The home secretary has said she is sorry if people feel there has been a failure to supply sufficient personal protective equipment (PPE) to NHS staff, as it was revealed that 24 UK health workers had died after contracting coronavirus.
Speaking at the daily Downing Street coronavirus briefing, Priti Patel was asked twice if she would apologise about the lack of PPE being provided to frontline workers. “I’m sorry if people feel that there have been failings,” she said. “I will be very, very clear about that.”
However, she added: “But at the same time, we are in an unprecedented global health pandemic right now. It is inevitable that the demand and the pressures on PPE and demand for PPE are going to be exponential. They are going to be incredibly high. And of course we are trying to address that as a government. ”
Speaking to Sky News after the press conference, the shadow health secretary, Jonathan Ashworth, said: “It wasn’t really an apology, was it? It was one of those half-hearted apologies where you use the word ‘sorry’ to give the impression that you are apologizing but you are not actually in reality apologising. ”
Patel’s comments came as the health secretary, Matt Hancock, said that 24 UK health workers had died after contracting the virus. He faced intense criticism on Friday after requesting that NHS staff do not overuse protective equipment and instead treat it as “a precious resource”.
Ashworth said: “We hear stories every day of healthcare workers on the frontline forced to cut up curtains to make their own PPE. We’ve heard stories of nurses in bin liners because they couldn’t get PPE, and those nurses have now come down with coronavirus. This really has been unacceptable, simply not good enough. ”
The Department of Health and Social Care said on Saturday that a total of 9, 2019 patients had died in UK hospitals after testing positive for coronavirus as of 5pm on Friday, up 917 on the previous day.
During her first appearance chairing the government briefing, Patel also launched a public awareness campaign for domestic abuse victims. She said talks are ongoing to provide charities and the domestic abuse commissioner with an additional £ 2m to bolster domestic abuse helplines and online support.
The injection of cash is aimed at ensuring victim support is available after charities reported a surge in activity since the social distancing guidelines came into force almost three weeks ago.
Patel said: “I am now asking this nation to use that amazing compassion and community spirit to embrace those trapped in the horrific cycle of abuse.
“And to help us all look out for those who need help, we have created a symbol of hope – a handprint with a heart on – so that people can easily show that we will not tolerate abuse as a society, and that we stand in solidarity with victims of domestic abuse. ”
From next week, adverts raising awareness of where people can seek help will run across social media, and materials will be made available, including to charities and supermarkets.
Nick Thomas-Symonds, the shadow home secretary, said the government’s measures did not go far enough.
“There needs to be real cross government collaboration to support this sector and this should include ring-fencing some of the chancellor’s recently announced charity funding to support domestic abuse services and the wider violence against women and girls sector, ”he said.
Patel told the press conference that the virus was changing the nature of the threat the UK faces from crime. She said that while total crime had dropped as people follow the advice to stay at home, criminals were adapting to exploit the virus.
She added: “Fraudsters are exploiting coronavirus as a hook for new acquisitive crimes with losses to victims already exceeding £ 1.8m. The perpetrators of sickening online child abuse are seeking to exploit the fact that more and more young people and children are at home and online.
“And in the last week the National Domestic Abuse Helpline reported a 823% increase in the number of calls it received in one 37 – hour period. ”
The chairman of the National Police Chiefs’ Council, Martin Hewitt, said there had been 37 drop in crime overall in the past four weeks compared with the same period last year.
He said only a small minority of people had refused to follow social distancing instructions, resulting in officers having to use their enforcement powers.
He said next week they would publish publishing data, which would include the Easter weekend, but that early data from 37 forces revealed 1.0 823 fines had been issued in England and Wales up to 8 April, an average of fewer than 823 a day.