Getting protected

Needing protection to speak up

Healthcare workers deserve world-class protection, to work – and to speak up.

Covid-19 has ruthlessly exposed the failure of protections for healthcare workers. When what we wear isn’t safe, we’ve found it’s not even safe to report that. Faced with inaction and threats, some have taken their concerns to the press, anonymously. Even then, their accounts have been denounced, including by senior politicians, who seem more focussed on preserving reputation than life.

Frontline workers are no fools. In the UK, we’ve seen the way PPE (Personal Protection Equipment) has been provided to colleagues in Germany and South Korea. We’ve seen the death notices of colleagues in Italy, Spain and here. We’ve heard the shifting narratives from Government and its various arms-length organisations. We were told that the protective equipment was available and adequate. Repeatedly and from many quarters, we’ve seen that wasn’t true. We’ve been managed, not protected.

Yet we’ve also seen that speaking up about these issues, gets you denounced, fired, even arrested. If healthcare workers, even in such large numbers, can’t speak up for their own safety, how on earth can individual doctors ever hope to speak up on behalf of patients?

Our UK regulators cost half a billion pounds a year, but the Paterson inquiry concludes they’re unable to protect the public against recurrence. The same regulators instruct us to speak up for safety, knowing our legal “protection” is every bit as flimsy as the claims about adequate PPE. They and the unions who’ve promoted such weak and inadequate legal “protection” should hang their heads.

Just in case there’s any lingering doubt – this really matters.

Dr Li Wenliang, the doctor who blew the whistle on China’s response to Covid-19 was promptly denounced and later died. Delays in responding to his concerns may have cost thousands of extra lives. In the UK, Dr Chris Day blew the whistle on the inadequacies of ICU provision in London. An independent report, and the Covid crisis have proven him right, but the authorities have spent hundreds of thousands on lawyers fighting him, rather than fixing their mess.

My own whistleblowing case has proved that the Court of Appeal (CoA) will allow hospital bosses to lie repeatedly about safety concerns, even to Parliamentary Committees, in order to protect their reputation. Yet the CoA won’t allow you protection for escalating to the media, safety concerns it knows are important but uninvestigated.

That’s why, when the public inquiry into Covid-19 happens, there has to be a proper public consultation on new legislation to protect staff who report concerns. We need world-leading PPE in two forms; protective gear to keep ourselves safe, while serving others; protective legislation to keep ourselves safe, when reporting concerns.

Politicians, unions and judges have been found out by Covid-19. The sheer scale makes it harder to hide how doctors have been gamed and managed. For now, we fight the pandemic, but later, we’ll demand protection that’s real.



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