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Keyworkers felt unsafe and unsupported during pandemic due to lack of government preparedness, people’s inquiry hears

FRONT-LINE staff and key workers were left feeling unsafe and unsupported due to the government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, the People’s Covid Inquiry has heard.

The government’s failures, along with the longevity of the pandemic, affected their wellbeing and various aspects of their work, workers told the fifth session of the inquiry by Keep Our NHS Public on Wednesday night.

Train driver and Aslef union rep Unjum Mirza said operational decisions by Transport for London (TfL) led to overcrowding and that some transport workers were even disciplined for using their own belongings to protect them from the virus when their employers failed to provide personal protective equipment (PPE).

He said: “The initial measures brought in by London Underground were completely incoherent and not fit for purpose.

“[The government] closed 40 stations which encouraged more congestion in fewer places. It was an attempt to show that London Underground was doing something when in fact by doing something it was making the situation worse.

“So many bus drivers told me they were just totally abandoned. Safety protocols and measures on the buses was just non-existent.

“Essentially [the government] was trying to run this on a wing and a prayer, where we were doing the praying, and it was doing the winging.”

NHS staff spoke about the risks they faced at work and how government actions and decisions had hampered their efforts to control the pandemic, as well as taken their toll on their health and wellbeing.

NHS worker Kirsty Brewerton said: “At times I was forced to work in unsafe conditions, and I ended up having a mental breakdown and becoming suicidal.

“It’s the moral injury of feeling unable to look after people properly. This final wave that we’ve just overcome was really, really tough.

“Mental health support is sporadic and varies from trust to trust, there’s no minimum amount of support that should be available and there is a duty of care required, it’s a stressful job which is getting ever more stressful, and addressing it should be a priority.

“I worry that the moral injury will have a massive impact on retention, and I hope that trusts are really mindful of it and support their staff going forward.”

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