ONE trusts the stork’s passage across London was peaceful, its job of delivering Baby Johnson to his delighted parents made easier by the emptiness of the skies. Congratulations and welcome, young man.

The last Downing Street baby was Florence Cameron, born ten years ago in August. Before Miss Cameron there was Leo Blair in May 2000. Downing Street was filled with the sound of bawling and for once it wasn’t Alastair Campbell having a quiet word with one of Her Majesty’s Press.

Baby Johnson’s safe arrival is a rare instance of good news in grim times. You do not have to look far for the other kind of news. It is everywhere, from the rising death toll in care homes in the UK, to the rapidly escalating tragedy in the US.

Since the beginning of this crisis I have found myself moving, like many others, through Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’s stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Sometimes it happens over the course of a week. Other times I can notch up all five responses in a single day. Of late, I have struggled to get past the anger phase, particularly after watching Panorama last Monday.

Richard Bilton’s film posed a straightforward question: had the Government failed the NHS? To date, more than 100 health and social care staff have died with Covid-19, and there is a long, hard road ahead until a vaccine hopefully arrives.

What a case for the prosecution Bilton assembled. He discovered that paper towels, among other things, had been counted as part of the billions of items of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) the Government said it had delivered. A pair of gloves was marked down as two items.

The stockpile that the Government held did not include the gowns, masks and eye protection stipulated as essential by world health bodies. When shortages emerged, offers of help from British firms were ignored. Staff in some hospitals resorted to wearing DIY kits of bin bag aprons and swimming goggles.

READ MORE: Coronavirus in Scotland

Finally, when it became obvious that the Government was breaking its own rules on protecting staff it changed the guidelines. Covid-19 was taken off the list of “highly consequential infectious diseases” for which full kit was required.

It was a classic case of fail to prepare, prepare to fail. So yes, governments across the UK have failed the NHS. For it is not just in England that there have been warnings about lack of PPE. Complaints have arisen across the UK, including Scotland.

Some of the NHS staff who appeared on Panorama were justifiably angry. They know how much the public appreciates what they are doing. They have been enormously touched by the weekly clap for carers. But as one intensive care nurse told Bilton: “Calling us heroes just makes it okay when we die.”

No-one should be expected to put themselves in harm’s way without the protection they need. No Minister would enter premises where the virus lurks wearing bin bags and goggles. Yet every day doctors, nurses, carers, cleaners and other key workers are being placed in that position. After looking after other people’s loved ones they then go home to their own, not knowing what they might be bringing with them. It is scandalous. Infuriating.

How did England’s Health Secretary Matt Hancock respond to the Panorama claims at the Downing Street daily press conference? He was “not sure” the programme had been “a fair and objective journalistic assessment of the situation”. Mr Hancock – the ministerial equivalent of bin bags standing in for protective gowns: useless.

Mr Johnson could have been asked about the problem with PPE shortages at Prime Minister’s Questions yesterday, but baby events intervened and his place was taken, as last week, by Dominic Raab, First Secretary and Foreign Secretary.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer was underpowered compared to last Wednesday. One can see already that his approach of “constructive opposition” has its limits. The lawyerly fencing with Mr Raab, the more in sorrow than in anger tone, is ageing quickly.

READ MORE: Concerns raised over transport

He did eventually settle and took the First Secretary to task over PPE, citing a study by the Royal College of Physicians in which a third of doctors working with covid patients said they still did not have adequate gear.

Mr Raab’s response was only too familiar. Global supply shortage. Not just Britain. Every effort being made, and so on.

No-one disputes the scale of the task before governments. The issue is how well or otherwise they were prepared, and how quickly and competently they move to fix the problems. As one doctor told Panorama, this crisis is unprecedented, that word Ministers and others keep using ad tedium, but it was not unexpected.

The very least NHS and care staff are owed is an apology. A proper admission from governments that they should have done better.

This is crucial as the country moves towards the eventual lifting of the lockdown. People must have trust in their governments. So far they have had confusion (the latest being the Scotland-rUK divide over masks), misdirection and muddle.

Little wonder that a YouGov survey for The Times this week found 28% of those polled did not want restrictions eased even if the UK Government’s five tests have been met.

Does that speak to a fear of the virus, a lack of trust in governments, or both?

When he stood in Downing Street on Monday, newly returned to work, the Prime Minister promised that any decisions on easing the lockdown would be taken with “maximum possible transparency”.

Let us see that promise fulfilled. Talk to the public like the grown ups we are. Involve us in the discussion. If that does not happen then governments are preparing to fail with the lifting of the lockdown as surely as they have on the supply of protective equipment.

The World Health Organisation said the way out of this pandemic was to test, test, test. Another essential is trust, trust, trust. Time for governments to start earning it.


Our columns are a platform for writers to express their opinions. They do not necessarily represent the views of The Herald.

News from trusted and credible sources is essential at all times, but especially now as the coronavirus pandemic impacts on all aspects of our lives. To make sure you stay informed during this difficult time our coverage of the crisis is free.
However, producing The Herald's unrivalled analysis, insight and opinion on a daily basis still costs money and, as our traditional revenue streams collapse, we need your support to sustain our quality journalism.
To help us get through this, we’re asking readers to take a digital subscription to The Herald. You can sign up now for just £2 for two months.
If you choose to sign up, we’ll offer a faster loading, advert-light experience – and deliver a digital version of the print product to your device every day. Click here to help The Herald: Thank you, and stay safe.