Dr Meenal Viz during a lone protest at Downing Street in April. (Courtesy: Twitter)
Eastern Eye Staff
A BRITISH-INDIAN doctor couple are seeking judicial review proceedings against the UK government over “risky” guidance issued on the use of personal protective equipment (PPE) across the NHS.
Dr Nishant Joshi and his pregnant wife, Dr Meenal Viz, had launched legal action last month, after writing for explanations from the Department of Health and Social Care, and Public Health England.
They decided to push ahead with the case in the London High Court after receiving “unconvincing” responses from the government.
“We asked simple questions one month ago, hoping for open dialogue and swift resolution with (Health Secretary) Matt Hancock. In that time, over 100 more healthcare and social workers have died,” the couple said.
“There is a human cost to this suffering – we have fielded many calls from bereaved families, many of whom have questions about Personal Protective Equipments and systemic failings. They are going through the worst grief and trauma of their lives, and they deserve answers,” they said.
The legal challenge against the guidance, which applies to healthcare and social care workers, claims that it reduces the requirement to wear Personal Protective Equipments (PPE) and allows for re-use of some PPE.
It is argued that this goes against World Health Organisation (WHO) guidance and puts healthcare workers at risk, breaching their legal protections at work and their human rights.
The couple’s legal team said the government not only took over two weeks to respond to the initial legal letter but also did not answer all the concerns.
They also claim that the government has refused to allow the publication of the initial response.
Jamie Potter, partner at Bindmans LLP and solicitor for the doctors, said: “The government continues to seek to avoid transparency as to the risks such workers are facing with different levels of PPE and confirmation they are entitled to refuse to work where they consider the risks too great.
“They should be entitled to compliance with WHO guidelines for all of their work. The government may be facing operational pressures, but it is nothing compared to the pressures and risks faced by frontline health care workers with inadequate PPE.”
Estelle Dehon, from Cornerstone Barristers, representing the couple in court, added: “The WHO guidelines are designed to maintain those protections despite acute shortages of PPE and the government has not explained why it has taken a different approach that causes greater risk for frontline staff.”
Joshi and Viz have also launched a crowdfunding campaign for the legal challenge, which has already attracted over £35,000 in pledges on the crowdjustice.com forum.
Joshi, a general practitioner (GP) trainee, has been leading a social media campaign for weeks over the safety guidance and supply of PPE for medical staff.
Viz, a clinical fellow in medicine, was pictured last month outside Downing Street dressed in full medical scrubs and a surgical mask holding a placard reading: “Protect Healthcare Workers”.
“My wife Meenal and I are both doctors. Like so many NHS workers we are deeply concerned about the lack of proper personal protective equipment (PPE) when we are working to help patients,” wrote Joshi on crowdjustice.com.
“So far, over a hundred health care workers have died from coronavirus and many more have caught the disease. We’re launching a legal challenge over government guidance on PPE which we believe exposes us to coronavirus.”
The couple said it was “wonderful” that the country came together to clap and cheer frontline workers on on Thursday evenings. But, they added, it was also “critical that frontline NHS staff have the proper masks, visors, gowns, gloves, etc. so we can get on and help patients without fear of catching the virus ourselves and spreading it further”.
The Department of Health did not comment on the legal challenge directly, but had previously stressed that measures are in place to minimise risk.