Coronavirus crisis: doctors take legal action to force inquiry into PPE shortage

Thousands of doctors have begun legal action demanding the government launch a public inquiry to investigate the failure to provide NHS and care staff with adequate personal protective equipment (PPE).

Andrew Gregory, Nicholas Hellen and Sian Griffiths 

The legal challenge is being brought by the Doctors’ Association UK (DAUK), which represents more than 29,000 medics working on the front line, and the Good Law Project. Nearly 200 NHS and care workers have died after becoming infected with the coronavirus.

In a pre-action legal letter to the Department of Health and Social Care, the doctors say they support the government’s efforts to mitigate the crisis caused by the pandemic but are “deeply concerned” about the “failure to procure and supply adequate PPE”.

DAUK said the deaths of healthcare workers were a “tragedy. We had a pandemic stockpile of PPE lacking essential items like full gowns and eye protection; other equipment was out of date. There has been recurrent and systemic failure of the PPE supply chain, leaving staff in some instances with makeshift or no PPE.”

The barrister Jolyon Maugham, of the Good Law Project, which aims to use the law to improve society, said: “We must never be forced to ask NHS and care home workers to risk their lives again. We must learn the lessons from recent history. And we must learn them quickly, before the second and third waves of the pandemic.”

A separate group of more than 1,000 doctors has written to The Sunday Times urging Mark Lucraft QC, the chief coroner for England and Wales, to ensure PPE be considered “in every single inquest of a healthcare worker who has died from suspected or confirmed Covid-19”.

Dr Julia Patterson, founder of Everydoctor, a support group, said as well as helping the loved ones of those who have died, such an approach would provide a “broader picture” of decision-making in the crisis. She said seeing the death toll continue to “rise and rise” was “horrifying.”

“Some have already lost loved ones and colleagues in this crisis and indeed have had to care for their dying colleagues and then return to work the next day still wearing insufficient PPE.”

She said health workers with lower professional status were treated even worse. “There is a hierarchy of access to PPE in that if you are a senior doctor or you work in an intensive care unit, you are likely to have access to the correct PPE but the further away you get from that, the less likely you’re going to have access to PPE.”

The health department said it could not comment on possible legal action.

  • Almost 16 million Tiger Eye goggles have been withdrawn from the NHS because they do not meet safety standards. They were bought in 2009 as part of the national stockpile.


Warning issued over local government finances


Owl noted that Ben Ingham had very little to say compared to the Leaders or Chief Executives of the other District Councils.

Owl’s question then: has he run out of steam? Still seems to apply – he really doesn’t say very much in this interview.

Don’t the residents have a right to know more given that democratic oversight and scrutiny of EDDC has effectively been suspended due to the pandemic. 

Daniel Clark

A warning over the state of local government finances has been issued – with some councils in Devon predicting they could run out of money by the summer as a result of the coronavirus crisis.

A warning over the state of local government finances has been issued – with some councils in Devon predicting they could run out of money by the summer as a result of the coronavirus crisis.

Councils across the country have been at the forefront of the response to the coronavirus pandemic.

From setting up community wellbeing hubs to help the most vulnerable, to supporting businesses, they are on the front line.

But councils, having already had their funding slashed by central government over the last 10 years, are facing their own fight to survive coronavirus. Finances before the coronavirus crisis were already stretched and cash reserves were limited.

In recent years, councils have been encouraged to become businesses.

Income from car parking charges – a staple of keeping local government solvent – has dropped dramatically. Exeter City Council set its balanced budget based on receiving an average of £170,000 a week from car parking charges. Recently it took around £1,000.

Central government has pledged to help local government, but the first tranche of funding, £1.6 billion to councils, saw districts across Devon only get limited support, far short of replicating lost income and coronavirus expenditure.

Cllr Ben Ingham, leader of East Devon District Council, said: “This is a very difficult time for local authorities.

“The council has been affected by the consequences of Covid-19 through additional costs and, more significantly, the impact of a drop in income from fees and charges, which pays for the funding of services.

“Certainly, we need to monitor this situation very carefully and accept that an appropriate solution may take some time to evolve.

“It is already clear that we will need considerable additional financial support from central government as we move through the remainder of the year.

“So the announcement by Government of the provision of additional funding to support local authorities is welcome and we are hopeful that they have listened to our concerns and taken our needs into account. We look forward to learning how much we will receive.”

Central government has announced a further £1.6 billion of funding to meet additional pressures arising from the pandemic and help councils continue to deliver frontline services – funds which will be un-ringfenced – but has not yet confirmed the allocations.


No emergency work for crumbling Sidmouth cliffs – with focus on long-term scheme

Up-to date information on the EDDC position with regard to the recent Sidmouth cliff falls.

The online article linked below has some interesting photos showing a couple of cliff falls in progress, a red coloured sea and a detail of a cliff fall on East Beach.

East Devon Reporter 

No emergency action is planned to protect crumbling cliffs in Sidmouth – as council chiefs are focussed on a long-term scheme and its funding shortfall.

A number of landslides have sparked calls for temporary rock revetment to be placed at Pennington Point until the fate of a permanent project is finalised.

Councillor Stuart Hughes had even paved the way for contractors erecting a replacement Alma Bridge nearby to put the rock armouring in place.

But East Devon District Council (EDDC) – leading the Sidmouth Beach Management Plan (BMP) – says it is ‘not progressing’  any medium-term work.

The authority added that an emergency situation ‘does not currently exist’.

Cllr Hughes, who has been calling for emergency action, told “Whilst it may seem OK to some at present…we have only a very small window of opportunity before the autumn storms are upon us once again.

“The run of cliff falls we are experiencing at the moment is that the wet cliffs are now drying out and they then fall away.

“The Pennington Point/cove is particularly worrying as the sea, as I predicted, is now getting in behind the old bridge abutment and that, too, now is under threat.

“We can only hope that a case is pulled together within the next few weeks to address the temporary/emergency works that are required.

“Eastern town is now completely open to severe south-easterlies and we can only hope that we don’t experience one of those next winter.

“On top of Covid-19 and lockdown, it would be disastrous for our local economy here in Sidmouth.”

The preferred option of the Sidmouth BMP would see a new rock groyne placed on East Beach, shingle imported, and the height of the seafront splash wall increased.

However, around £1million still needs to be found to fund the scheme.

An EDDC spokesperson said: “Cliff falls are a natural and unpredictable occurrence along the East Devon coast.

“This is because the rock from which the cliffs are formed is soft and therefore prone to rock falls and landslides, which can happen at any time, although heavy rainfall can trigger incidences.

“The Sidmouth and East Beach Management Plan scheme aims to reduce the risk of flooding to Sidmouth by maintaining the standard of defences along Sidmouth beach, and to reduce the rate of erosion to the cliffs to the east of the town (and therefore the rate of exposure of the east side of Sidmouth to coastal conditions).

“It cannot, however, stop cliff falls. In fact, many of the recent cliff falls are beyond the area the BMP will protect, occurring further east on National Trust land.

“In terms of the medium-term works, this was a call for rock revetment to protect the area near Pennington [Point], where there are properties along Cliff Road.

“We are not progressing that at the moment as an emergency situation, as defined by the Environment Agency, does not currently exist.

“Our current priority is to focus on meeting the funding gap for the BMP so that we can deliver the scheme, which will protect the whole frontage of Sidmouth.”

Calls for action came after tonnes of rubble crashed onto East Beach in a dramatic cliff fall in March – one of several this year.

Susan Clarke captured a dramatic double landslide on camera on April 25.

Jutta Gorf photographed a red sea off the town on April 21.

An Environment Agency (EA) spokesperson said at the time: “During this time of year algae comes into the water, caused by sunlight.

“The algae escalates when it is calm weather and quite warm. It’s an algae that grows, when you see it sometimes it has different colours and can look red.

“It could be that, but it is more likely to be discolouration caused by cliffs


Health Secretary auctions his NUFC shirt for NHS scrubs cash

The minister, who holds overall financial control of the health service and oversight of all NHS delivery, auctions his NUFC shirt to raise money to support a voluntary sewing collaborative making non-surgical scrubs for NHS workers.

Is this a tacky way to salve his conscience? Shouldn’t he be sorting out the underlying problems?  Owl  

Hannah Graham 

Health Secretary Matt Hancock has auctioned his own Newcastle United shirt to help make scrubs for NHS workers.

On Friday, Radio DJ Chris Evans held an online auction to raise money for Scrubs Glorious Scrubs, a voluntary sewing collaborative making non-surgical scrubs for NHS workers.

Celebrities including Ant and Dec and Rod Stewart took part, donating personal items for fans to bid on. The auction, run by BIN-IN Auctions, which is helping charities with fundraising during Covid-19, raised almost £600,000 for the cause.

And Mr Hancock, Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, decided to join in, offering up his own much-loved piece of Newcastle United memorabilia.

As Health Secretary, Mr Hancock has been criticised over recent weeks for issues around the supply of protective equipment for NHS workers, and last month faced calls to resign after suggesting that doctors and nurses might be overusing vital protective equipment.

Now the minister, who holds overall financial control of the health service and oversight of all NHS delivery, has helped raise a total of £1,850 through the online sale of the shirt.

In the description of the lot, Mr Hancock called the shirt “my pride and joy”.

He said: “This shirt was gifted to me by Uncle Dave. It was because of him that I am now a lifelong supporter and fan of Newcastle United.

“Signed by the team. The top as seen hanging behind me on the bookshelf during many of my Skype interviews – I will sign it for you also if you like.”

It’s not known if the winning bidder took Mr Hancock up on his offer to add his own signature to those of the Newcastle players.


Lockdown exit: rival science advisers urge government to follow ‘local’ strategy

Boris Johnson must abandon “centralised” control of the pandemic amid warnings that localised outbreaks will result in multiple new peaks of the deadly coronavirus.

Didn’t these councillors get to this conclusion first? County Councillors Hilary Ackland (Exeter), Martin Shaw (Seaton and Colyton) and Claire Wright (Otter Valley) called for a regional approach to Covid-19 on the 16 April.

Caroline Wheeler, Deputy Political Editor 

The recommendation will be made by a panel of experts that has been assembled by Sir David King, the government’s former chief scientific adviser.

The committee, which is designed to act as an independent alternative to the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), will urge the government to refocus the UK’s entire approach to pandemic control onto local action plans.

The finding will be included in a report to be published by the committee on Tuesday after it heard evidence last week from scientists behind a mathematical model that shows Britain is at risk of multiple further waves of the virus, hitting specific towns, cities and regions of the UK.

“The government’s top-down approach has failed,” said a source close to the committee.

“The alternative modelling seen by the committee shows that the country is set to face a series of localised pandemics and multiple peaks of the virus that can effectively be tackled only by local health bodies rather than No 10.”

The committee’s report will warn that unless the government moves additional funding to local public health bodies and councils — which deliver much of social care for the elderly — it will continue to fail to control the epidemic and will pave the way for tens of thousands more deaths.

The panel will formally submit its recommendations to the health and social care select committee, thus heaping pressure on Johnson, who will unveil the government’s own lockdown exit strategy in a televised address today at 7pm.

Tomorrow King will chair a second meeting of the independent group to decide whether to expand the committee and consider work on an “alternative road map” for the UK’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

King, who was chief scientific adviser to two prime ministers, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown from 2000 to 2007, has previously accused ministers of responding too slowly to the coronavirus outbreak and wrongly allowing the Cheltenham festival and other big events to go ahead in mid-March.

He served under David Cameron and Theresa May as the UK’s climate envoy from 2013 to 2017.

The committee was convened following concerns about the independence of Sage after it was revealed that Dominic Cummings — a top aide to the prime minister — had attended the group’s meetings.

It also emerged that 16 of the 23 known members of the committee, which holds its meetings in secret, are employed by the government.