For NHS senior management to protect workers from COVID-19 as a priority

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We are a group of doctors and psychologists who are deeply concerned with the lack of protection for NHS workers’ health and lives, including: nurses, doctors, admin staff, psychologists, cleaners, social workers, porters, occupational therapists, physiotherapists and more.

Some of the ways in which we have been let down include:

- An inexcusable lack of adequate protective clothing for frontline workers in close contact with those who have tested positive or have symptoms suggestive of COVID-19. This puts at risk not only the lives of staff, but also the the lives of their loved ones and those of extremely vulnerable patients. In continuing in this way we are perpetuating death and illness rather than preventing it.

- Patchy, inconsistent, slow and inadequate protection for staff with underlying health conditions who have been forced to risk sacrificing their lives without their consent by travelling to work on tubes and trains and being in close proximity with patients with no or little protection.

- Slow, vague and uncoordinated responses to the crisis which privilege Boris Johnson’s governmental position whilst ignoring the guidance of international medical experts, despite the fact that Boris Johnson has no training in medicine or public health. This virus does not respect borders or party politics and is a medical crisis rather than a political one.

- Unwise guidance until far too late (Monday 16th) that staff who had been in close proximity to loved ones with symptoms should continue working with vulnerable patients in the absence of testing and despite the fact that the virus can have a 14 day contagious but asymptomatic incubation period.

Whilst we welcome appreciation for the risks we take, we are human beings with rich lives, families and futures and we are not expendable; there is no reason for us to be exposed to risk without adequate protection. Doctors exposed to high viral loads are at increased risk of death and need the highest quality protection. Social workers, GPs and psychologists can conduct most sessions remotely. We are of course absolutely dedicated to helping vulnerable patients, now more than ever, but not at the expense of our own lives and the lives of others when these hazards are preventable. Due to immense power imbalances between most workers and senior NHS staff, the interpersonal costs of speaking up, deviating from guidance or refusing to comply include being positioned as selfish, insubordinate, melodramatic or not dedicated to our patients. 

NHS senior management, please implement the following actions without delay to protect NHS staff and the general public:

- Provide full, adequate and in-date protective clothing and equipment for all frontline workers in contact with patients who have tested positive with COVID-19.

- Provide increased protective clothing and equipment to those workers who are likely to be at risk of contact with infectious patients, such as A&E workers.

- Mandate that all NHS staff with chronic health conditions which render them more vulnerable to COVID-19 can work from home or take leave, effective immediately, on the basis of self-certification. Delaying this further through bloated bureaucratic assessments forces vulnerable staff to continue working in an unsafe environment without protection from death under the threat of losing their jobs.

- Mandate that managers must give a clear rationale as to why face to face work is necessary for non-frontline professionals where virtual contact could be established.

- Implement testing for all NHS staff with symptoms suggestive of COVID-19 as a priority.

- Where possible, prioritise guidance issued by international medical, scientific and public health experts, such as the World Health Organisation, and guidance derived from evidence based practice and practice based evidence. 

As NHS staff, many of us feel we feel we are being recklessly sacrificed and we know many others such as teachers, supermarket workers and delivery drivers feel the same. Please support us to gain the attention of senior NHS leaders because what is happening is wrong and it needs to change urgently.