigning NHS doctor; Dr Anna Livingstone, Barts Unite; Sarah Byrne, teacher NEU; Adam Rogalewski, European Public Service Union.