NHS staff graffiti, Shoreditch. NHS staff graffiti, Shoreditch. Photo: Flickr - Duncan c / cropped from original / licensed under CC 2.0, links at the bottom of article

It’s an outrage that health workers are still not getting the PPE they need to keep themselves safe, writes Richard Allday

The East Anglian Daily Times carried a worrying report on the 29th on the pressure on local health services as a result of Covid. The report included statements from the CEO of the E. Suffolk and N. Essex NHS Foundation Trust (ESNEFT), which were (presumably) intended to reassure readers that everything is under control.

The reality is rather different: the ICUs at both hospitals are full; there are 150 Covid patients in the Colchester District General Hospital, and 150 in Ipswich, and according to Nick Hulme, the Trust CEO, Covid cases in the community are now at a level “we haven’t really seen before”.

On top of this, “Staff sickness is at a higher level than we would normally expect at this time of year”. Nevertheless, he went on to ‘reassure’ readers that doctors and patients have “better stocks of PPE” than at the last peak.

We have barely entered the winter, and levels of Covid are approaching or exceeding the levels of last spring – i.e. the base level of the infective pool in the community is already higher than we struggled to cope with in the first wave.

It was always expected that there would be a resurgence of the virus in the winter months – but it was assumed that it would build on a low level of community infection because our ‘world-beating’ test-track-and-trace system would drive down base infection levels; instead of which, the appalling (criminal?) incompetence of this government has utterly failed to inhibit infection.

The spineless refusal of senior administrators in the health service to confront government failings has left frontline staff under-equipped, and resources over-stretched; their moral cowardice has put their employees, patients and the public at completely unnecessary risk – but they are still drawing their £100,000 salaries so that’s alright!

The admission that “staff sickness is at a higher level than we would … expect at this time of year” as if this is entirely unconnected to the pandemic is either naïve to the point of idiocy, or deliberate deceit. If the open letter from the health workers around the Suffolk Pay Justice Hub (SPJH) is correct, then many of the health workers suffering from Covid have likely been infected because of their employers’ failure to provide adequate protection.

It’s alright for Hulme to claim that ‘his’ hospitals have better stocks of PPE than last year. The problem is two-fold: first, the shortage of PPE last spring was so acute that he could have more now than then, and it could still not be enough! Second, it begs the question as to whether the PPE in stock is appropriate or effective. The SPJH letter raises serious questions about this.

What is now crystal clear is that the current apology for a government, and those senior (and very well paid) consultants and senior administrators who have colluded in this health disaster, are not fit for purpose. I don’t really care any longer whether the incompetence is the result of stupidity, cowardice, ambition or simple greed. I just want them out.

I’m going to the funeral of a long-time friend on January 12, a recently retired officer of Unite, the union. Of course, I will control my grief, for the sake of his widow, his family, and the few other friends who will be granted the privilege of attending the funeral. Far harder will be the struggle to contain the utter rage I feel at the untimely death of a man who had devoted most of his adult life to fighting injustice and was ultimately condemned to death by the uncaring, inhuman, inheritors of privilege and their apologists, who put ‘economic prosperity’ (read ‘private wealth’) ahead of public health.

The health workers of the SPJH, and their fellow workers in the health service, risk their health to provide care to our sick. At the very least, they are entitled to trust that they will receive the best protection available whilst they do their job. Currently, I do not see that trust is justified. If you live in the Suffolk area, contact them to show your support. If you live outside Suffolk, there will be similar campaigns in your area. Do likewise.

And if you share my anger, and you are not already a member of Counterfire, get in touch with your local branch. Unfocused rage gets very little results, we need to focus it. At the very least, we need to get the trade union movement committed to a ‘Zero Covid’ strategy, and to adopt a way more aggressive approach to it than heretofore.

Before you go

Counterfire is growing faster than ever before

We need to raise £20,000 as we are having to expand operations. We are moving to a bigger, better central office, upping our print run and distribution, buying a new printer, new computers and employing more staff.

Please give generously.

Richard Allday

Richard Allday is a member of Unite the Union’s National Executive, a branch secretary and shop steward in road haulage.  A member of Counterfire, his comrades know him better as 'the angry trucker'.