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‘Cover up’ Allegations as Most NHS Trusts Say No Staff Died of Covid on Their Watch

EXCLUSIVE: “Conspiracy of silence” among NHS Trusts means most NHS employers recorded not a SINGLE Covid death among their workers during the first two waves

Carrie Symonds and Boris Johnson clap for the NHS in 2020. Around 2,000 NHS workers are believed to have lost their lives from Covid. Photo: Victoria Jones/PA Images/Alamy

NHS Workers betrayed:‘Cover up’ Allegations As Most NHS Trusts Say No Staff Died of Covid on Their Watch

EXCLUSIVE: “Conspiracy of silence” among NHS Trusts means most NHS employers recorded not a SINGLE Covid death among their workers during the first two waves

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NHS leaders and ministers face allegations of a “cover up”, as Byline Times reveals that almost two thirds of NHS employers did not make a single, legally-required report of Covid being caught by staff working during the first 18 months of the pandemic.

And four fifths (82%) of NHS employers have not reported a single death of a worker from Covid caught while working in those first two waves.

It equates to 127 NHS Trusts and Boards in England and Wales failing to report a single case of Covid being caught amongst healthcare workers between 1 March 2020 and 2 September 2021.

The Reporting of Injuries, Diseases & Dangerous Occurrences (RIDDOR) rules mean that employers have a legal duty to report certain serious workplace accidents and occupational diseases – including Covid. 

But Freedom of Information requests to hundreds of NHS Trusts in England and Wales, shared with Byline Times, reveal that NHS employers are effectively claiming that not a single health care worker died of Covid-19 caught through their work.

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The lack of acceptance of responsibility from NHS employers has left some families in limbo – and angry at what they consider to be deliberate “denial” of the experiences of those who died serving the public.  

Bereaved families of health workers can receive a £60,000 life payment from the government. David Osborn, a health and safety consultant and member of the Covid-19 Airborne Transmission Alliance (CATA), co-wrote the research. He said: “One wonders how many bereaved families who have been denied this payment did not have the benefit of [these reports] to support their case.”

Osborn wrote to Sarah Albon, Chief Executive of the Health and Safety Executive, to raise his concerns after speaking with family members of NHS workers who had died of Covid, saying the reports of zero NHS worker deaths from Covid caught in the workplace are “difficult, nigh impossible, to believe.” 

Freedom of Information data published by the Daily Mirror in March found that more than 14,000 people in England and Wales died with Covid after catching the virus in hospital. According to official NHS data in England and Wales, the site reported, 14,047 Brits died in hospital after they caught the virus following admission, whilst at least 69,337 people caught the virus only after having been admitted.

Between 20-40% of the people who died from Covid across the country picked up the infection in hospital, according to health select committee figures. 

It is therefore “impossible to believe” that just a handful of NHS workers died from Covid caught while in service, the health and safety consultant adds. NHS staff frequently reported inadequate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) provision – especially in the early phases of the pandemic – a subject of the ongoing public inquiry.

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Stretching belief

Osborn writes: “It is inconceivable that every healthcare worker in two-thirds of our hospitals had some sort of extraordinary immunity from the disease whilst they were at work, but which lapsed as soon as they were outside the hospital walls, enabling them to conveniently ‘become infected out in the community’ (as claimed by many Trusts).”

“Most health care workers would have been even more diligent than most citizens at complying with these measures, being only too aware of the death, suffering and misery they were seeing all around them daily at their place of work,” he adds. 

Osborn wrote to the Health and Safety Executive of “suspicions that there has been an enormous, well co-ordinated cover-up intended to deliberately conceal the true impact on HCWs as the pandemic ploughed into them.”

Trusts claiming that staff members who died of Covid did not catch it on their watch may believe that they are less liable to answer to those who lost loved ones. 

The lack of reporting in part stems from what many health experts consider to be a deeply flawed reporting guidance issued by the NHS nationally. That guidance – which was live at time of publication but soon taken down – means reporting to the Health and Safety Executive is not even considered until the employee has had a positive Covid test. In the first few months of the pandemic, these PCR tests were difficult to get hold of, and quicker Lateral Flow Tests had not yet been rolled out. 

Osborn writes to NHS bosses: “Besides the fact that scientific evidence puts the ‘false negative’ rate of PCR tests at almost 10%, so clearly cannot be solely relied upon, there is no requirement whatsoever in the RIDDOR regulations for the disease to have been confirmed by a laboratory test of any sort. It is the receipt of a diagnosis of the disease by a registered medical practitioner which initiates the RIDDOR process – not a test result.”

Reporting blackout

A number of NHS Trusts told Osborn and fellow researchers that they attempted to report cases of disease or death, but claim that HSE either advised that they should not report them, or rejected reports that they had made and refused to enter them on their RIDDOR database.

Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust reported two cases of disease arising from occupational exposure to Covid. The dossier sent to HSE alleges that the Trust was asked by government quango to “put a hold on submissions” during 2020. 

A research study in the same NHS Trust using the analytical technique known as Whole Genome Sequencing (WGS) – a form of ‘fingerprinting’ viruses that may be used to identify if a virus from person A passed to person B – proved “conclusively” that, during the first two waves (March 2020-September 2021), 150 healthcare workers were infected from the patients they were looking after. 

This suggests that 148 cases of staff Covid infections from working at the Trust went unreported – apparently as a direct result of HSE’s intervention.

Ambulances wait to unload patients at the A&E department at Glasgow Royal Infirmary during the peak of the pandemic. Photo: Iain Masterton/Alamy

Sheffield Health and Social Care NHS Foundation Trust reported one death of a staff member from Covid, under occupational safety regulations. According to the Trust, HSE informed the Trust that this death did not need to be reported under RIDDOR. 

Yorkshire Ambulance Service NHS Trust submitted five reports of the deaths of paramedics from Covid. Again, HSE is alleged to have rejected these submissions “and therefore none were entered onto your RIDDOR database,” Osborn writes.

And Hull University Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust reported one death of a staff member from Covid. “However HSE informed the Trust that the case was not RIDDOR reportable due to the uncertainty surrounding the source of transmission,” the letter states. 

In contrast, Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells NHS Trust reported 1,015 cases of disease due to occupational exposure under the HSE process between March 2020 to Feb 2021. It is understood that at that time the Trust employed just over 5,000 employees. 

East Kent Hospitals University NHS Foundation Trust reported 961 cases of disease due to occupational exposure in this time frame. A Trust spokesperson said: “The Trust has taken a broad view in determining the staff it includes in these figures, for example staff that were at work at any time in the last 14 days prior to their infection.” 

Reasons for “hiding” figures

A recent BBC Panorama programme published a Freedom of Information request which revealed that, on 8th April 2020, an NHS Trust had sent an email to HSE saying: “As things stand, all healthcare workers could be said to be exposed to covid as a result of their work – Staff would expect cases to be reported which could be very detrimental to the already fragile morale in the workforce”. 

Osborn believes that had the true scale of NHS staff deaths been reported at the time, proper PPE would have been distributed with urgency. 

He adds: “If the true levels of healthcare worker infections were to become widely known, serious questions would have been asked about the policy of equipping them with flimsy surgical masks which are not even designated as “PPE” instead of proper, approved, ‘fit for purpose’ respiratory protective equipment (RPE) such as FFP3 respirators. 

In turn this may have led to further suspicions that whoever ordered the switch to [thin surgical masks] might knowingly and recklessly put them into harm’s way, for which they may subsequently be held accountable.”

Dr. Barry Jones is a former NHS consultant now working on issues related to the Covid pandemic through CATA. He believes that the failure to report Covid infections and deaths among NHS staff came from a “high level” in government, and obligations were “disregarded” to prevent alarming the healthcare community and the public.

He told Byline Times the “conspiracy of silence” surrounding the government’s lack of preparedness for the pandemic has resulted in a failure to provide full information to the public and healthcare workers about the extent of deaths. 

A lack of reporting on NHS staff deaths reduced the impetus to give them proper PPE, health campaigners tell Byline Times. Photo: Lankowsky/Alamy

Dr Jones said: “Clearly [someone] decided that reporting obligations would be disregarded. The Chief Coroner said there wouldn’t be any inquests into possible deaths at work from Covid. There was obviously a decision made at a high level. We don’t know where or who by. And we don’t know why. It has not informed the public, it has failed the healthcare community completely, and it has undermined confidence.”

“If you have lost loved ones working in the NHS, you expect the state to take some notice and get some recompense, but this has all been denied to healthcare workers who died in hundreds and probably thousands,” the health expert added.

The Royal College of Nursing has attributed around 2,000 deaths from Covid-19 among health care workers. Dr Jones believes the government’s failure to take up power assisted protective respirators (PAPRs) is a clear example of how the government has failed to protect healthcare workers during the pandemic – and which true figures on NHS staff deaths would help expose. 

Before Friday 13th March 2020, healthcare workers were told that when the pandemic reached the UK they would be provided with FFP3 respirators to protect themselves from the disease. 

“On that fateful day in March, government policy changed and they were assured that surgical masks would keep them safe. From that day, which will live in NHS history as a day of infamy, the biggest health and safety disaster this country has ever witnessed began to inexorably unfold in the healthcare sector,” Osborn says. 

Bitter Personal Experience

Barbara Anne Rae’s partner Neil Alexander worked in Woodland View mental health hospital in Ayrshire, Scotland. He had health problems that made him vulnerable to Covid-19, of which the Trust were aware.

The supposedly safe area he worked in – supposed to be protected from Covid – was separated from the Covid ward by partitions that did not stretch from the floor to the ceiling. He died on 14 February 2021, aged 64, after catching Covid. Barbara Anne says she was told privately by NHS managers that there was a 99% chance Neil caught Covid-19 from the ward (The Trust is understood to dispute this). 

The Trust has publicly denied that Neil caught Covid while working there. “The Trust never mentioned their responsibility. I have an investigation that the NHS did themselves. The conclusion was “there’s nothing to say Neil contracted Covid from the ward.” I wasn’t even allowed a duty of candour. It’s so unbelievable,” she tells Byline Tmies. Barbara Anne adds that Neil isolated when he was not working, and she believes he was unlikely to have caught Covid elsewhere. 

“They weren’t getting tested. We had been getting tested in the nursing home I work in since July 2020, every week. Then we had LFTs twice a week. But Neil was not. We spoke to district nurses and they said never once were they tested in the early months,” she says. 

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Challenge to NHS

Osborn has also written to NHS figures in a letter backed by several leading NHS campaign groups, including the COVID-19 Airborne Transmission Alliance (CATA), made up of healthcare professional bodies and experts representing tens of thousands of workers. CATA has been granted core participant status in the UK Covid-19 Inquiry. 

He is writing on behalf of several people who have lost loved ones to Covid while working in the NHS, as well as NHS staff suffering from Long Covid. 

The health and safety consultant states: “My inquiries and professional judgement have led me to the firm conclusion that it was indeed ‘more likely than not’ that these healthcare workers’ cases of COVID-19 were acquired through occupational exposure to the virus.

“To the ‘forgotten heroes of the Covid front line’ it is particularly important that their disease is properly recorded and officially reported as occupational exposure since their status in respect of future state benefits such as Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefit may depend upon it. If the disease has compromised their ability to work then they should be entitled to it – and frankly, society owes it to them.”

The £60,000 payment to the families of NHS workers who lost their lives is not dependant on a RIDDOR report from Trusts, but Osborn believes it can help their case.

Campaigners at CATA, a participant in the official Covid inquiry, want answers. Photo: Julian Claxton/Alamy

Health figures ‘reviewing guidance’ 

In response to Byline Times’ enquiries and the letter to NHS officials, an NHS Employers spokesperson told this paper: “NHS Employers is currently reviewing its guidance on what is RIDDOR reportable in relation to Covid-19 and is in discussion with HSE about guidance on the NHS Employers website.

“We have issued a response to the enquiry received, to the enquirer, today. This is a private letter. Should the individual wish to make the response public, we will be happy to review any questions asked.”

A spokesperson for the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) said they would respond to the dossier, adding: “Our priority is to keep people safe at work. We are very sorry for those who lost loved ones during the pandemic and are fully cooperating with the public inquiries.

“We produced web-based guidance on reporting and were clear and consistent on what was needed to keep people safe, guided by public health and medical advice. We sought to protect people while acting proportionately and recognising workplaces were facing unprecedented challenges.”

David Osborn said a letter he received from NHS Employers, seen by Byline Times, “confirms HSE colluded/collaborated in the production of guidance, the end result of which departed significantly from the true requirements of the RIDDOR legislation and resulted in massive under-reporting of cases by NHS organisations.”

He added: “Thousands of healthcare workers [have] been so badly affected by the disease they caught through the pandemic which now blights their lives.

“Up until now they’ve had to accept their employers’ assertions that their disease was not reportable, nor deemed to be “occupational exposure” since (a) they cannot prove they caught it at work as opposed to in the community, (b) they (the employers were following national guidance) and (c) they were provided with PPE.

“This blows all that apart.”

Byline Times will be publishing more on this story in the coming weeks. 

In figures: Health and Safety Executive by NHS Trusts in England between 1 March 2020 and 2 September 2021

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