The High Court ruled last week that Matt Hancock had acted unlawfully in failing to publish details, within 30 days, of dozens of contracts awarded without competition for good and services – especially PPE during the pandemic.
In his interview since, the Health Secretary didn’t seem bothered or sorry.
He came out all guns blazing, laughing it off, running down the studio clock by saying his focus during Spring 2020 had been on “saving lives” and working tirelessly to procure the best PPE, as if that made the law breaking okay.
There was no apology. No acknowledgement that he had done anything wrong or breached the ministerial code or Nolan Principles for public office, which require honesty, integrity and transparency.
But PPE supplies to frontline staff in health and social care are no laughing matter and the court ruling is the latest in a long line of Government PPE failings.
I have worked on Covid-19 wards for the past year alongside many frontline NHS colleagues. Nearly 900 health and social care staff have died from Covid almost certainly caught at work. I have lost friends and colleagues to Covid.
A BMJ Study in December showed that hands on staff working with patients are around 7 times more likely to be admitted to hospital as Covid-19 patients than people in other roles. Thousands more are still suffering from “long Covid”.
It is a basic moral and legal requirement for employers to give staff in any job the equipment they need to stay safe at work. And NHS staff are government employees or contractors.
We have come into work surrounded by Covid-19 week after week for year now. We don’t need applause. We don’t want “hero” status for doing our jobs. But we do feel badly let down and Hancock’s attitude hardly helps.
The Parliamentary Public Accounts Committee concluded this month that many healthcare workers had been “put in the appalling situation of having to care for people with Covid-19 without sufficient PPE to protect themselves from infection” and that “as PPE stocks ran perilously low” some were “forced to re-use single use items”.
The PAC also found that social care staff in care homes and home care services had struggled even more to get the right PPE, with the NHS being prioritised. Theirs is very hands on work, going from home to home or room to room to care for vulnerable citizens for low pay.
November’s National Audit Office report on Covid-19 procurement condemned, in unusually strong terms, the Government’s serial incompetence, lack of transparency, slow responses and poor value for public money in procuring PPE from the private sector.
It was clear that there had been cronyism, with many contracts going to friends or party donors.
The Doctors’ Association UK has collected responses from over 1500 members about failings in supplying them with basic PPE items and another 200 members who were ignored, threatened, silenced or bullied by local bosses when they complained.
The London Royal College of Physicians reported a members’ survey last week showing that around 1 in 5 doctors had never had a personal risk assessment for their Covid-19 work or been fit-tested for PPE masks. They also highlighted problems with PPE not designed for smaller female faces even though women are the majority of NHS and Social Care workers.
There has been no apology from any party. No acknowledgement of getting things wrong. And all the time, the frontline staff in harm’s way. We deserve better than this. And so do patients. If staff members are off sick or don’t have the right kit, it puts them at risk too.
Institutionalised dishonesty from top to bottom is a bad look. But I won’t hold my breath for any resignations.
David Oliver is an experienced NHS consultant physician who has worked on Covid wards throughout the pandemic.