Too many NHS staff have died - we need a public inquiry

by Jo Maugham QC

Too many NHS staff have died - we need a public inquiry

by Jo Maugham QC
Jo Maugham QC
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Latest: Dec. 6, 2020

Hundreds have died – we want justice

More‌ ‌than‌ ‌600‌ ‌frontline‌ ‌healthcare‌ ‌workers‌ ‌have‌ ‌lost‌ ‌their‌ ‌lives‌ ‌to‌ &zwnj…

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Frontline NHS staff and care workers are putting their lives at risk because of the Government's failure to provide adequate PPE. Doctors are wearing visors made by teenagers on 3D printers. Care workers are being told to share the same mask. The protective gowns that the Government flew in from Turkey are sitting in a warehouse gathering dust - many have been deemed unsafe for use. UK manufacturers who have offered to help are sitting by the phones waiting for Government to respond.

The consequences of these failures are devastating. Hundreds of those on the frontline of this crisis have lost their lives. The Government has said lessons will be learnt in time. But those on the frontline of this crisis can’t afford to wait.

The Government has a legal duty to hold an urgent inquiry into its failures to get adequate PPE to NHS staff and care workers and we are taking legal action along with the Doctors' Association UK to hold them to it. The Government needs to know exactly what has gone wrong, and is continuing to go wrong. Coronavirus is unpredictable, and there are very likely to be future waves. Unless we understand the failings now, unless we learn from them, we risk making the same mistakes all over again.

A society that does not learn from its mistakes is condemned to repeat them.

This is also about getting answers for the families of the individual NHS and social care workers who have lost their lives. Each death will be investigated by a coroner, but without an independent inquiry, it is likely different coroners’ courts will reach inconsistent or conflicting views on the role PPE played in their deaths. The families deserve better.

We believe that such an investigation is required, as a matter of law, by Human Rights Act 1998 s 6 and Schedule 1, Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights. You can read our formal letter to Matt Hancock here.

The Claimants: 
The Doctors’ Association UK
The Good Law Project

The details:
Litigation of this scale and importance is undeniably difficult and expensive. The Good Law Project has instructed the best legal team available: Paul Bowen QC, Tim Johnston and Emma Mockford of Brick Court Chambers and Bindmans LLP. Most of the legal work to date is entirely unpaid and the team will work at well below market rates unless the case succeeds.

10% of the sums raised will go to Good Law Project to help it develop and support further litigation to help the public interest. It is our policy only to raise sums that we reasonably anticipate could be spent on this litigation. However, if there is a surplus it will go to support and enable other litigation we bring. Our founder, Jo Maugham QC, continues to work unpaid.

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Update 2

Jo Maugham QC

Dec. 6, 2020

Hundreds have died – we want justice

More‌ ‌than‌ ‌600‌ ‌frontline‌ ‌healthcare‌ ‌workers‌ ‌have‌ ‌lost‌ ‌their‌ ‌lives‌ ‌to‌ ‌COVID-19‌ ‌trying‌ ‌to‌ ‌protect‌ ‌us‌ ‌and‌ ‌our‌ ‌loved‌ ‌ones.‌ ‌Yet‌ ‌this‌‌ ‌Government‌ ‌continues‌ ‌to‌ ‌deny‌ ‌the‌ ‌bereaved‌ ‌families‌ ‌the‌ ‌explanations‌ ‌they‌ ‌deserve‌ ‌-‌ ‌because‌ ‌it‌ ‌doesn’t‌ ‌want‌ ‌the‌ ‌political‌ ‌embarrassment‌ ‌of‌ ‌a‌ ‌public‌ ‌inquiry‌ ‌into‌ ‌‌whether‌ ‌its‌ ‌failures‌ ‌on‌ ‌PPE‌ ‌have‌ ‌contributed‌ ‌to‌ ‌their‌ ‌deaths.‌ ‌ ‌

Last‌ ‌week‌ ‌a‌ ‌damning‌ ‌report‌ ‌from‌ ‌the‌ ‌‌National‌ ‌Audit‌ ‌Office‌‌ ‌found‌ ‌serious‌ ‌failures‌ ‌in‌ ‌the‌ ‌supply‌ ‌of‌ PPE.‌ ‌The‌ ‌NAO‌ ‌recommended,‌ ‌as‌ ‌we‌ ‌have‌ ‌for‌ ‌months,‌ ‌that:‌ ‌‌”a‌ ‌‌comprehensive‌ ‌lessons‌ ‌learned‌ ‌exercise‌ ‌involving‌ ‌all‌ ‌the‌ ‌main‌ ‌stakeholders,‌ ‌including‌ ‌local‌ ‌government‌ ‌and‌ ‌representatives‌ ‌of‌ ‌the‌ ‌workforce‌ ‌and‌ ‌suppliers‌ ‌should‌ ‌be‌ ‌conducted”‌,‌ ‌including‌ ‌‌”of‌ ‌whether‌ ‌any‌ ‌issues‌ ‌with‌ ‌PPE provision‌ ‌or‌ ‌use‌ ‌might‌ ‌have‌ ‌contributed‌ ‌to‌ ‌Covid-19‌ ‌infections‌ ‌or‌ ‌deaths.”‌ ‌ ‌

With‌ ‌Doctors’‌ ‌Association‌ ‌UK‌ ‌which‌ ‌represents‌ ‌29,000‌ ‌medics‌ ‌and‌ ‌‌Hourglass‌,‌ ‌we‌ ‌are‌ ‌‌now‌ ‌pursuing‌ ‌our‌ ‌legal‌ ‌action‌‌ ‌against‌ ‌Government‌ ‌for‌ ‌its‌ ‌continued‌ ‌refusal‌ ‌to‌ ‌hold‌ ‌a‌ ‌public‌ ‌inquiry‌ ‌into‌ ‌whether‌ ‌‌PPE‌ ‌failures‌ ‌contributed‌ ‌to‌ ‌the‌ ‌deaths‌ ‌or‌ ‌illness‌ ‌of‌ ‌NHS‌ ‌staff‌ ‌and‌ ‌careworkers.‌ ‌

The‌ ‌Government‌ ‌has‌ ‌now‌ ‌had‌ ‌the‌ ‌NAO‌ ‌report‌ ‌for‌ ‌some‌ ‌time‌ ‌-‌ ‌it‌ ‌received‌ ‌a‌ ‌draft‌ ‌copy‌ ‌weeks‌ ‌before‌ ‌it‌ ‌was‌ ‌published.‌ ‌Yet‌ ‌‌Government‌ ‌has‌ ‌this‌ ‌week‌ ‌again‌ ‌refused‌‌ ‌what‌ ‌we‌ ‌regard‌ ‌as‌ ‌its‌ ‌legal‌ ‌obligation‌ ‌to‌ ‌hold‌ ‌a‌ ‌public‌ ‌inquiry.‌ ‌

Everything‌ ‌-‌ ‌the‌ ‌need‌ ‌the‌ ‌NAO‌ ‌identifies‌ ‌for‌ ‌lessons‌ ‌to‌ ‌be‌ ‌learned‌ ‌and‌ ‌the‌ ‌moral‌ ‌case‌ ‌for‌ ‌bereaved‌ ‌families‌ ‌of‌ ‌frontline‌ ‌healthcare‌ ‌workers‌ ‌to‌ ‌be‌ ‌heard‌ ‌-‌ ‌is‌ ‌being‌ ‌subordinated‌ ‌to‌ ‌Government’s‌ ‌political‌ ‌expediency.‌ ‌ ‌

‌It’s‌ ‌morally‌ ‌deplorable‌ ‌and‌ ‌-‌ ‌we‌ ‌believe‌ ‌-‌ ‌legally‌ ‌wrong.‌ ‌We‌ ‌will‌ ‌pursue‌ ‌them‌ ‌in‌ ‌the‌ ‌courts.‌ ‌

Update 1

Jo Maugham QC

July 23, 2020

The Government's response

On 1st July we received a formal response from the Secretary of State in relation to our judicial review for a public inquiry. You can read his response here.

On 11 June 2020, some days after we issued our judicial review claim, the National Audit Office announced it would conduct a review into:

“the preparedness and response in the supply of PPE in England, including the scale of and reasons for shortfalls in supply.  It will cover:

  • How PPE was supplied to NHS and social care organisations before the COVID-19 pandemic started 

  • What government did, between the pandemic emerging in other countries and arriving in the UK, to prepare for the provision of PPE in the NHS and social care organisations

  • How government responded when problems arose in the supply of PPE

  • The scale of problems in the availability of PPE throughout the emergency.”

And would report in the Autumn.

In his response, the Secretary of State places considerable reliance on this work. This reflects a considerable change in his position – he did not rely on it in pre-action correspondence. And he promises: “emerging findings will be shared with officials in late August or early September, which will allow Government to benefit from its findings as soon as possible.”

We do not accept that the NAO’s review discharges the Secretary of State’s legal obligations under Article 2 of the ECHR.  However, it seems to the Claimants – the Doctors’ Association UK, Hourglass and the Good Law Project – that in light of this new work the sensible course of action is to await the outcome of the NAO’s review.

Once we have seen the outcome of this work and these proceedings we will be able to see what further work needs to be done to ensure Government meets its PPE obligations. 

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