PROTECT THE FRONTLINE

NHS staff are putting their lives on the line during COVID.

Here is what we are asking for in return.

Our message to Boris Johnson on PPE​

1. Adequate PPE and a review of Public Health England PPE recommendations.

DAUK has been leading the call for adequate PPE for doctors. In March we co-ordinated a letter to Boris Johnson, signed by over 8000 NHS doctors pleading for more PPE.

2 months later doctors have watched on as tragically over 275 health and social car workers have lost their lives.

DAUK has been informing NHS England, the Royal Colleges, and the media about the state of PPE provision on the front line.

Thousands of doctors signed up for our NHSPPE app giving DAUK daily reports on PPE supply directly from the frontline.

Using our NHSPPE app GPs are also able to request emergency PPE. DAUK are collaborating with fundraisers to deliver donations of PPE to where they are needed most.

DAUK has also been lobbying Public Health England for a review of their PPE recommendations. DAUK believes NHS staff should be offered the same level of protection as recommended by the World Health Organisation. This includes CPR (chest compression) needing the highest level of PPE.

“We have had doctors tell us they feel like lambs to the slaughter, that they feel like cannon fodder. GPs tell us that they feel absolutely abandoned. We are all pleading with Boris Johnson [for] the personal protection equipment that all of us need on the NHS frontline.”

— Dr Rinesh Parmar, Andrew Marr, 22nd March

Whistleblowing protection for all

2. Commitment to protect staff who speak out about concerns.

Doctors have a duty to ensure the public is informed about conditions on the frontline. During a pandemic it is more important than ever that NHS staff feel able to raise concerns.

Sadly this has not been the case. Multiple doctors have approached DAUK having been discouraged from speaking up. In some cases doctors have been bullied into silence, disciplined, or told their careers are under threat.

At least one doctor has been dismissed.

DAUK first raised concerns that NHS staff were being discouraged from speaking up about PPE on social media and in the press in March.

Our front page piece in The Independent was the start of our work with NHS England and the National Guardians Office to ensure all doctors are free to speak up about their concerns without fear of retribution.

DAUK has long campaigned and supported whistleblowers such as Dr Chris Day and Dr Edwin Jesudason.

“Bullying of staff when they speak out about safety is completely unacceptable. Doctors and nurses on the frontline have a right to speak out if they or their families or patients could be at risk.”

— Dr Jenny Vaughan, The BMJ, 21st April

Death in service benefit for all

3. Death in service benefit for all doctors.

DAUK has been leading the call for death in service benefits for all doctors. There are many doctors currently not eligible for death in service benefits including retired doctors returning to service, academic doctors, doctors forced out the pensions scheme due to the punitive pensions tax.

In March we wrote to the Health Secretary asking that death all doctors have their families provided for should they become unwell whilst on the COVID-19 frontlines.

A cross-party consensus of 50 MPs on compensation for frontline NHS workers has now been established.

Whilst the government has subsequently committed to a one-off ‘Life Assurance’ payment of £60,000 to bereaved families of frontline NHS workers, we do not believe this goes far enough.

Families who lose loved ones in service to the NHS need an ongoing financial commitment if the government is to truly to care for them.

“It is simply morally unforgivable that at this time when we are asking them to put their lives on the line, [many] doctors are not eligible for death in service benefit.”

— Dr Samantha Batt-Rawden, The Guardian, 29th March

Coroner’s inquests and a public inquiry

4. Coroner’s inquests into each healthcare worker death in addition to a public inquiry.

DAUK has been appalled to see so many healthcare workers dying in the NHS and in social care. Compounded by stories of a lack of PPE on the frontline these deaths of colleagues become even more harrowing.

In April we were the first to write directly to the Chief Coroner with concerns about guidance he published on the investigation of healthcare worker deaths. We were concerned that issues such as the supply and provision of PPE would not be considered in inquests and that the scope of inquests would be limited.

DAUK led the way and was the first to call for an independent judge-led public inquiry into healthcare worker deaths and the provision of PPE. It is of paramount importance for the terms of reference for any public inquiry to be clearly defined.

Our petition gathered widespread support and over 100,000 signatures from across the country. The lack of a response from the government has prompted DAUK to mount a legal challenge to ensure that bereaved families get the answers they deserve through both a public inquiry and coronial inquests.

We have teamed up with the Good Law Project and instructed top public law firm Bindmans LLP for the legal challenge which compels the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care to commence a public inquiry examining healthcare worker deaths and inadequate PPE supply. Crowdfunding for this legal challenge has already begun. This aims to set wide ranging terms of reference so that families get the answers they deserve.

“It is vitally important these challenges are seen as an opportunity to learn. We need to ensure no healthcare worker is put in harm’s way in this manner again and the families get answers.”

— Dr Rinesh Parmar, The Mirror, 9 May

Indefinite leave to remain and visa extensions

5. International medical graduate rights

As doctors die in service due to Covid-19 – as they sadly have done – the nation becomes indebted beyond calculation.

Yet, we have had International Medical Graduates (IMGs) telling us how they fear for their families if they die in service. They worry their death would leave their loved ones destitute and unable to fend for themselves. Many families are in the UK on dependent visas, and these doctors also worry they could end up being deported if they die.

We find it unconscionable that bereaved families of doctors will not only potentially be in a position where they become destitute, but then might also find themselves at risk of deportation.

Which is why we asked the Home Office to grant Indefinite Leave to Remain for all dependents of IMGs who die in service to the NHS during the COVID-19 pandemic.

This has now been granted by the Home Secretary.

Additionally, we have been campaigning for the NHS surcharge to be abolished for all NHS international healthcare workers and their families for some time. Like most in the NHS, these workers give their all to provide world-class healthcare, free at the point of use, to the people of Britain. It is perverse that they must pay for the privilege to receive that same care.

In 2018 we held a roundtable in the House of Lords on IMG issues, and made the case for scrapping of the unfair Immigration Health Surcharge.

Now that the country is relying on our overseas workforce to see us through this pandemic, we are pleased that the Home Office has finally agreed to revisit this vital issue.

“We find it unconscionable that bereaved families of doctors will not only potentially be in a position where they become destitute, but might also find themselves at risk of deportation.”

— Dr James Haddock, 22nd April

Childcare support for NHS workers

6. Childcare support for NHS workers

For weeks doctors have been telling DAUK about childcare issues which have prevented many from serving on the NHS frontlines.

Some nurseries have closed altogether, refusing to take the children of key workers. We have also been told that nannies have refused to come into work, worried that they may contract COVID-19 from households of NHS workers.

As a result many are paying well over the odds to source childcare so they can attend work in the NHS.

This has been a particular challenge for families where both parents are key workers, and single-parent families.

Additionally there has been considerable concern around schooling, with some schools only providing care equivalent to an ‘after school’ club. This has meant children of NHS workers have not been receiving any academic education.

This has been a considerable source of stress for NHS doctors, many of whom have needed to take parental leave at a time when the NHS so desperately needs them.

“It is critical that we remember that healthcare workers do not have superpowers. They are people with their own families and private lives and will have been affected as much as the rest of the population by the lockdown and lack of their usual coping strategies.”

— Dr Natalie Ashburner, ITV news, 30th April