Like many of us, I was exercised by the daily government briefings in respect of Covid-19 and the continued failure to acknowledge that mistakes had been made with a desire to benefit quickly from the learning as a result of these.  The use of ‘science’ as an absolute rather than a basis for doubt, test and challenge is both misleading and generates false confidence.  Whilst not criticising the need to recognise the potentially huge demand upon NHS services and to give priority to ensuring capacity, I was dismayed by the lack of attention to social care and to other frontline services both in terms of recognition of risk and quality of guidance with relevant provision.  A point excellently reflected by Brain Parrott in his letter to The Guardian on 30thApril.

My particular interest has been the response to the deaths of NHS, care workers and others who have died as a result of Covid-19.  For non-British/EU workers, the status of their families in this country; the need to recognise that for all this was a ‘death in service’ and that pension and other benefits must reflect this and the role of the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) in the investigation of failures of provision of protective equipment or shortcomings in policy and procedures in the workplace.  It took considerable time for the deaths of those working in social care to be acknowledged and there is still no recognition for others such as bus drivers (20+ reported deaths in London), police officers, prison officers, border force and other local authority workers, whether direct employees or working in contracted services.

I wrote to my MP and to the HSE to pursue this.  I also engaged with ADASS and Chairs of Adult Safeguarding Boards.  The responses from HSE are helpful:-

‘….deaths due to COVID-19 that are reportable to HSE under the Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulation 2015 (RIDDOR).  We have published guidance to help dutyholders understand the application of RIDDOR to cases of COVID-19. This is available on our website at https://www.hse.gov.uk/news/riddor-reporting-coronavirus.htm

Not all RIDDOR reports are followed up, we have had for many years an incident selection criteria as to which incidents we investigate, this link provides the detail https://www.hse.gov.uk/enforce/incidselcrits.pdf. Those matters that we investigate will follow our investigation procedure. The purposes of our investigations are to determine causes, share lessons, identify what actions a dutyholder needs to take to prevent any recurrence and where appropriate, gather evidence for enforcement purposes. In relation to any death there will be a range of matters that will form part of the investigation, exploring the role of PPE will of course form part of any COVID death. One of the significant challenges of any COVID death is knowing whether the virus was actually caught at work or in some other setting.’

Figures published by the Office for National Statistics indicate that, up to 20thApril,  people working in social care have been twice as likely to die with coronavirus as healthcare workers.  There are 131 recorded deaths – 86 female and 45 male.  A Guardian article Saturday 09 May concerning a call for criminal investigation into deaths of hospital and care workers confirmed that, thus far, 54 formal reports of deaths in both health and care settings where the source of infection is recorded as Covid-19, have been received by the Health and Safety Executive as required under RIDDOR .  The shortfall in numbers being reported may reflect a lack of awareness or wilful decision-making to avoid the duty-holder responsibility and contribute to any subsequent investigation.  It is essential that there is immediate action by the Care Quality Commission to test adherence to the law in this area and, specifically in care homes, to evaluate the relationship, if any, between the level of deaths of care workers and of residents in a particular home.  There could well be grounds for Safeguarding Adults Boards to initiate a review if it becomes clear that failure to provide adequate personal protective equipment or shortcomings in meeting policy and procedures contributed to the death of a resident constituting neglect or there is concern that partner agencies could have worked more effectively to protect the adult.

The figure of over 200 deaths of workers in health and social care in as a result of Covid-19 is being put out and there is no indication yet from the government as to the numbers and the status of the payments of £60,000 to those whom it has agreed died in the course of their public service duties.

 I vaguely remember training in RIDDOR but it never figured in my management activity.  The Covid-19 HSE guidance is very clear. It seems essential that we all make sure our managers and HR support staff are fully alive to our responsibilities as a duty-holder and that proper investigation of all deaths as a result of COVID-19 of our employees and our contracted staff takes place to meet these.

 

 

This blog is a personal view from Mike Taylor, ADASS Associate, who ahs agreed to publish his piece on the ADASS Website. 
Please contact team@adass.org.uk if you'd like to see your piece shared to our collection.