Organisations led by doctors and nurses are helping professionals amplify their voices and campaign for change
At the start of the pandemic, trainee GP Kaveri Jalundhwala was working on a hospital placement. By the end of March, she had become infected with Covid-19, which then developed into long Covid and forced her to pause her training. With stories emerging of how healthcare workers in makeshift masks and gowns — and sometimes no protection at all — were paying for failures to provide adequate personal protective equipment (PPE) with their health, Jalundhwala looked for a way to support her colleagues. She joined Doctors’ Association UK (DAUK), a grassroots lobbying group. And rather than “just get angry at home”, Jalundhwala got involved with their “Protect the frontline” campaign. Its aims include to inform the public about conditions in the fight against Covid and press the government to give healthcare workers appropriate PPE and support.
The DAUK grew from doctors joining together to support a junior paediatrician, Hadiza Bawa-Garba. In 2015, Bawa-Garba was convicted of manslaughter by gross negligence after the death of six-year-old patient and was then struck off by the General Medical Council. But many medical professionals did not see a doctor who had failed, rather an overstretched colleague who was put in an unsafe situation and scapegoated. “Any one of us could be Bawa-Garba,” says Jalundhwala. It often feels that doctors are “a faceless number on a rota where [our] individual voice does not matter to the people who make decisions,” she adds. Bawa-Garba has since returned to medical practice, while the DAUK developed its “Learn not blame” campaign to improve the culture of the NHS so it can learn from mistakes “in a constructive and fair manner”.
When the pandemic hit, DAUK started its “Protect the frontline” campaign. As part of this, it broke the story of NHS staff being warned not to discuss PPE problems on social media or speak to the press. It also created an app that enables doctors and GPs to report on PPE supplies. In April 2020, DAUK also led calls for an independent public inquiry into healthcare worker deaths and PPE supplies, with its petition gathering more than 100,000 signatures. When this received no formal response from government, DAUK started legal proceedings with the Good Law Project.
“When something needs doing, we do not sit on it,” says Pushpo Hossain, who joined DAUK to amplify the voice of doctors working in the UK who qualified abroad.
In May, when a DAUK member heard about a plan to upload all NHS patients’ medical records to a central database that could be shared with third parties, the organisation joined forces with Foxglove, a digital rights campaign group, to help force a delay. “In less than a week we had decided to take legal action [later paused],” says Rosie Shire, a GP who led DAUK’s response to the plans. The scheme has now been postponed to allow time for more consultation with no new date for implementation.
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