An official complaint accuses the UK government of facilitating ‘the biggest health and safety disaster to hit the UK workforce since the introduction of asbestos products’
An expert letter to the UK Government’s Health & Safety Executive (HSE) of one of its own advisers accuses the agency of failing to use its legal power to correct “seriously flawed” guidelines on infection protection and control (IPC), jeopardizing “the health and the safety of healthcare workers by failing to provide respiratory protection”.
The continued failure to protect healthcare workers by ensuring they are wearing the appropriate form of PPE (personal protective equipment) to minimize the risk of infection from airborne transmission of COVID-19, the letter states. , has resulted in thousands of preventable deaths. Failures constitute both ‘gross negligence’ and serious ‘criminal offences’, claims letter seen by Signing time.
The letter to HSE Chief Executive Sarah Albon is written by David Osborn, a licensed health and safety consultant for 27 years, who is a ‘consulted member’ of the COSHH Essentials Working Group (Control of Substances Dangerous to Health) from HSE, where he helped HSE prepare guidance for employers and employees.
Written in a personal capacity, the letter is an official complaint accusing members of the government’s ‘IPC cell’ – a group of experts behind official guidelines on infection protection and control – as well as other senior government officials of committing a “criminal offence… ultimately punishable by fine and/or imprisonment” by breaching Section 36 of the Health and Safety Act job. The letter argues that a police investigation is necessary.
The guidance, Osborn writes in his letter, has failed to ensure healthcare workers understand they must wear and have access to respiratory protective equipment (RPE) designed to protect against airborne transmission of COVID. -19.
“There is sufficient prima facie evidence to suggest that the breach resulted in the potentially preventable deaths of hundreds of healthcare workers and the debilitating disease known as Long COVID in thousands of other healthcare workers,” indicates the letter.
An estimated 122,000 UK healthcare workers are now suffering from ‘Long Covid’, many of whom are consequently considering quitting their profession.
“I strongly believe that the main source of infection was inhalation of aerosols while caring for infected patients closely,” Osborn said in his letter.
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Besides members of the IPC cell, other people Osborn considers potentially guilty of these criminal failings include “senior doctors within DHSC [Department of Health & Social Care]executives within PHE [Public Health England]/UK-HAS [UK Health & Security Agency]Directors within NHS England / NHS Improvement and the 3 other national equivalent organisations”.
Osborn argues that mandatory surgical masks for healthcare workers treating COVID-positive patients in general wards, ambulances and private homes, nursing homes, etc. are totally inadequate to protect people from deadly airborne diseases. “The correct RPE (FFP3 and equivalent) that they should have used in all of these work environments was limited to certain aerosol-generating procedures (AGPs).”
However, Osborn writes that the underlying reasons for the misdirection “can be traced to decisions made by PHE and the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) in the early days of the pandemic (mid-March 2020) and the following dogma and policies adopted by these two departments.
Osborn further accuses healthcare employers of violating “Regulation 7(9) of the COSHH Regulations” which requires that where “workers must be protected from inhalation of airborne microbiological hazards, certain types of respirator masks should be used which provide a minimum level of protection not provided by any type of surgical mask.
This despite the fact, writes Osborn, that government authorities, including the HSE, “have known for over a year that COVID-19 is an airborne disease”. Public Health England had classified COVID as “airborne” as early as January 2020, the letter notes.
Similarly, “the HSE was aware that the SARS-CoV virus (also called SARS-CoV-1 from the 2003 outbreak) was airborne”, as the HSE’s guidance on “airborne precautions” illustrates. involving FFP3 masks for SARS. The letter also states parliamentary testimony in March 2020 from Chris Whitty, Chief Medical Officer (CMO) of the British government, warning that the virus emanating from China had a “very strong force of transmission” and was “airborne”, and therefore would have “the ability to travel around the world whole… The UK will not be immune to this”.
When will the government finally start Taking airborne transmission of COVID-19 seriously?
The following month, the HSE’s Chief Scientific Adviser continued reinforced for the Government’s Scientific Advisory Group on Emergencies (SAGE) that airborne transmission of COVID-19 was possible well beyond 2 metres, and “potentially up to 7-8m”. This position was reiterated as recently as October 2021 in parliamentary testimony.
Osborn’s letter shows how advice was systematically downgraded in March 2020 with the effect of justifying the weakening of previously strong respiratory protection. Accordingly, he described the IPC Cell’s advice as fundamentally counterproductive: “The IPC Cell’s beliefs and understanding are conceptually flawed, simply wrong and therefore dangerous.”
But the failure extends far beyond the IPC cell. The HSE was “negligent (arguably derelict in duty),” Osborn concluded, “in failing to assert its authority and failing to intervene to protect workers whom it knew (or should have known) were were in danger by the withdrawal of the RPE”.
Osborn’s allegations are so serious that he has called for a formal police inquiry alongside an HSE investigation:
“I suggest that if this matter is considered by a court or an inquest, it is likely that it will be considered that:
• the authors and editors of the IPC guidelines had a “duty of care” to health care workers and others who might be affected by their guidelines;
• the “duty of care” was breached by the provision of advice which endangered health and possibly cost lives.
• Worker health has been harmed and lives have been lost as a result of this violation.
You will of course recognize that the 3 elements above are the criteria that constitute “negligence”.
Normally, where a work-related death occurs and there is a suspicion of negligence, the police will investigate alongside the HSE under the ‘Liaison Protocol’ to determine whether any offenses have been committed by individuals (manslaughter by gross negligence) and/or by organizations (corporate manslaughter). There is sufficient evidence to justify such a referral to the police.
David Osborn, whose work with the HSE has included assisting the HSE’s ‘COSHH Policy Team’, has corresponded with the HSE and Acting Government Ministers over the past six months on these issues.
Copies of the packet of letters seen by Signing time reveal how Osborn’s efforts to draw attention to the widespread systematic failure to protect healthcare workers fell on deaf ears in Boris Johnson’s government.
In May 2021, for example, MP Jo Churchill – then the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Primary Care and Health Promotion – dismissively responded to Osborn’s concerns: “There is no need to increase the level of PPE worn by clinicians unless the standard of care or clinical intervention indicates that a different level of PPE is required.
HSE chief executive Sarah Albon also repeatedly dismissed Osborn’s concerns throughout the correspondence.
Formal and official responses to Osborn’s formal complaint will set a precedent that goes beyond the UK. Up to 180,000 healthcare workers may have been killed since the start of the pandemic according to the World Health Organization. If Osborn’s serious allegations are confirmed, it will raise urgent questions about the responsibility of governments around the world for the deaths of healthcare workers.
And it does not stop there. With transmission in hospitals and care homes being a key factor in increasing transmission rates in wider populations, questions about government culpability in the overall death toll from COVID-19 (in the UK United, so far til 176,813 people died of COVID-19) can have shocking legal ramifications.
A DHSC spokesperson declined to comment with the following explanation, noting that “IPC is separate from DHSC; the department does not have the legal capacity to respond given the specificity of the allegations.
An HSE spokesperson said Signing time“Our around-the-clock assurance and advice around PPE, which we provided at the height of PPE supply shortages, is firmly rooted in science. We acknowledge receipt of Mr. Osborn’s letter today , we are reviewing the serious allegations he raises with us and will respond in due course.
Public Health England did not respond to request for comment.
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