Learning from the #Covid Pandemic : Are Healthcare Workers Being Listened to?

Although NRS figures published on 20th July 2023 recorded only 4 deaths involving Covid in Scotland for that past week, the virus continues to exist in our communities. Vaccination has been very important in reducing the severity of Covid, however, for many people, including the most vulnerable, it still is a real and present danger if contracted.

All those with underlying health conditions, the elderly, those receiving medical treatment (such as cancer patients) – are all very much at risk should they contract Covid. And there are also, the untold hundreds of thousands of people who continue to suffer from the effects of long Covid.

In the front line of all of this are our health and social care workers. If you have visited a hospital, GP surgery, health care facility or Residential Home recently you will have noticed the almost universal absence of anyone wearing a face mask, or even carrying out the routine procedure of hand sanitising. And any lessons learned about the importance of ventilation have been entirely forgotten – if they were ever adhered to.

There is now no tracking of the virus within the community and data of all kinds is sparse and sporadic in being published.

map of Scotland plotting the waste water sampling and colour coded for degree of severity

The monitoring of Scotland’s waste water  for fragments of coronavirus’ ribonucleic acid (RNA), with the last testing done at the beginning of July shows that the virus is still in our communities.

This should come as no surprise when we have had the closure of hospital wards in parts of Scotland, including Orkney, and most recently na h-Eileanan an Iar.

And now the group, Scottish Healthcare Workers, have written to the First Minister of Scotland , Humza Yousaf, to reverse the decision to withdraw the wearing of face masks in health care settings.

The group say that this decision which came into force on May 16th 2023 ‘is flawed and dangerous’.

Public Health Scotland continues to publish data received from Hospitals about Covid admissions, however, there was a change to how this was counted on 8th May 2023, reducing the time period of considered being infectious to 10 days. This jiggling of the figures means that , of course, it appears there is quite a drop in the number of patients in hospital who have Covid. – as illustrated in this graph.

The PHS data also includes Respiratory Surveillance and even if there was no Covid, protection against the transmission of other infections – such as flu ( a 90% increase in cases this week) – would surely make the simple activity of wearing a face mask, sanitising hands, and having suitable ventilation, – sensible preventative measures.

In their letter to Humza Yousaf , Scotland’s Healthcare Workers, make specific demands:

  • to commit to clean air in all social care and health settings through ventilation and filtration
  • the wide scale introduction, for all health and social care staff, of Respiratory Protective Equipment which is designed to protect the respiratory system from inhalation of airborne hazards, including SARS-CoV-2

Click on this link to read the whole letter: Covid Action Scotland, Scottish Healthcare Workers Coalition

The current advice published by the Scottish Government can be found here: Coronavirus (COVID-19): staying well and protecting others Very few people are taking this advice, even fewer bother if they encounter someone wearing a ‘keep your distance ‘ badge.

“give more space and care around those using the Distance Aware scheme (wearing a badge or lanyard)”

The Distance Aware scheme was very poorly publicised despite the badges and lanyards being freely available in libraries and other public space. Most members of the public are unlikely to know what it means.

What lessons have we learned from the Covid pandemic which has cost 17,723 deaths in Scotland to date ,228,144 in the UK and estimated at nearly 7million worldwide ?

Some businesses were hit so hard they have never recovered from the economic consequences. And the scandals continue to reveal those who were profiteering from the virus and the lack of PPE that frontline staff had in our health and social care settings when the pandemic started.

The Department for Health & Social Care (DHSC) lost 75% of the £12 billion it spent on personal protective equipment (PPE) in the first year of the pandemic to inflated prices and kit that did not meet requirements – including fully £4 billion of PPE that will not be used in the NHS and needs to be disposed of. There is no clear disposal strategy for this excess but the Department says it plans to burn significant volumes of it to generate power – though there are concerns about the cost-effectiveness and environmental impact of this “strategy”. UK Parliament Public Accounts Committee, 10 June 2022

Will anything come out of the Covid Inquiries taking place in Scotland and the UK?

Is anyone in government even listening to those who are working in healthcare settings, the people in the frontline?

The letter is signed by:

  • Dr Shaun Peter Qureshi, On behalf of Scottish Healthcare Workers Coalition, Core Participants at the Scotland COVID-19 Inquiry
  • Dr Sally Witcher, Director, Inclusive New Normal
  • Jane Ormerod, Chairperson, Long Covid Scotland
  • David Osborn BSc, CMIOSH, SpDipEM, Chartered Safety and Health Practitioner
  • Dr Coral Jones, Chair, Doctors in Unite
  • Lara Wong, Founder, Clinically Vulnerable Families
  • Helen Goss, COO and Scotland Representative, Long Covid Kids
  • Professor Trisha Greenhalgh, University of Oxford
  • Dr Jonathan Fluxman, on behalf of the Covid Pledge Campaign
  • Dr Rae Duncan, Consultant Cardiologist & Long Covid Research Clinician, Newcastle Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, Long Covid Expert Advisory Team, World Health Network
  • Dr Claire Taylor MBChB, BSc Neuroscience(Hons), GP with interest in Long Covid, Expert advisor on Long Covid to World Health Network, Long Covid Kids Champion
  • Dr Harriet Carroll, Long COVID Scientific Consultant, Long Covid Scientific Consultancy, Honorary Research Fellow, University of Aberdeen
  • Keyworker Petition U.K. Campaign Team, Covid Action Scotland

If government Ministers don’t listen to the people on the front line of providing health and care, whose views are they prioritising when it comes to preventing the spread of Covid, or on any other public health issue, affecting millions of Scots?

Fiona Grahame

2 replies »

  1. In relation to the strategy within health and care settings I would suspect that the government is following a short-sighted and ill-informed appeasement strategy. Apparently, mask wearing, hand cleanliness as well as ventilation are widely seen as a nuisance, causing discomfort and so forth.
    Well, wearing a seatbelt, one could argue, could also be perceived as a discomfort causing nuisance… still it is law.
    Construction workers wear hard hats… surely, on hot days certainly a discomfort, still employers must make sure that employees adhere to safety measures, not least because of potential liabilities which could arise for the employers.

    When considering the costs in terms of public health as well as in financial terms of a growing burden of chronic disease as a consequence of health care acquired infections (not only Covid-19), the government should weigh those against the marginal effort required for measures (masks, cleanliness, ventilation) which can hardly be considered to be invasive or intrusive.
    An exhausted and depleted NHS workforce and – for a developed country embarrasingly – long waiting lists, should be reason enough, neither to reduce the workforce even more by gambling with the health of NHS workers, nor artificially and intentionally adding to a growing number of people who battle long term health conditions and may make the current waiting list even longer.
    Arguments, the government likes to use when justifying that they let the guard down, include that there are now less Covid-19 deaths and less hospitalisations. To some extent this might be true. Vaccinations and more benign strains of the virus will make some difference. But without testing we cannot say for sure how big this effect is. If a patient is not tested, how can a doctor say that it was just some other condition which put them in hospital or whether it may have been Covid which aggravated that condition to require hospitalisation? In many cases, this will simply remain unclear.

    Also, currently we might also experience a completely normal seasonal effect.
    Excess mortality and overall hospitalisation figures do help a bit to gauge a (still not complete) picture. Still, we simply do not know exactly what the situation is.

    But in any case, by almost vilifying masks and even having them removed from places where people are most vulnerable, the government ignores its social responsibilites. It signals that many people (including the ones who signed the open letter and including vulnerable patients) are expendable. It also ignores the cost implications.
    And the government can only hope and pray that no more malign variants appears on the horizon, that a spill-over into potential animal hosts does not occur, that not the next pandemic with similar transmission pathways (possibly H5N1, but there are other possible candidates too) develops and so forth… because re-introducing of measures, previously abandoned, vilified and considered a nuisance, would then be an almost impossible task.

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