Government faces new legal challenge over ‘recurrent and systemic’ PPE failures

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A legal challenge demanding an immediate inquiry into the government failure to provide adequate personal protective equipment (PPE) to frontline staff has been issued by health professionals.

They say that action must be taken quickly so that “lessons can be learnt” from the coronavirus (Covid-19) crisis to help shape future responses, should the UK be hit by further waves of the virus.

A pre-action letter sent by the Doctor’s Association UK (DA) and the Good Law Project (GLP), who are bringing the challenge, details a list of “recurrent and systemic” failures in PPE procurement and supply.

The list includes the lack of gowns, visors or body bags in the government’s PPE stockpile in February, as well as complaints about the widely reported shipment of 400,000 gowns sourced from Turkey, many of which were deemed unfit for use.

“It is a tragedy that nearly 200 healthcare workers in the UK have died due to Covid-19,” said a spokesperson for the DA.

“There has been recurrent and systemic failure of the PPE supply chain, leaving staff in some instances with makeshift or no PPE.

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Coronavirus – Thurs Apr 23, 2020
An RAF C17 plane at Brize Norton in Oxfordshire, unloading PPE after arriving from Turkey (Steve Parsons/PA)

“Every healthcare worker death from Covid-19 must be investigated, the issue of PPE has to be considered as part of that.

“Until we establish all the factors involved we feel that inquests must be opened.

“With the Good Law Project, we are seeking a legal remedy by compelling the secretary of state for Health and Social Care to discharge his statutory duty to promptly and properly order an investigation of healthcare worker deaths.”

The Department of Health (DHSC) has a legal obligation to order an independent investigation into issues surrounding the procurement and distribution of PPE.

The DA and GLP say that the case has been brought due to the DHSC’s failure to begin such an investigation to date.

Jolyon Maugham, director of the Good Law Project, said: “We support the government’s efforts to get protective equipment to those risking their lives to protect the sick and vulnerable.

“But 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.”

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