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The government's failure to prepare for a pandemic was a dereliction of duty

The government's failure to prepare for a pandemic was a dereliction of duty

Over recent days we have heard about the 2016 Government pandemic preparedness exercise. It did not go well, the gaps were glaring and yet nothing happened, writes Baroness Brinton | PA Images

3 min read

It is beyond a dereliction of duty for the government to expect workers to risk their lives more than they already are.

After the coronavirus outbreak many people will analyse the government’s response to the crisis. Two key questions that are already deeply worrying are ‘how prepared were we for the coronavirus pandemic?’ and ‘at what point did the government begin to prepare once it became clear the virus was a threat?’.

One aspect I think we are already beginning to get an answer to is how quick were the government on the uptake of action that could help support and protect NHS and social care staff.

Of course we are seeing our health services gear up, such as the impressive makeshift hospitals being built in record time. But there are unfortunately many other examples where the government have been behind the curve.

Over recent days we have heard about the 2016 Government pandemic preparedness exercise. It did not go well, the gaps were glaring and yet nothing happened. Once China’s handling of their outbreak in January became clear, returning to the lessons learned from the exercise should have been an absolute priority. Instead, Minister after Minister reassured both Houses of Parliament and the public that everything was in hand. We are now seeing that this was not the case.

The World Health Organisation has said the global priority must be testing, testing, testing. The Liberal Democrats have been consistently calling for NHS and social care staff to be a priority for tests to diagnose if you have coronavirus and for the government to ensure every single member of staff has adequate PPE (personal protective equipment).

Testing now is crucial for ensuring that all staff who become ill with COVID 19 self-isolate, and all that who don’t have it are able to work. Equally, with the sad news that doctors and nurses have already tragically lost their lives to coronavirus, it does not need explaining why PPE is so vital.

Health and social care staff are putting their lives on their line to help care for us, our families and our friends as we face this disease. Yet, the stories of staff putting themselves at risk to go to work without the proper protective equipment are still happening daily.

Staff are either trying to get make-shift protective equipment themselves, or in some cases foregoing it entirely. This cannot be allowed to happen. It is beyond a dereliction of duty for the government to expect workers to risk their lives more than they already are.

We owe it to each and every Health and social care staff member to call this out. We must be keep speaking up, and we will keep doing so until the government listen. We must do more than just show our appreciation for NHS staff, as heart-warming as that is. Clapping on a Thursday night is a symbol from citizens. It is also on each and everyone of us to demand our staff have the protective gear they need as they treat all those affected by this pandemic. It’s the very least we can do.

 

Baroness Brinton is a Liberal Democrat member of the House of Lords.

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