Hospital workers angry at PPE delays as death toll tops 16,000

Anger over lack of supplies of personal protective equipment (PPE) for NHS workers is growing as a desperately needed consignment of 400,000 gowns was delayed.

The Government has been under increasing pressure to ensure the safety of frontline health staff and one leading NHS figure revealed his "bitter experience" of the lack of basic items such as gowns in recent weeks.

The number of hospital deaths of people who tested positive for Covid-19 passed 16,000, with a further 596 announced on Sunday.

The figure does not include those who died in care homes.

The Government scheme for workers who have been furloughed – given a temporary leave of absence – opened today and Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced a £1.25 billion package to aid companies in the innovation sector.

And Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said there was no set date for pupils to go back to schools in England, as he ruled out opening them over the summer holidays.

However, worries over the lack of PPE remained a dominant issue, as a much-anticipated shipment of 84 tonnes, including 400,000 gowns, failed to arrive from Turkey as scheduled.

Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak. Credit: PA

Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury Bridget Phillipson said it is a "deeply worrying" situation.

She said: "It's deeply worrying that still too many of our frontline workers in the NHS and in social care are telling us that they don't have access to the right kind of protective equipment."

"They shouldn't have to put themselves in harms way to look after the public," she added.

Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS Providers, spoke about the widely reported delayed shipment of gowns expected from Turkey.

He told BBC Breakfast: "It's an illustration of the dangers of focusing on a particular consignment.

"We know from bitter experience over the last few weeks that actually we can only guarantee that gowns are going to reach the front line when they actually landed on UK soil, the boxes have actually been opened and checked and they have then been safety tested."

He added that while the 400,000 gowns would be welcome, NHS staff were getting through approximately 150,000 gowns a day.

"What we really need to get to is from the current rather hand-to-mouth approach to where sustainable supplies consistently and reliably arrive," he added.

Palliative care doctor Rachel Clarke told ITV's Good Morning Britain programme "what's happening in the community is so much worse than what’s happening in the hospitals".

She added: "The gowns are rightly being preserved for the people who are most at risk, so those are the people in intensive care more than anything because they are exposed to more of the virus particles than anyone else.

"But all the other frontline workers - and that's not just the NHS of course, there are 1.5 million care workers who from the outset seem to have been completely forgotten by this government - they should be wearing gowns, but instead we wear skimpy little plastic aprons. So they don't cover your arms and your neck and the top of your chest they're not covered either.

"That means you're at an increased risk of catching coronavirus and - crucially - at increased risk of spreading it to your patients.

"We are using a pinny essentially - a skimpy, plastic pinny. And even now, as the government focuses on the problem of gowns, we can't even get the pinnies everywhere they need to be in the country."

Dr Chaand Nagpaul, chairman of the British Medical Association, said: “We made it clear weeks ago that we need to do something about the likelihood of a lack of protective equipment.”

Claudia Paoloni, president of the doctors’ union HCSA, said: said: “Our NHS workers are going above and beyond on a daily basis to heal.

"They should expect at the very least adequate protection to keep them fit and well to engage in this fight.

“Yet instead they are being asked to sacrifice themselves due to the failings of others.”

Gavin Williamson said there has been an enormous effort. Credit: PA

Mr Williamson told the daily Downing Street press conference: “What we’ve seen over the last few months is an enormous effort, it’s a national effort, but it’s also an international effort to secure PPE from right around the globe, but we’ve seen so many brilliant British businesses repurpose themselves in order to be able to provide it.”

Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden said of the equipment due to arrive from Turkey: "We hope to get that as soon as possible".

He pointed out that is "just one of a number of measures" and said 25 million gowns are expected from China this week.

Meanwhile, the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme went into operation on Monday with businesses able to claim towards staff wages.

The launch of the scheme comes as the government was warned of the economic cost for many companies of any delay in its implementation.

Under the initiative, employers can go online to claim cash grants worth up to 80 per cent of wages, capped at £2,500 a month per worker.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak also launched a £1.25 billion package to aid firms in the innovation sector, including a £500 million investment fund for high-growth companies hit by the crisis.

Small and medium-sized firms specialising in research and development will be eligible for access to £750 million of grants and loans.

Paramedics and staff at the Royal Liverpool University Hospital wearing various items of PPE. Credit: PA

Echoing the concerns of some senior Tories and the opposition, Labour former prime minister Tony Blair said a clear strategy is needed to end the lockdown.

As controversy raged about Boris Johnson’s stance in the lead-up to the pandemic, Mr Blair said Britain had been "too slow" in trying to suppress the outbreak of disease compared to other countries.

The ex-PM said the UK needed to be "ahead of the curve" as soon as medical and scientific conditions allowed it to emerge from the lockdown into a "new normal".

What has the Government said?

Downing Street hit back at newspaper reports that Mr Johnson and his administration dragged their feet in the run-up to the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic.

Number 10 accused the Sunday Times of "falsehoods" and "errors" after the newspaper published a piece in which a Whitehall source claimed the government "missed the boat on testing and PPE".

A Government spokesman said: "This article contains a series of falsehoods and errors and actively misrepresents the enormous amount of work which was going on in government at the earliest stages of the coronavirus outbreak.

"This is an unprecedented global pandemic and we have taken the right steps at the right time to combat it, guided at all times by the best scientific advice.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock arrived at Number 10 on Monday morning. Credit: PA

"The Government has been working day and night to battle against coronavirus, delivering a strategy designed at all times to protect our NHS and save lives.

"Our response has ensured that the NHS has been given all the support it needs to ensure everyone requiring treatment has received it, as well as providing protection to businesses and reassurance to workers.

"The Prime Minister has been at the helm of the response to this, providing leadership during this hugely challenging period for the whole nation."

Jacob Rees-Mogg has said the lockdown could be lifted in the Prime Minister’s absence. Credit: PA

Meanwhile, Leader of the Commons Jacob Rees-Mogg insisted decisions on issues, such as lifting the lockdown, could be made without the PM.

He told BBC Radio 4's The Westminster Hour: "We have Cabinet government not presidential government.

"The Prime Minister chairs meetings and decisions come from those meetings.

"But when he's away there's somebody else chairing the meetings and that’s the First Secretary.

"And the Prime Minister very wisely set this up very early before he went into hospital so everyone knew how decisions would continue to be made and decision making is carrying on even with the Prime Minister out of action recovering at Chequers.

"So decision making continues and proper decision making is continuing, it’s not dependent on the Prime Minister."