ITV News Health Editor Emily Morgan shares the first damning testimonies of front life staff during the start of the pandemic
The Covid inquiry, yet to get underway, is likely to be the biggest public inquiry in terms of disclosure, ever. It is also likely to take several years to complete. Millions of documents will be combed through and testimonies listened to in order to establish the country’s preparedness and response to the coronavirus pandemic.
It's why evidence, put to the inquiry, is so important. It helps paint a picture of what happened and how it impacted on all those involved.
ITV News can now reveal some of the testimony that will be given to the inquiry.
ITV News Health Editor Emily Morgan reports on the government's response to the accusations
The British Medical Association (BMA) has spent months collating thousands of accounts from doctors and healthcare workers who lived and worked through the pandemic.
It doesn't make very positive reading and the review into the government's handling of the pandemic concludes that it failed in its duty of care to protect doctors from avoidable harm and suffering.
Doctors speak honestly about the blatant shortages of PPE at the beginning of the first wave.
They also speak about how inadequate the risk assessments were for hospital staff who were Black, Asian or from an ethnic minority background and how, had they been undertaken more urgently, fewer doctors would have died. The list of alleged failings on the government's part are huge.
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Some of the main findings that will be submitted to the inquiry are:
Many medics think "healthcare workers died due to insufficient PPE".
They feel they were "systematically exposed to Covid without being able to properly mitigate the risk".
The chronic lack of staffing is said to have "left the medical profession too often exposed, suggesting not all deaths were inevitable".
Some believe had the NHS "gone into the pandemic with more staff, it's possible deaths in the profession may have been lower."
Doctors surveyed found nearly half of the respondents thought risk assessments were either "mostly or completely ineffective".
One recalls the risk assessment being "just an arbitrary piece of paper to be filled in to make people feel they were doing something when in all honesty ethnic minorities were dying more".
Doctors "have been left exhausted, demoralised and unwell".
The chair of council at the BMA Dr Chaand Nagpaul’s response is terse.
"These reports add clear evidence of why the UK government’s response to Covid-19 has been described as 'one of the most important public health failures the United Kingdom has ever experienced'.
"The evidence presented in our reports also demonstrates, unequivocally, that the UK government failed in its duty of care to the medical profession".
There is so much evidence and data that paints such a bad picture it’s easy to see how the narrative in the run up to the inquiry will develop.
'It's really important not to overlook just how harrowing and gruelling Covid was', says BMA Chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul
I spoke to a number of consultants who worked on Covid wards and they all talked of fear and anger over a lack of PPE. They even felt like guidance on what to wear was changed in accordance with what was available at the time.
I asked all of them if they felt the government was culpable for avoidable deaths and all, bar one, either said 'yes' or that it 'has a lot to answer for'.
Dr Denise Langhor was convinced that had the government provided proper PPE there would have been fewer deaths in healthcare.
The problem is such alleged failings have consequences which still reverberate across the NHS today. Hundreds of staff members are off sick with stress, burnout, depression or other mental health issues.
Staff shortages during the pandemic meant too many staff were being asked to do too many hours, spend too much time in Covid wards and deal with trauma - the like of which they have never had to face.
The lack of proper protection, doctors say, also led to more of them contracting Covid and suffering from the long-term effects. Many workers are still off work with long Covid or are having to reduce their hours because of sickness.
Dr Eleanor Checkley, an intensive care consultant, became so ill with depression after the first wave she had to take three months off work. She told me she was having regular suicidal thoughts and felt detached from everyone around her - family, friends and colleagues.
'We were seeing an awful lot of suffering'
The idea that the pandemic left one of our brightest minds in medicine suicidal is an horrific reality the government has to face.
Dr Checkley says she is not alone and knows of two other ICU consultants who now can’t work in intensive care because of the mental health problems they have endured.
This is, of course just one side of the story.
The government robustly defends its handling of the pandemic, particularly the procurement of PPE. It argues it acted quickly in a very competitive global market to secure equipment.
The government also denies that guidance on PPE was rewritten to suit what was available at the time. Guidance is, it says, independent of procurement and delivery of PPE. It goes on to point out that £45 million over the next year is being invested in 40 staff mental health and wellbeing hubs across the NHS and all medics have access to free mental health services.
On risk assessments, it says it asked NHS Trusts to undertake them and now 99% of staff who are Black, Asian, or from an ethnic minority background have had them.
The government’s response to this report is good insight into how the inquiry will be conducted. The evidence will be picked over by lawyers and judgements and recommendations made.
What both the BMA and the government have in common is that whatever recommendations are made, they agree they should be acted on and lessons learned not just after the inquiry but now.
If these reports from the BMA today teach us anything, it’s that the government really does have a lot to answer.
Who to contact if you or someone you know needs help
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Rethink Mental Illness offer practical advice and information for anyone affected by mental health problems on a wide range of topics including treatment, support and care. Phone 0300 5000 927 (Mon-Fri 9.30am-4pm) or visit rethink.org
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