At the start of the pandemic, the UK government failed to meet its responsibility to protect doctors and all healthcare workers, according to the doctors’ union.
The British Medical Association’s review said staff were very disappointed by the lack of protective equipment.
They are still suffering from physical and mental health effects, and they are seeing levels of illness and death that “they were never trained to”.
The government said it would learn lessons but defended its record on personal protective equipment.
The BMA’s criticism, based on feedback and testimony from union members, will form part of its official public inquiry submission into the pandemic.
Although healthcare is a devolved political issue, the UK government has assumed the role of an agreement with PPE suppliers to supply equipment distributed across all four UK countries.
Doctors told the BMA that they sometimes had to buy or make their own masks in the early months of the pandemic.
Some said they had long-term health problems from the coronavirus.
‘My life is over as I know it’
A junior doctor in Scotland said he was bedridden after being infected in March 2020.
“My life is over as I know it,” the doctor said.
Many doctors said they felt compelled to work in unsafe conditions with inadequate risk assessments.
The review also highlighted that minority doctors were more likely than white doctors to die from Covid in the early stages of the pandemic.
Overall, figures from the Office for National Statistics show that throughout 2020, doctors were no more likely to die from Covid than the general population.
But nurses and paramedics are at greater risk — although it’s unclear how much of that is related to exposure at work rather than other factors.
The BMA, which has been critical of the government’s response to the outbreak, said the UK should have been better prepared and the problem had been exacerbated by “savage” cuts to the public health budget over the past few years.
Dr Chaand Nagpaul, head of the BMA, said: “The government has a moral duty to protect its own healthcare workers from harm in the performance of their duties as they serve and protect the health of the country.”
“But in reality, doctors are extremely disappointed that the UK government has not been adequately prepared. »
A government spokesman said sufficient personal protective equipment had been procured to keep staff safe in a “competitive global market” and mental health centres had been set up to help them cope with trauma.
But she added: “We are committed to learning from the Covid-19 pandemic and will respond to the inquiry openly and transparently, fully considering any recommendations made. »
- Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
- coronavirus pandemic