Today
Fri 17 September 2021

Stephen Colegrave investigates why Medscape indicates the UK has had so many more health worker deaths than elsewhere

The Medscape memorial figures for COVID-19 deaths provides a poignant insight into the magnitude of health worker deaths compared to the rest of the world. The gap between the UK’s number of deaths compared with any other European country has increased since Byline Times looked at these figures last year. The only other two countries anywhere near Britain’s high levels of health worker deaths are Italy and Spain with 28% and 46% fewer deaths respectively.

When size of population is taken into account, the UK has the third highest death rate worldwide with nearly three times as many health worker deaths in comparison than the USA, even though most of these were on Trump’s watch. Only El Salvador and Mexico have worse figures.


The UK’s appalling figures are an indictment of the Government’s failure to provide adequate personal protective (PPE) clothing for health workers. This was depicted most dramatically by the image of nurses in Northwick Park Hospital trying to make their own PPE out of bin liners in April 2020 because nothing else was available. According the Daily Mirror, a few weeks later they tested positive for COVID-19.

This was followed by the farce of PPE flown in from Turkey by the RAF including 400,000 much needed gowns accompanied by triumphant and bellicose promises by Matt Hancock, much of which proved to be sub-standard as the Metro reported on 7 May 2020.

“The vital PPE was flown into the UK by the RAF as Britain’s essential heath and care workers continued to risk their lives without proper protection. But the gowns never made it to the frontline and are instead being kept inside a Government warehouse near Heathrow airport after falling short of UK standards”.

There was certainly no lack of money spent of PPE, more than £36 billion so far, so why have our health care workers been so poorly protected?

Since then the Government has been determined to deflect any criticism about the inadequacy of its provision of PPE even though Public Health England guidance often seemed to have been driven by availability rather than international best practice and often fell short of WHO guidelines. This has been highlighted by campaigning group EveryDoctor UK.


Last November, Labour leader Keir Starmer had the temerity to question the Prime Minister over the adequacy of PPE, who confidently declared that “99.5% of the 32 billion items of personal protective equipment conformed entirely to our clinical needs.”

This was at odds with the evidence given to the Public Accounts Committee by DHSC permanent secretary Sir Chris Wormald that 2.9 billion items of PPE costing £1.5 billion were inadequate for use in a clinical setting, as reported in Byline Times last week.

As well as PPE, in the first wave of the pandemic, testing of health workers was slow to be implemented at scale and consistently failed to meet targets.

This not only put health care workers lives at risks but also many patients and most devastatingly led to elderly patients being discharged into care homes with deadly results.

Indeed, at the time Department of Health and Social Care guidance stated that “negative tests are not required prior to transfers/admissions into the care home”. This guidance and the general lack of testing led to many care worker deaths as well as care home residents becoming the population with the most COVID-19 deaths in the country.

The worst thing about these tragic figures is an overriding sense that many deaths could have been avoided if health workers had not been let down by inadequacies in policy and implementation of PPE and testing by a Government that is determined never to admit its mistakes.

“The UK healthcare worker death toll is devastating,” EveryDoctor CEO Dr Julia Patterson told Byline Times. The organisation represents the concerns of NHS doctors and were co-claimants in the Good Law Project’s case against the Government over PPE procurement.

“Many of these frontline workers were provided with no PPE at all during the first wave of COVID-19,” she continued. “These workers were unprotected as they saved lives, and the UK government have failed to take responsibility. NHS staff need better PPE; the COVID-19 case numbers are rising and every frontline health and social care worker should be provided with respirator masks because COVID-19 is airborne. This situation must never happen again.”

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