Workers' Weekly On-Line
Volume 50 Number 22, June 13, 2020 ARCHIVE HOME JBCENTRE SUBSCRIBE

Workers' Forum

The Contempt for the Lives of Health and Care Workers at Work

In meetings of trade unions, health associations and the many health campaigns in every part of the country, outrage continues to be expressed against the government and all the state authorities concerning the health and safety of health workers in hospitals, care homes and in the community. The present government guidelines on personal protective equipment (PPE) and testing have always been far inferior to those guidelines advocated by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and are putting many lives at risk among those who are themselves fighting to save lives. In particular, they have been limiting the full protection of staff to a very narrow range of procedures, such as aerosol generation which does not include any other circumstances of nursing Covid-19 patients, when, for example, most argue that patients who are coughing generate aerosol in a ward, room, or vicinity of treatment. The recommendation of WHO for full protection for health and care workers looking after Covid-19 patients is ignored, or adapted to suit less protection. Even these weak guidelines have been changed by hospital directors, or care home companies, and downgraded when the incoherent supply of PPE and burden of the expense of the private suppliers is the real unstated reason.

In these circumstances, not only have staff had to try and make their own arrangements and guidelines for PPE but they have also had to fight tooth and nail to get the the PPE they need, often putting themselves at serious risk to protect their patients. The issue rightly comes up as to why those in authority making these decisions do not follow these national "guidelines". Concerned people and health workers themselves have good reason to describe this cavalier attitude as criminal. Under these circumstances the necessity is for all to take a stand, refusing to put staff and patients at risk, to provide for the needs of the health workers and the patients they serve, and make this a turning point in favour of the rights and interests of all.

The criminality of the ruling elite and the need for everyone to resist these attacks on health workers can be further illustrated by what is happening, with the more than 200 health and care workers who have died, and with even more who have been seriously ill from Covid-19. In April, Health Secretary Matt Hancock appeared before the Health and Social Care Committee [1]. When asked if these deaths of health workers were being referred to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), he replied, ignoring health and safety law, saying, "No, the investigations are being done by the NHS and by the employers because they are the ones to understand the circumstances." He said that he was "not sure that the HSE is the right body to do that because we have bodies inside the NHS who investigate safety issues and we are doing it through hospitals and in consultation with the employers, but we need to make sure that they are done properly". Once again, under the direction of government "guidelines", even legal requirements on health and safety on investigating the deaths of health workers are being set aside by advocating that health and care home employers investigate these deaths of their own employees without even referring them to the HSE.

Protest at Bart's Hospital, London
This is no accident, but comes as part of a cover up during the whole course of the coronavirus pandemic, when government and Public Health England have issued "guidelines" that set aside the safety of health workers and patients alike. As a result of this "guidance" on the HSE from the Secretary of Sate for Health that only hospitals and employers should investigate the deaths of their own employees who have contracted Covid-19, let alone staff who have been exposed to it, reports show that, for example, all the hospitals in the northern region are refusing to refer these cases to the HSE under the Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations (RIDDOR). This is also happening with many local authorities as well. The legal obligation on Covid-19 could not be more explicit: "a person at work (a worker) has been diagnosed as having Covid-19 attributed to an occupational exposure to coronavirus. This must be reported as a case of disease." [2]. The answer and excuse staff and trade unions are getting is that "there is no guarantee if you have contracted Covid-19 that you have contracted it at the hospital". The Human Resource Departments, advised by the employers' own solicitors, have been primed to claim that the exposure is not attributable to the exposure at work unless the victim can prove it! This, when healthcare workers are five or six times more likely to be infected than the general public [3]. The claim of the Secretary of State for Health that the investigations are being done by the NHS and Care home employers "because they are the ones to understand the circumstances...but we need to make sure that they are done properly", is not only a fraud but a farce. It exposes the criminal level of the investigation into Covid-19 deaths of staff by these employers who rule out all referrals to the HSE by claiming that all these people who have suffered, or died might have caught the disease elsewhere. These health and care workers have had an "occupational exposure" and the causes and remedies that could save lives in the future are being criminally disregarded.

All this shows the real contempt for the lives of health and care workers at work. They are not guaranteed the best protection and their illnesses and their circumstances are not recorded. This is also a huge worry for health and social care workers who have suffered Covid-19, because, unless these illnesses are properly recorded at the time of infection, then down the line in the future any related damage from Covid-19, not presently understood, will not be easily traced as an occupational disease. All staff affected by Covid-19 should have the illness recorded, and their circumstances, as a health and safety Datex regardless of the seriousness of their symptoms. This is not happening.

The ruling elite hope in vain that their nefarious deeds will not be exposed over their handling of the Covid-19 pandemic. The fight over full protection for health and care workers shows that the working class and people are not letting this pass. This very fight of the doctors and all health workers over testing and PPE is inspiring the working class to take the initiative themselves in fighting the virus and for an outcome in their favour.


[1] Health and Social Care Committee, April 17, 2020

[2] RIDDOR reporting of COVID-19
RIDDOR puts duties on employers, the self-employed and people in control of work premises (the Responsible Person) to report certain serious workplace accidents, occupational diseases and specified dangerous occurrences (near misses).
The reporting requirements relating to cases of, or deaths from, COVID-19 under RIDDOR apply only to occupational exposure, that is, as a result of a person's work.

What to report
You should only make a report under RIDDOR when one of the following circumstances applies:

[3] Coronavirus doctor's diary: 'People think it's over, but it's not'
Dr John Wright of Bradford Royal Infirmary


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