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Indian-origin doctor couple begin legal battle with UK govt

By Aditi Khanna
June 11, 2020 11:03 IST
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An Indian-origin husband-wife doctor couple have launched judicial review proceedings against the United Kingdom government over what they say is a refusal to address safety issues around personal protective equipment for doctors and healthcare workers during the coronavirus pandemic.

IMAGE: A medical worker wearing personal protective equipment at the back of an ambulance outside Lewisham hospital as the spread of the coronavirus disease continues in London. Photograph: Hannah McKay/Reuters

Dr Nishant Joshi and his pregnant wife, Dr Meenal Viz, had initiated the legal action in April with a pre-action letter seeking answers from the UK's Department of Health and Social Care and Public Health England.

They decided to push ahead with the case in the high court in London on Wednesday because they feel they are “no longer willing to wait”.

 

“We don't want to be doing this. We didn't plan on doing this. We're doctors in a pandemic. We want to focus on saving lives and stitching this country back together,” the couple said in a statement.

“But we have been pushed into taking action by the government's refusal to address the issues we have raised,” they said.

Their law firm, Bindmans, said the judicial review challenge highlights the “mismatch” between the government's guidance on PPE and the guidance set out by the World Health Organisation, including in respect of when “full” PPE is required, as well as with respect to the reuse and reprocessing of PPE -- which includes items such surgical gowns, face visors and gloves.

The doctors' case claims that the government's guidance also fails properly to warn healthcare and social care workers of the risks they face with different levels of PPE and their legal rights to refuse to work when inadequate PPE is available.

“As frontline doctors, Dr Viz and Dr Joshi understand the operational pressures faced by government better than most, but they, along with all other health and social care workers, remain entitled to lawful and transparent guidance on the use of PPE and the risks they are facing on the frontline of responding to this national crisis,” said Jamie Potter, Partner at Bindmans LLP and solicitor for Dr Viz and Dr Joshi.

“Accordingly, we have today [Wednesday] filed judicial review proceedings seeking to challenge that guidance with a view to bringing into line with WHO guidance as well as human rights legislation. This is important not just in the current crisis, but also to any ‘second spike' or future pandemic,” he said.

The couple highlight that a disproportionate number of the COVID-19 victims are from ethnic minority backgrounds, and the challenge also raises the government's failure properly to consider the impact on black, Asian and minority ethnic health and social care workers across the state-funded National Health Service.

“The government have also refused to allow Dr Viz and Dr Joshi to publish their initial responses to the pre-action correspondence so that others can assess the adequacy of their approach to PPE. Our clients will push in any proceedings to ensure such documents are made public,” their law firm said.

The couple's online crowdfunding initiative for the legal case has raised over 61,000 pounds in pledges. Viz, who is eight months pregnant, has also been leading protests outside Downing Street and last month she and her colleagues observed a 237-second silence -- one second for every healthcare worker who died in the line of duty during this pandemic in the UK.

The Department of Health said it cannot comment on “ongoing legal proceedings” but has in the past stressed that safety factors have been taken into account with its guidance.

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