The Government was facing mounting questions over a lack of protective equipment for NHS staff today as a minister admitted she had no idea how many medics had died from coronavirus.
Work and Pensions Secretary Therese Coffey was savaged by Piers Morgan on Good Morning Britain as she faced the media to defend efforts to provide adequate masks, gowns and other personal protective equipment (PPE).
It came as it was revealed that the UK missed three chances to participate in an EU scheme to buy huge quantities of such items.
The EU has ordered €1.5billion (£1.3billion) worth of protective masks, gowns and gloves for doctors and nurses – but Britain did not take part in talks about the purchases.
One in three NHS and critical key workers have tested positive for the coronavirus, official figures showed this morning.
In a heated exchange this morning, Mr Morgan raged at Ms Coffey, asking: ‘Do you know how many care workers have died of coronavirus or are currently seriously ill with it?’
Work and Pensions Secretary Therese Coffey was savaged by Piers Morgan on Good Morning Britain as she faced the media to defend efforts to provide adequate masks, gowns and other personal protective equipment (PPE)
Coffey admitted she didn’t know the answer, for the host to fire back: ‘Do you know how many NHS workers have died from coronavirus?’
Missed opportunities to get more masks and gowns for medics
January 31: On the day of Brexit, a UK official attends UK meeting on the emerging virus. Four countries raise the potential need for more PPE – UK is not among them.
February 4: UK attends meeting of EU and World Health Organisation (WHO) officials in Luxembourg.
February 24: European Commission updates officials on PPE procurement and asks countries to outline their ‘exact needs’. The UK was invited but did not attend.
February 28: The EU makes its first join procurement of £1.2million of gloves and gowns. The UK is not involved.
March 12: The procurement fails because of a shortage of suppliers and is relaunched on March 15, still without UK involvement.
March 17: Two more rounds of procurement for masks, goggles and ventilators go forward without the UK
March 19: The UK joins the procurement steering committee but does not join a tender sent out to firms the same day for lab supplies.
March 23: Health Secretary Matt Hancock admits there have been ‘challenges’ with the supply of PPE but that he was taking the issue ‘very seriously’.
March 24: No 10 confirms it has not joined EU procurement effort in favour of its own plan. It later claims it did not join because it missed an email invitation.
March 25: British officials do not attend a meeting at which countries were invited to outline their requirements for future purchases by the next day
March 26: The Government says it has 8,175 ventilators, but asks UK firms to build an additional 30,000 within weeks.
March 29: Two surgeons become the first UK medics to die from coronavirus, putting a spotlight on PPE supplies for the NHS.
April 10: Mr Hancock appears to suggest NHS medics are being wasteful of masks and gowns, urging them to ‘treat PPE as the precious resource it is’.
April 11: Mr Hancock confirms that 19 medics have died from coronavirus, after initially saying it would be ‘inappropriate’ to reveal the death toll.
April 13: Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab acknowledged that PPE shortages – rather than distribution issues only – was an issue and admitted supplies were running low because of ‘a competitive market out there’.
When she again said she didn’t know the answer, Piers raged: ‘How can you not? I’m not being funny but how can a member of the British government sent out to talk to the media have literally no idea how many NHS workers or care workers have died?
Ms Coffey replied: ‘I do know that over 11,000 people have died, which is very sad, across the country. I do know that we are prioritising the clinical need assessment of those people particularly in hospital but also in a social care setting.’
GPs have reportedly been told to buy their own PPE when they have contacted the Government’s official supply helpline.
And the Royal College of Nursing has previously highlighted problems medics have had accessing items including face masks, eye protection and hand sanitiser.
Its chief executive today revealed that she will highlight a ‘damaging’ lack of working PPE and testing when she appears remotely in front of MPs on Thursday.
Dame Donna Kinnair is to be quizzed by the Health and Social Care Committee – chaired by former health secretary Jeremy Hunt.
Dame Donna said today: ‘We call on the UK government to act rapidly and robustly so that it is without doubt that the safety of staff and the public is paramount in this crisis.
‘Our members should not have to choose between their sense of duty, their personal safety, and the safety of their families.’
The union has already warned nurses that they can refuse to treat coronavirus patients ‘as a last resort’ if they feel it is unsafe for them to do so, because of a lack of PPE.
This morning new statistics revealed Britain’s official coronavirus death toll is missing 10 per cent of victims because they died in care homes and not NHS hospitals.
Data collected by the Office for National Statistics showed there were around 4,100 COVID-19-related deaths registered by April 3 in England and Wales.
Slightly less than 10 per cent (406) of those deaths occurred in hospices, care homes and private homes, according to the analysis.
But the daily death tolls published by the NHS and the Department of Health only count people who have died in hospitals.
It increases the pressure on ministers to boost the rollout of PPE to care home staff as well as NHS medics.
Yesterday foreign secretary Dominic Raab acknowledged that PPE shortages – rather than distribution issues only – was an issue and admitted supplies were running low because of ‘a competitive market out there’.
But some 25 European countries and eight companies are involved in the joint PPE procurement scheme and the first deliveries could be received within days, The Guardian reported.
A spokesman for the commission said the joint scheme has led to offers of protective gear in excess of the amount requested.
However, the UK will miss out on the PPE because it did not take part in any of the three rounds of bulk-buying which were first launched by the EU in February.
The Government has previously said it was unable to join the EU’s procurement schemes as it had not received an email of invitation.
Whitehall officials reportedly only realised after all three rounds had been put out to tender that they had not received invitations to join the Joint Procurement Agreement steering committee where the orders are organised.
After telling the EU commission that the invitation emails were being sent to an outdated address the UK finally participated in its first meeting on joint PPE procurement on March 19.
However, British officials did not follow up that meeting and did not attend on March 25 when participating countries were invited to outline their requirements for future purchases by the next day.
In a separate interview Ms Coffey said the UK ‘is in a better place now than necessarily we would have been under the EU scheme’.
‘The important point is that we have over 700 million pieces of PPE that are being delivered,’ she told LBC radio.
NHS nurse, 65, dies from coronavirus after warning about lack of PPE as he treated patients with just ‘a paper mask, plastic gloves and pinny’, family reveal
A brave nurse who died after contracting coronavirus had warned his family about not having proper PPE – and was left working with just a ‘paper mask, plastic gloves and a pinny’.
Grandfather Gareth Roberts, 65, had come out of retirement to work at Llandough Hospital in Cardiff and was doing extra shifts to cope with the crisis.
But he became ill himself with coronavirus, and gradually his condition deteriorated. He died at Prince Charles Hospital in Merthyr Tydfil, south Wales on Saturday.
His family have now hit out at the lack of protective equipment after the death of the ‘much-loved and dedicated’ member of the health team.
Grandfather Gareth Roberts, 65, (pictured) had come out of retirement to work at Llandough Hospital in Cardiff and was doing extra shifts to cope with the crisis
Family friend Janette Leonard (left) said that Mr Roberts (right) did not have the correct PPE. She said he had been left wearing just a ‘paper mask, plastic gloves and a pinny’
Family friend Janette Leonard said: ‘He didn’t have PPE. In the beginning he said he didn’t have anything.
‘For Gareth, he paid the ultimate price. Yeah we’re angry.
‘Why would you send a soldier on to the front line without combat gear? It’s unthinkable.’
Mr Roberts devoted 40 years of his life to caring for people in hospitals around Cardiff and spent his last shift at Llandough Hospital in the Welsh capital.
He worked as a nurse across the Cardiff and Vale health board area since the 1980s, coming out of retirement in January 2015.
His wife Linda was told to attend his bedside at 3am when it became clear he would pass away.
Over the last few weeks, Mr Roberts worked extra shifts to help cover the wards at Llandough Hospital.
Mr Roberts (pictured) worked as a nurse across the Cardiff and Vale health board area since the 1980s, coming out of retirement in January 2015
Mr Roberts’ wife Linda (pictured together) was told to attend his bedside at 3am when it became clear he would pass away. Over the last few weeks, Mr Roberts worked extra shifts to help cover the wards at Llandough Hospital
Ms Leonard said: ‘They called Linda at three in the morning.
‘They said: ‘He’s going, get over here’. They gowned her up – and she was with him.’
Ms Leonard said the family have concerns about a lack of personal protective equipment for frontline staff.
She said: ‘He had a paper mask, plastic gloves and a pinny.
‘Well that’s alright if you are making sandwiches but not when you are going to nurse people with the disease.’
Ms Leonard has now set up a fundraising page to help his family with funeral costs, which raised £2,700 in less than a day.
His friends say he was a kind man with a great sense of humour.
Ms Leonard, a friend of Mr Roberts since childhood, said his sense of humour would ‘make you weak’
‘You couldn’t not love him – his sense of humour, he was just so dry,’ she said.
‘Cariad [Welsh for darling] was his favourite word. The nursing sister in the ward was saying to me she’ll miss him saying: ‘Come on cariad, we can do this together’.
‘That’s how he was – a proper genuine, lovely guy.’
Mr Roberts, of Aberdare, south Wales was father to Ceri and Dean and a grandfather to 16-year-old Zac – who he and Linda had brought up after their son Dean passed away 11 years ago.
In a statement, Cardiff and Vale University Health Board said: ‘Gareth had been part of our nursing family since the 1980’s and worked across our hospital sites.’
It added ‘Gareth was well known by everyone and was an extremely popular, fun-filled and well liked person, always greeting everyone with – ‘Hello Cariad’ when he saw them.’
A spokesman for the Welsh Government said: ‘We are working with the rest of the UK to ensure there is sufficient supply of PPE and we’re working with Welsh businesses to produce PPE in Wales.
‘We are doing everything we can do ensure PPE is available for health and social care staff.’
News of Mr Roberts passing comes after a plaster technician in Doncaster and a pharmacy worker in Merseyside were revealed to be among the latest victims on the frontlines to be identified.
Donna Campbell, 54, tested positive for coronavirus after being admitted into intensive care at University Hospital of Wales, Cardiff. She has been described as a bubbly personality
Kevin Smith, who worked putting plaster casts on patients at Doncaster Royal Infirmary, died after catching coronavirus. Colleagues paid tribute to him as an ‘incredible person’ who ‘loved his job’ and as a man who was ‘renowned for his warm personality’
Donna Campbell, 54, worked as a nurse at the Velindre cancer hospital, Cardiff, where she was known for singing and dancing with patients.
She had been at the hospital for 20 years after getting her first position there as a volunteer, and was known among staff and patients for her bright and bubbly personality.
Ms Campbell was treated in intensive care at University Hospital of Wales, Cardiff, after she tested positive for the virus.
Kevin Smith, who died after a short battle with coronavirus, had worked putting plaster casts on patients at Doncaster Royal Infirmary, South Yorkshire. He had been employed by the NHS for 35 years.
His heartbroken daughter Ellie Whitley wrote on social media: ‘It’s so overwhelming to see so many amazing comments for such an incredible person who loved his job and everyone he worked with for many years.
‘Thank you everyone. We will all miss him greatly but never forget him, ever!’