Medics to hold vigil outside hospitals in memory of colleagues killed by coronavirus

Medics from two hospitals will hold vigils outside their hospitals to remember the colleagues who have died during the Covid-19 pandemic on the NHS’s front line.

The South East London Coronavirus Action Group will mark Workers’ Memorial Day tomorrow and to raise demands for proper personal protective equipment (PPE) and testing for coronavirus.

There will be public, socially-distanced protests by trade unionists outside both Lewisham Hospital – where three staff have already died – and Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Woolwich at 11am on Tuesday.

Trade unions are encouraging members to stop work to observe a minutes silence at 11am, to remember those who have died at work.

They will demand all workers be properly protected during the coronavirus pandemic.  Staff at St Thomas’ Hospital already plan to walk out on Tuesday to commemorate the dead and raise demands for proper PPE.

Over 100 health workers are now known to have died directly from the virus, many of whom were denied proper PPE.

There is a mounting crisis in social care, with care workers particularly vulnerable. And there is a mounting death toll of transport and other key workers.

Three months in, health workers still face drastic shortages of PPE and a lack of access to proper testing.

Many workers, including transport and construction staff, are being forced to work in unsafe conditions. These deaths have also disproportionately affected black and ethnic minority workers. And now there is pressure to reopen schools and lift the lockdown, long before it is safe to do so.

Maggie Palmer, a UNITE rep who works for the NHS in the local area and leading activist in the South East London Coronavirus Action Group, said: “This Tory government has been criminally negligent in their preparation and response to the virus. We are calling on all workers, to collectively demonstrate their opposition to the Tory handling of the crisis by taking selfies at work with placards demanding PPE and testing for key workers.

“We want them to record videos, put posters in their windows and take part in properly socially-distanced protests where possible, to show our solidarity with workers on the frontline. The South East London Coronavirus Action Group will be holding a protest outside Lewisham Hospital at 11am on 28 April to read the names of the dead and show our support for our health workers.

“This crisis has demonstrated the crucial role that key workers like nurses, doctors, cleaners, teachers, bus drivers, transport workers and many others play in all our lives. For many years, these very same workers have been devalued, neglected and underpaid. The massive outpouring of solidarity with our key workers needs to be harnessed to ensure that we have a properly funded NHS and social care sector that values and rewards its workers.

“Only by organising ourselves can we ensure that working people don’t pay the price, with our lives and our living standards, for the disastrous handling of this crisis by the Tory government.”

The GMB union has also called for action at 11am at Queen Elizabeth Hospital at Stadium Road Woolwich to commemorate Workers Memorial Day and to highlight the case of a GMB member who is facing disciplinary action for requesting PPE.

A GMB spokesperson said: “Outsourced hospital workers are last in the queue to get PPE and it is disgraceful that an ISS worker and a GMB member is facing a disciplinary hearing next Tuesday for daring to assert his right to request PPE.

“This hospital worker is recovering from bronchitis and he lives with his brother who is a vulnerable group. Please attend this protest to stand in solidarity with GMB members who are being disciplined, gagged and silenced about the dangers they are facing on a daily basis.”

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