On the 18 March I wrote to the Health Secretary about the urgent need for COVID-19 testing to be available to NHS and other frontline workers, shortages of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), and the need to intervene strongly to maximise production of the equipment our NHS will need.
Please find the full text below:
I write to you about the emerging crisis in our NHS in coping with demands associated with the COVID-19 pandemic. I would like to thank you for the action you have taken so far.
I have been given very alarming information that suggests that many London hospitals are already at risk of failing to cope, even – if projections are correct – two or more months before infection rates locally are expected to peak.
I am told that testing for the infection is absolutely necessary in order for demands on the NHS workforce to be managed. I have also been contacted by constituents who work in essential frontline services both within and outside the NHS, who are experiencing (first hand) the problems caused by a lack of testing.
Hospitals are reportedly already under staffed, and this is being severely exacerbated by staff members self-isolating. As you will appreciate, in many cases the symptoms these staff members have may not be the result of infection with COVID-19. In some cases, it may only be a cold, but NHS workers, their managers, and their families, have no way of establishing this and enabling them to return to work.
I am told that the tests are available, but NHS workers are not using them because they are not currently a designated priority. There is also an extremely urgent need to prioritise NHS hospitals in London for testing, where, as the Government has recognised, the need is currently most acute.
As you will appreciate, a further reason to test NHS workers is that once they recover, as of course most will, they will be in a position to know they have antibodies and are immune, enabling them to work in services with a high infection risk unimpeded.
This would not only ease the intense pressure on the workforce over the coming months by preventing sickness, it would also cut the death rate among the NHS staff who are already performing astounding feats of endurance and self-sacrifice for us all.
A second element in this crisis is shortages of personal protective equipment, especially at the higher end specifications, alongside the better recognised national shortage of respirators and ICU beds equipped with ventilators. I appreciate that efforts are already under way to increase stocks and production within these supply chains, but I would urge you to intervene more strongly to maximise production and ensure an efficient distribution of these desperately needed goods.
I believe it will be critical to ensure that no producer, or potential producer, of the equipment the NHS needs is held back from maximising production by patent licensing or other legal concerns, or by a selfish drive to ensure greater profits by driving up prices. I believe the Government needs to do what it can to ensure that barriers to trade in medical devices and parts that have been erected across much of the world do not prevent production from being maximised, and so become self-defeating.
I have written a similar message to the Minister for Patient Safety, Suicide Prevention and Mental Health, and would be very grateful for a reply as soon as you are able. As you will know, concern within our NHS workforce and among the wider public is very high and mounting daily. I am grateful for the steps you have taken to protect our country from this devastating threat so far.
Member of Parliament for West Ham