The government is facing a High Court legal challenge for refusing to launch an urgent inquiry into failures to provide enough PPE to keep frontline health and care workers safe.
The crowdfunded legal challenge is being brought by the Doctors’ Association UK (DAUK), the Good Law Project and safer ageing charity Hourglass.
Their legal bid claims that the Health and Social Care Secretary, Matt Hancock, has a legal obligation to commence an immediate investigation into whether failures to provide adequate PPE may have caused or contributed to the deaths or serious illness from COVID-19 of workers in the health and social care sectors.
They also say such an investigation must take place “as soon as possible” because “it is vital that lessons are learned from our response to the pandemic” before a second wave emerges.
At least 180 NHS staff and 131 social care workers have died from COVID-19 in England.
DAUK was the first to call for an independent judge-led public inquiry into healthcare worker deaths and the provision of PPE. Its petition gathered widespread support and over 100,000 signatures from across the country.
But the organisation said the “lack of response” from the government prompted it to mount a legal challenge to ensure bereaved families “get the answers they deserve” through public inquiry and coronial inquests.
Dr Rinesh Parmar, chair of the DAUK, said: “We have seen over the last few weeks that the UK has one of the highest death rates from COVID-19 in the world. Health and social care workers rose to the challenge, returned to the frontline from retirement and pulled out all the stops to save lives. Some had no PPE, others had inadequate, out of date perishing supplies. Alongside caring for patients, we’ve cared for colleagues and also faced the sad and grim reality of losing colleagues, who themselves were caring for patients.
“As we recover from the first wave of COVID-19 there is a real and credible possibility that we will face a second wave in the coming months or into the winter. Now is the time to learn key lessons to enable us to avoid future pitfalls, protect the frontline and ultimately save lives. Our calls for a public inquiry and our petition of nearly 120,000 signatures have all fallen on deaf ears as the government buries its head in the sand and steadfastly refuses to commit to the learning required to prevent further tragedies.”
The campaigners are paying for the lawsuit through crowdfunding, which has so far raised more than £58,000.
Jolyon Maugham, Director of Good Law Project said: “You may think we will get a public inquiry, one day. Fine, perhaps we will. But for it to be meaningful it must have sensible terms of reference. It must be independent, by which we mean not led by a handpicked civil servant.
“And it must be soon – because we need to learn lessons before a second or third wave. These are the things at stake in this case – justice to the 200 who have lost their lives in public service requires it.”