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UK Docs Say They Were ‘Told Not to Discuss Political Issues Like PPE Shortages’ Amid COVID Flare-up

© AP Photo / Neil HallMembers of the clinical staff wearing Personal Protective Equipment PPE care for a patient with coronavirus in the intensive care unit at the Royal Papworth Hospital in Cambridge, England, Tuesday May 5, 2020
Members of the clinical staff wearing Personal Protective Equipment PPE care for a patient with coronavirus in the intensive care unit at the Royal Papworth Hospital in Cambridge, England, Tuesday May 5, 2020 - Sputnik International
According to WhistleblowersUK, which was incentivised by the health department to speak up about burning issues in the health sector, the group has been contacted by at least 100 medical staffers over a lack of protective kit supplies for frontline COVID-19 workers.

Some NHS managers have attempted to silence doctors willing to speak out against existing shortages of personal protective kits, the BBC reported citing WhistleblowersUK's account, despite the Department of Health insisting that no one should be prevented from speaking their mind.

A newsletter sent out to staff at one healthcare trust suggested subjects for tweets, such as thanking staff for their hard work on the crisis front line, giving tribute to retired NHS staff who had returned to the workforce, etc. It specified, however, that staff were to avoid "commenting on political issues, such as PPE”.

Another trust put up posters in hospital staff areas which told healthcare workers not to "make public appeals for equipment, donations, or volunteers", the BBC’s Newsnight found out.

The programme also quoted an unnamed doctor who had posted concerns about PPE shortages:

"They hauled me up in front of a panel of senior managers - it was very, very intimidating", he said, further indicating that the rhetoric he was instructed to pursue looked like a mantra:

"They kept on feeding me what felt like government type of lines, saying 'this hospital has never had PPE shortages' - which I know to be factually untrue. And that essentially I should stop causing a fuss".

"There have been colleagues who've died at my hospital. And there have been a handful more who've been in ICU (intensive care units)".

"It's very, very concerning that we can't even say our colleagues have died, please don't let us be next".

 Another medical worker shared with the BBC that he and his colleagues had been warned by their manager that if they persisted in their effort to speak up they would get a "reputation" and "find it hard to get a job at that trust or others in the region".

"I was told we need positive messaging that suggested everyone in the NHS is working very hard, we are doing our best in the pandemic. I was told this is what we need to be putting out, not negative stories", the doctor detailed.

Meanwhile, the Department of Health and Social Care has publicly hoorayed the "whistleblowers'" efforts, with its spokesperson stressing those people "perform a vital and courageous service in ensuring safe care".

Yet, Dr Jenny Vaughan, law and policy lead at campaigning organisation Doctors' Association UK, noted that their concerns "weren't listened to properly".

"These are people who had tried the right channels. These are people genuinely raising concerns who went to the people who should have listened to them and felt either they couldn't raise a concern or they weren't listened to", Vaughan affirmed implying that the system is far from being "open":

"If you have a transparent, open culture of reporting and people feel free that they can speak up about safety concerns, it saves lives", she argued, with her stance fully echoed by Georgina Halford-Hall from WhistleblowersUK:

"The system is completely broken", she insisted saying that the default position is an auto-immune response against the whistleblower” rather than the point he or she makes.

Over 100 medical staffers have reportedly contacted the group since March raising concerns about protective kits and their supplies for frontline corona workers.

According to the most recent estimates, 33,614 people have died of COVID-19 in the UK, including 24,100 in hospitals in England, with the overall number of infections approaching 233,200.

It emerged last week that millions of items in the British epidemic kit stockpile, including 80% of respirators at the NHS's disposal, were already out of date by the time the corona crunch hit the country in late January, according to a Channel 4 report.

The worrisome report coincided with a far-reaching debate over the UK’s order for Turkish-manufactured protective equipment, part of which had reportedly failed tests for safety standards and awaited further checks.

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