The UK has recorded the among the highest number of COVID-19 health worker deaths in the world, according to a new report by Amnesty International.
The 61-page report – Exposed, Silenced, Attacked: Failures to protect health and essential workers during the pandemic – shows that, with at least 540 health and social workers having died from COVID-19 in England and Wales alone, the UK is second only to Russia, which has recorded 545 health worker deaths.
Amnesty has collated and analysed a wide range of available data showing that more than 3,000 health workers have died after contracting COVID-19 in 79 countries, though the figure is likely to be a significant underestimate due to under-reporting. According to Amnesty’s monitoring, the countries with the highest numbers of health worker deaths thus far, are: Russia (545), UK (England and Wales: 540, including 262 social care workers), USA (507), Brazil (351), Mexico (248), Italy (188), Egypt (111), Iran (91), Ecuador (82) and Spain (63).
In the UK, early studies indicate that Black, Asian and minority ethnic health workers appear to be significantly over-represented in the total number of COVID-19 related health worker deaths, with some reports showing that more than 60% of health workers who died identified as BAME.
Health workers have reported serious shortages of personal protective equipment in nearly all of the 63 countries and territories surveyed by Amnesty. In the UK, a survey of more than 16,000 doctors by the British Medical Association found that 48% of the respondents reported buying PPE for their own use or using donated PPE due to a lack of supplies at their workplaces. The survey also found that 65% of doctors said they felt either “partly or not at all protected”.
Healthcare professionals across the UK were also warned not to talk about shortages in protective equipment. Almost half of healthcare workers questioned as part of a major survey by the Doctors Association UK said they had effectively been gagged and prevented from raising concerns.
Amnesty believes the UK Government’s approach to this crisis must be properly investigated through an urgent public inquiry, to ensure lessons are learned and that there is proper accountability.
Kate Allen, Amnesty International UK’s Director, said:
“It is tragic that we’ve seen so many of our dedicated health and social care workers in England and Wales die from COVID-19.
“We have to understand whether these deaths were avoidable, and what led to this terrible outcome.
“There appears to have been a catastrophic failure to provide proper PPE and a failure to grapple with the alarmingly high death rates among BAME health workers.
“This crisis is far from over and an independent inquiry into the Government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic is urgently needed.
“We must learn lessons from this current crisis if we want to prevent future unnecessary deaths.”