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 We had a pandemic stockpile of PPE lacking essential items like full gowns and eye protection; other equipment was out of date.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.