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23 April 2020

Legal challenge against the UK government’s guidance about personal protective equipment in hospitals

4 mins

Dr Meenal Viz and Dr Nishant Joshi are challenging the lawfulness of the PPE guidance published by the Department of Health and Social Care and Public Health England and the Government’s failures to source such PPE domestically and from the EU.

Dr Viz is a clinical fellow in medicine and Dr Joshi is a GP trainee. They are both employed by the NHS. Both are British Asians and Dr Viz is pregnant. Both have been exposed to patients with COVID-19 and both are concerned that current PPE guidance and availability is inadequate to provide them with appropriate protection from infection.

They are challenging the guidance on the bases that:

  • It is not in line with the international standards set by the World Health Organisation or domestic legislation regarding health and safety at work;
  • It exposes healthcare workers to a greater risk of contracting COVID-19 and fails to address the greater risks faced by BAME healthcare workers;
  • It is unclear and has resulted in inconsistent practices across NHS Trusts;
  • It fails to make clear the level of risk faced by healthcare workers depending on the level of PPE they can access or that healthcare workers have a right to refuse to work without adequate PPE;
  • The guidance falls short of recommendations previously published by PHE.

On 17 April, the guidance amended the list of aerosol generating procedures to exclude cardiopulmonary resuscitation without consulting the Royal Colleges.

We have sought an urgent review of the PPE Guidance and have asked the Secretary of State to confirm that he is urgently taking appropriate steps to source PPE.

Because PPE guidance affects decisions made by NHS Procurement, NHS Employers and Health Education England (which has accepted that it is a second employer for junior doctors), they have been included as interested parties in this challenge and have been sent a copy of the pre-action letter, too.

Dr Joshi and Dr Viz, who are husband and wife, said:

We are incredibly concerned at the ever-growing numbers of healthcare workers who are becoming seriously unwell and dying due to COVID-19. It is the government’s duty to protect its healthcare workers, and there is great anxiety amongst staff with regards to safety protocols that seem to change without rhyme or reason. Every time a healthcare worker becomes hospitalized with COVID-19, it exacts an extraordinary toll on our friends, family and colleagues. To sedate and ventilate your own colleague takes a mental toll on the entire workforce. The government owes an apology to these bereaved families, many of whom were unable to be with their loved ones in their dying moments. Their trauma and grief is unimaginable – we want to ensure that no other family has to endure this suffering. All we ask for is accountability from decision-makers, and that all evidence leading to these decisions should be published and transparent. We are doctors, we are nurses and we are healthcare workers – we will be there for you in your time of need. We will be there for your family. The government needs to protect us, so that we can protect you.

Basmah Sahib, Solicitor for Dr Viz and Dr Joshi, said:

The NHS is the UK’s biggest employer. Almost all of us have a friend or loved one who is putting their life at risk to care for COVID-19 patients. The least they deserve is honesty, clear guidance and proper support from the Secretary of State to feel safe and protected at work. No healthcare worker should face disciplinary action just for requesting proper protective equipment. We hope the guidance will be brought up to the standards of the WHO and that hospitals will update their practices accordingly.

Dr Viz and Dr Joshi are represented by Jamie Potter and Basmah Sahib of Bindmans LLP, Marc Willers QC of Garden Court Chambers and Estelle Dehon of Cornerstone Barristers.

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