07:26, April 24 114 0 theguardian.com

2020-04-24 07:26:04
Doctor couple challenge UK government on PPE risks to BAME staff

Two doctors are launching a legal challenge over government guidance on personal protective equipment which they say exposes them to coronavirus infections.

Dr Meenal Viz and Dr Nishant Joshi, who are married and expecting a child, argue that the NHS recommendations breach international standards set by the World Health Organization (WHO) as well as domestic legislation on health and safety at work.

Last week, the NHS asked doctors and nurses to work without protective full-length gowns when treating Covid-19 patients, as hospitals came within hours of running out of supplies.

Dr Viz is a clinical fellow in medicine and Dr Joshi a GP trainee. Both are employed by the NHS and have been working with patients suffering from Covid-19.

There is mounting concern over the heightened vulnerability of black, Asian and minority ethnic people to Covid-19. The first 10 doctors in the UK named as having died from the virus were all BAME.

Viz and Joshi said as part of the challenge: “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.”

Basmah Sahib, a solicitor at the London law firm Bindmans, who is acting for the couple, has sent Public Health England and the Department of Health and Social Care a formal letter before action seeking a response by next Monday.

The challenge is against official guidance introduced on 17 April which permitted medical staff to wear flimsy plastic aprons with coveralls when full length gowns run out.

The challenge says that healthcare workers are being exposed to a greater risk of contracting Covid-19 and maintains that the guidance fails to address the heightened risks faced by BAME healthcare workers.

The letter also argues that the guidance is unclear, has resulted in inconsistent practices across NHS trusts and fails to make clear that healthcare workers have a right to refuse to work without adequate PPE.

Joshi and Viz added: “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. 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 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. All we ask for is accountability from decision makers, and that all evidence leading to these decisions should be published and transparent.

Sahib said: “The NHS is the UK’s biggest employer. Almost all of us have a friend or loved one who is putting their life at risk to care for Covid-19 patients.

“The least they deserve is honesty, clear guidance and proper support from the secretary of state to feel safe and protected at work. 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.”

The Department for Health has been asked for comment.

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