Government failed health staff in pandemic - BMA

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A medical worker wearing PPE at King's College Hospital, LondonImage source, PA Media

The UK government failed in its duty of care to protect doctors and the wider healthcare workforce at the start of the pandemic, a doctors' union says.

The British Medical Association review said staff were desperately let down by the lack of protective equipment.

And they were still suffering the physical and mental health impacts, having seen levels of illness and death "they were never trained for".

The government said lessons would be learned but defended its record on PPE.

The BMA criticisms, based on feedback and testimonies from the union's members, will form part of its submission to the official public inquiry into the pandemic.

Although healthcare is a devolved political issue, the UK government took on the role of making deals with PPE suppliers in order to supply equipment that was distributed across all four nations of the UK.

Doctors told the BMA that, during the early months of the pandemic, there were times they had to buy or make their own masks.

And some reported being left with long-term health problems from Covid infections.

'My life as I knew it ended'

One junior medic, in Scotland, said they remained bedbound, after being infected in March 2020.

"My life as I knew it had ended," the medic said.

Many doctors said they had felt pressured to work in hazardous situations, with inadequate risk assessments.

The review also highlighted how doctors with an ethnic minority background had been more likely to die with Covid, in the early stages of the pandemic, than their white peers.

Overall, Office for National Statistics data shows that, throughout 2020, doctors were no more likely than the general working-age population to die with Covid.

But nurses and care workers were at higher risk - although, it is unclear how much that was related to exposure at work rather than other factors.

The BMA, which has been critical of the government's response to the pandemic throughout, said the UK should have been better prepared and the problems had been made worse by the "savage" cuts to the public-health budget in the years before.

Image source, Getty Images

BMA leader Dr Chaand Nagpaul said: "A moral duty of government is to protect its own healthcare workers from harm in the course of duty as they serve and protect the nation's health.

"Yet, in reality, doctors were desperately let down by the UK government's failure to adequately prepare."

A government spokeswoman said enough PPE had been bought, in a "very competitive global market", to keep staff safe and mental health hubs had been set up to help them cope with trauma.

But she added: "We are committed to learning lessons from the Covid pandemic and will respond openly and transparently to the Inquiry and fully consider all recommendations made."