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Nurses ‘ignored’ during pandemic decision-making, Covid-19 inquiry told

Nurses ‘ignored’ during pandemic decision-making, Covid-19 inquiry told

Those representing the nursing profession were ‘shut out’ of key decision-making during the pandemic, the UK Covid-19 Inquiry has been told.

Rose Gallagher, the first nurse to give evidence to the inquiry and Royal College of Nursing (RCN) professional lead in infection prevention and control, said that the voice of nurses had been overlooked in preparations for a pandemic.

‘Despite learnings from previous incidents, those representing the nursing profession were not consulted or engaged in developing clinical guidance for Covid-19,’ said Ms Gallagher, who contributed to the inquiry in writing and verbally on Monday.

‘Despite being the largest group within the healthcare workforce, they were effectively shut out from key decision-making in Covid-19, and their voice and expertise were ignored.’

Additionally, Ms Gallagher highlighted the ways in which institutional and organisational issues obstructed effective pandemic planning.

Preparations were put in place for the ‘wrong pandemic’ due to an excessive focus on ‘the most predictable risk’ of influenza, despite expert warnings about other pandemic risks, she said.

The government was also too focussed on hospitals rather than including primary care and other care settings, she added.

Ms Gallagher further claimed that nurses were ‘put at risk’ both before and during the Covid-19 pandemic, and that the UK remains ‘unprepared for any future emergence of Covid-19, or any other health emergency’.

Already well understood workforce issues ‘immediately’ put nurses at risk when they were called upon to increase capacity in the healthcare system, she added.

‘We went into the pandemic about 50,000 nurses short,’ noted Ms Gallagher, who said this ‘significantly undermined the UK’s resilience to deal with a pandemic on this scale’.

Ms Gallagher also told the inquiry that the RCN had highlighted the ‘overrepresentation’ of nurses from minority ethnic backgrounds on the frontlines of the pandemic and had warned that they would be at ‘increased risk of exposure’.

However, she claimed that the government did not take any action to address the extra risk posed to minority ethnic nurses by a pandemic.

In written evidence submitted to the inquiry, she also said that a focus on preparations for Brexit had drawn governmental resources and priorities away from proper pandemic planning.

A government spokesperson said: ‘Throughout the pandemic the government acted to save lives and livelihoods, prevent the NHS being overwhelmed and deliver a world-leading vaccine rollout which protected millions of lives across the nation.

‘We have always said there are lessons to be learnt from the pandemic and we are committed to learning from the Covid-19 Inquiry’s findings which will play a key role in informing the government’s planning and preparations for the future. We will consider all recommendations made to the department in full.’

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