After the linked article had been published, I was contacted by a local councillor and hospital social worker who expressed serious concerns about the continued dearth of personal protective equipment for local frontline public service workers and even soap and gel for those workers to wash their hands.
They told me that even as late as last Friday, 20th March, Norwich-based Pathways homeless outreach workers, Police and Norfolk and Suffolk Foundation Trust mental health crisis health workers had not been provided with personal protective equipment.
Norfolk County Council – which has immediate responsibility for the County’s social workers and care workers – has told staff that they must provide their own soap and hand gel. Employees are also told, “Where workers are not able to wash their hands at the site they are visiting they need to find somewhere to wash their hands such as public facilities, a local café etc”. The latter is now not possible as all cafes have been instructed to close.
The council has also conceded that because of shortages there is not enough PPE available when it is required and “workers need to remain safe using best practical means, based on a risk assessment of that particular case.”
These are some of the appalling and worrying local consequences of this government’s failure to get a timely grip on so many of the absolute basics of responding to this pandemic. It was obvious weeks ago where this crisis was likely to head and what the minimum response had to be. So how have we ended up several weeks later with workers who keep us safe having to put themselves at avoidable risk just to do their jobs?
And how can this government claim to be serious about infection control when it stands by as some of the people most likely to be exposed are left at risk of getting and passing on the virus? Just imagine the searing sense of injustice if one of these frontline workers gets the virus and unwittingly takes it home with them and makes their own family ill.
This is all another symptom of this government’s fatal attraction to the idea that the market always somehow knows best. The consequence of that debilitating ideology has been allowing liquid soap, hand gel, paper towels, masks, gloves and hand gel to fly off the shelves in hypermarkets leaving none for frontline public servants.
The common-sense approach to all of this would have seen the government prioritise the needs of frontline workers weeks ago. The result of this politicised inaction has been a panicked scramble to shut the PPE door when the infection risk horse has already bolted.
A minister finally said last week that adequate supplies of were finally on the way to the nurses, police officers and other frontline workers that need them. Better late than never and I’ll believe it when I see it, I suppose. But for the sake of all of us, there can be no more foul-ups like this.