NHS worker suspended for refusing to work on coronavirus ward without proper PPE
A medical student says her shifts have been cancelled after refusing to work in an area for confirmed coronavirus patients without a gown, visor and respiratory mask.
The suspended healthcare assistant (HCA) claims several NHS staff at Eastbourne District Hospital became involved in a standoff with the on-duty sister over a lack of adequate PPE on Tuesday, April 14. She says seven workers stood in the corridor and refused to go into the Covid-19 bay because they did not feel safe with only aprons and standard surgical masks.
She says she was ‘flabbergasted and appalled’ when she was asked ‘why are you fighting?’ for raising guidelines saying staff can refuse to work if they have not been given adequate equipment. After one of the nurses fell ill and was sent home with a temperature of 38.9C, the HCA says she went to see the site matron who gave her the equipment they needed.
The following day the agency worker received an email from East Sussex Healthcare NHS Trust and told she had been ‘restricted’ from working for ‘refusing to wear PPE in line with national guidance’. She told Metro.co.uk: ‘I just thought it was very irresponsible working as someone in a managerial position to put me in that position where I might have contracted it and it could be detrimental to my health and I could pass it onto someone else.
‘I would rather contract it by accident or by not knowing as opposed to pushing myself right into the thick of it.’
After having her shifts cancelled, the HCA uploaded a video of her opening a delivery of PPE she bought on eBay and emptying them on her bed.
She says she paid £48 for 10 gowns and £78 for a respirator mask because she didn’t feel she was being given adequate equipment at work.
The HCA added: ‘People are now selling these on eBay for extortionate prices because they know these things are needed.’
The medical student, who asked to remain anonymous, says she went to start her shift at 7pm on Tuesday when she saw members of staff gathered in the corridor, who said: ‘We are standing here because there’s no [adequate] PPE and so we are not working without PPE you can stand here with us if you agree’.
When the sister on duty insisted there was no issue as staff had been wearing aprons and surgical masks all day, the medical student brought up the Nursing and Midwifery Council saying staff may ‘decide to refuse to provide care or treatment to an individual because it is not safe for you to do so’.
She added: ‘I said to her as the patients are confirmed [to have coronavirus], the [Public Health England] guidelines are to wear an FFP3 mask and full gown, goggles and visor upon entrance into a red zone, at this point she said “why are you fighting?”‘
‘I said to her given I’m an ethnic minority please refrain from using language like that as that can be misconstrued, no-one is fighting.
‘I was both flabbergasted and appalled that a person in a band 6 position would even use such language and refuse adequate PPE provisions and everyone said they would go home if they were not provided it.’
As a black woman, the HCA, 29, says she feels particularly vulnerable to the disease, which has shown to be disproportionately affecting BAME people.
She added: ‘We have a duty of care and I wasn’t going to infect other patients who don’t have the virus knowingly. Also given I’m in the high risk category you’d think senior members of staff will have a duty of care to their staff members too.’
After one of the permanent HCA’s started feeling well and was sent home with a temperature of 38.9C, the suspended medical student says everyone was sent into a ‘panic’.
She added: ‘I just thought oh my God that could have literally been any single one of us.’
The HCA says she spoke to one of the permanent nurses and went to speak to the clinical site manager, who reportedly confirmed staff needed full gowns and respiratory masks and issued them.
Just as she was about to go to her shift the following day, the worker says she checked her phone and had received an email from East Sussex Healthcare NHS Trust saying her shifts have been cancelled.
It says: ‘It has been reported that this HCA refused to wear PPE in line with National Guidance demanding additional PPE. The HCA is reported to have shouted at the nurse in charge and refused to work.’
The medical student added: ‘I refused to work had I not been provided with adequate PPE and all seven of us that were there refused to work, so I’m sure she has singled me out because I stood my ground.
‘It is reported every day the number of healthcare workers that have died and are dying whilst at work from the lack of PPE, I merely stood up for myself and my colleagues in order to protect us all to be able to serve our patients safely.
‘I followed the correct guidelines as set out by infection control, Public Health England and the World Health Organisation alike.’
She has sent her statement to the trust and says everyone she worked with last Tuesday was willing to provide accounts of what happened.
The HCA added: ‘Most people just don’t want to challenge authority or feel that they can’t challenge authority because most people are worried about what implications their objections would have or what would happen if they stood up to people.’
She also worries whether BAME healthcare workers are ‘losing their lives due to a fear of disciplinary’.
The HCA added: ‘People should be able to speak up and people should be comfortable to say how they feel. People should speak up because if they don’t they could end up dead.’
An East Sussex Healthcare NHS Trust spokesperson told Metro.co.uk: ‘Members of agency staff are not directly employed by the Trust. However they are required to follow exactly the same Public Health England guidance as other members of staff when it comes to wearing personal protective equipment (PPE).
‘This means wearing specific equipment in specific situations or specific areas of our hospitals. Members of staff in areas treating Covid-19 suspected or positive patients are provided with fluid resistant surgical masks, gloves and aprons in line with national Public Health England guidance.
‘The agency Health Care Assistant was provided with this. She requested additional PPE and this was also provided. We recognise that this is a really worrying time for many members of staff and it’s important that we keep them and our patients safe by following our Trust values as well as the correct national guidance when it comes wearing PPE and caring for patients with Covid-19.’
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I knew that if I failed I wouldn’t regret that, but I knew the one thing I might regret is not trying.