The UK has amongst the world’s highest number of COVID-19 health and social care worker deaths, according to Amnesty International.
A new report, Exposed, Silenced, Attacked: Failures to protect health and essential workers during the pandemic, shows that, with at least 540 health and social workers having died from COVID-19 in England and Wales alone, the UK is second only to Russia, which has recorded 545 health worker deaths.
Kate Allen, Amnesty International UK’s Director, said: “It is tragic that we’ve seen so many of our dedicated health and social care workers in England and Wales die from COVID-19.
“We have to understand whether these deaths were avoidable, and what led to this terrible outcome.
“This crisis is far from over and an independent inquiry into the government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic is urgently needed.
“We must learn lessons from this current crisis if we want to prevent future unnecessary deaths.”
The report highlights a lack of adequate PPE provision as a major issue in almost all of the 63 countries analysed, including the UK, where it says healthcare professionals were often warned not to talk about shortages.
Rachel Harrison, GMB National Officer, said: “Health and social care workers have been on the front line throughout the COVID-19 crisis, putting their lives at risk as government failed to provide adequate PPE, pay and testing. It’s no wonder so many have died.
“And when our members have raised issues and asked for the proper protection – they’ve been bullied by line managers and faced threats of disciplinary action.
“We have reports of GMB members in hospitals and care homes who in desperation bought their own PPE but were told by managers that if they wore it they would face action as it scared the visitors and residents.
“The government has utterly failed our health and social care workers. It’s no wonder so many have died.”
UNISON assistant general secretary Christina McAnea said: “Health and care workers have paid a high price for keeping us safe and sound throughout the pandemic.
“Dedicated staff have put their lives on the line but the importance of their roles is often not reflected in their wages, sick pay or job status.
“Ministers must do the decent thing by awarding an early and significant pay rise to all health workers. They must also invest in a complete reform of the care sector to create a national NHS-style system.”
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “This is in no way an accurate comparison – by Amnesty’s own admission, this data is distorted by the fact the UK is one of the few countries to count social care worker deaths.
“We have continuously supplied PPE to the frontline throughout this unprecedented global pandemic, with over 2 billion items delivered and almost 28 billion items ordered to meet future demand, and we have prioritised testing for health and care workers from the outset.”