‘Silence is no longer an option’: NHS Wales workers fighting COVID-19 issue appeal to Welsh Government
50 healthcare workers in Wales have issued an letter to the Welsh Government calling for “urgent steps” to support frontline NHS staff and tackle the coronavirus outbreak.
Among their demands are mass testing and tracing of all NHS workers and their families, the requisition of all private healthcare and other healthcare facilities to treat those affected and the mass production of ventilators.
The workers describe a situation where frontline staff are being put at risk from contracting the virus due to a lack of routine testing and tracing of staff and patients, inadequate personal protection equipment (PPE) for frontline staff and severe pressures on staff capacity and resources in the face of the growing crisis.
They write that these issues, as well as a ‘dangerous’ shortage of intensive care beds and ventilators, are impacting their ability to control the spread of the virus.
They call for measures including routine testing of all new patients, an urgent recruitment and training strategy for new staff and a ban on non-essential hospital visits.
The two major unions TUC and Unison have backed the letter. It comes in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has so far claimed 144 lives in the UK, with the confirmed number of cases growing daily.
The letter has been published online at c19action.wales/ where healthcare workers from across Wales are invited to add their names to the list of signatories.
“An urgent appeal to the Welsh Government from NHS Wales workers
“We are healthcare workers currently battling against the coronavirus pandemic. This is an unprecedented human crisis which is placing a huge strain on the Welsh NHS and all frontline staff. We are prepared to give our all to save lives, but at the moment, the UK Government is doing nowhere near enough to prevent the spread of the virus nor manage the pressure on the NHS.
“Frontline workers are not currently being systematically tested for the virus, meaning we have no way of knowing who to isolate in order to stop it spreading, including within hospitals. The lack of testing runs contrary to World Health Organisation guidelines and is a fundamental obstacle if we want to contain the virus and ensure the highest possible provision for patients and staff.
“We welcome the announcement by the Welsh Government to roll out the testing of healthcare professionals. However, this is just the first step that now needs to be rapidly implemented and then massively expanded upon: we cannot afford any complacency, and our fight against this virus must be relentless.
“In addition, we are not currently being provided with proper personal protective equipment (PPE) to stop us being infected while we are working. The more doctors that get sick and have to isolate, the longer it is going to take to control the spread of this virus.
“We call on the Welsh Government to take the initiative and immediately implement the following urgent steps to support frontline workers in the NHS and beyond:
- Institute mass testing and tracing of all NHS workers and their families, as well as staff such as care workers working in other frontline services with vulnerable groups.
- Urgently supply adequate PPE for all NHS staff and others working with suspected cases, from doctors to carers and porters.
- Introduce routine testing of all current and new inpatients.
- Create an agreed, standardised admission route for assessment and testing of anyone presenting with respiratory/COVID-19 symptoms at all frontline medical services and specialisms, not just GPs and A&E (i.e., mental health services, paediatrics, radiography, etc).
- Institute an immediate ban on all non-essential hospital visiting.
- Ensure that NHS staff are being advised on safe working and are able to take adequate rest periods to avoid burnout.
- Immediately suspend hospital accommodation fees for staff.
“We also have a dangerous shortage of Intensive Care Unit beds in Wales, as well as a lack of the ventilators that we need to treat the sick. As the crisis intensifies, the current shortages will become untenable for staff, patients and the NHS itself. We therefore also call on the Welsh Government to:
- Immediately requisition all private healthcare and other healthcare facilities so they may be used to treat the sick (as the Spanish Government have recently done).
- Urgently order and/or manufacture new ventilators on an industrial scale.
- Draft healthcare workers with ICU experience into hospitals.
- Produce an urgent strategy for staff recruitment and rapid training, passing emergency legislation if needed.
“Going forward, the Welsh Government needs to work collaboratively with frontline staff if we are to defeat the virus and emerge from the crisis.
“If these demands require immediate additional funding from the UK government, we will support you in fighting for it. Silence is no longer an option.”