At least 150 health and care workers are now dead fighting the pandemic – and activists and charities want the Prime Minister to make a firm commitment to an investigation once the battle is won.
The open letter, compiled by The Doctors ’Association UK, comes after polls showed that one in five primary care physicians received unusable PPE.
And this follows the latest EPP disaster for the government, when surgical gowns in a promised shipment of 400,000 pieces of kit from Turkey failed security tests.
The letter, signed by 96,000 people tonight, says, “The doctors are dying. The nurses die.
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“It is unforgivable. We need a commitment in this regard now, with a full investigation by a judge after the Covid-19 crisis is over.
“It is also crucial that coroners open inquiries into each death of a health care professional in addition to a public inquiry. This will ensure the preservation of evidence and an appropriate investigation into each death. ”
But the chief coroner has warned that the inquiries into the deaths of NHS personnel will not solve the problems with the supply of PPE.
As a guide, Mark Lucraft QC stated that while the surveys could take into account workplace failures that may have contributed to the deaths – including the lack of PPE – they were not the right forum to respond national shortages and supply problems.
The vast majority of our 26,000 deaths from viruses will not require an investigation because the rules classify them as “the natural progression of a natural disease”.
Top QC Theo Huckle, one of the signatories to the open letter, said an investigation into “the greatest possible sacrifice of those who worked so selflessly to protect us” is vital.
But he also stressed that the coroner’s inquests are essential to allow grieving families to be heard and to have answers.
Huckle said: “In this terrible time for the bereaved families of lost frontline workers, it is vital that they are reassured that they will have access to justice to understand how they suffered their loss.
“Without a doubt, a public inquiry will be necessary at the end of this pandemic.
“But as we can see from the ongoing Grenfell Tower and child abuse investigations, these can be extremely slow and, most importantly, do not allow families to represent themselves and be able to ask the questions they need answered.
“This is what the coroner’s inquest was so successful and we only have to look at the success of the full Hillsborough inquiry to see it.”
Deb Coles, director of charity Inquest, which campaigns on state-related deaths, added: “Both Inquest and his group of lawyers are deeply concerned about the advice of the Chief Coroner. Investigations can play a vital role in ensuring that the deaths of health care workers are properly investigated.
“Until the opening of a public inquiry, bereaved families must turn to the coroners to open inquiries so that the evidence can be kept.”
The Mirror’s Protect Us campaign requires appropriate PPE for all key workers. Channel 4 News reported on Thursday that 45% of the 20,000 boxes of PPE in government stock were expired at the start of the crisis and needed to be retested.
He said 80% of the 26 million respirators stored were expired.
The healthcare providers’ association said it was aware of several deliveries from the central government supply chain, which were “followed by calls to quarantine or use not PPE because they do not meet minimum standards ”.
The government ordered its latest shipment of PPE from the Turkish t-shirt company Selegna Tekstil, with thousands of items now deemed “useless” in a warehouse near Heathrow.
Only 67,000 of the 400,000 dresses were shipped to the UK. Of these, 2,400 tests failed, 4,500 passed, and the rest are being evaluated.
About 170,000 others are believed to be still in Turkey after authorities blocked delivery due to security concerns.
And the DAUK survey raised concerns that defective face masks and surgical gowns are still being delivered to hospitals.
President Rinesh Parmar said: “It is extremely important that these challenges be seen as an opportunity to learn.
“We have to make sure that no healthcare worker is put in danger again this way and that families get answers. [We have] lobbies for coroner’s inquests to be opened with each death of a healthcare worker. This will facilitate the preservation of evidence for a full public inquiry or future legal action. In addition to being criticized for neglecting stocks, the government has been criticized for being slow to use – or even ignore – companies that offered to procure or manufacture PPE.
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The NHS was forced to change direction, telling staff to reuse single-use items as supplies run out.
The Mirror related how the desperate staff made dresses with curtains and used B&Q items to create masks.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock today announced a partnership with companies such as Amazon, the Royal Mint, Jaguar Land Rover and eBay to help get more kits on the front line.
He said 200 potential manufacturers have been identified.
Hancock added, “We are currently working with more than 1,000 companies and are establishing a British manufacturing base, which will see tens of millions of additional PPE items delivered in the coming weeks alone. “