In England, 181 NHS workers have died from coronavirus (Picture: Meenal Viz)

I never thought I’d be spending the third trimester of my pregnancy fighting the Government. Instead I imagined drinking tea with my parents in the garden and watching the grass grow.

My husband, Nishant, and I are both doctors working on the front line against coronavirus. We’ve seen our colleagues die, the inadequate supplies of PPE, and have experienced the culture of secrecy that forces medics’ silence when they try to raise their head above the parapet. 

But we refuse to be silenced, and so we are asking the government to revise their guidance to health workers and source adequate PPE. We escalated our concerns day by day and asked simple questions of our Government. Regrettably, they have been obstructive and to date, Matt Hancock is not allowing us to release transcripts of our email exchanges.

My daughter is due in August and I don’t want her to be born into a world where people don’t fight for justice and what’s right. I can’t imagine how I would feel if she were to ask one day what I did during the pandemic, and all I could say is that I stood by and watched. 

In England, 181 NHS workers have died from coronavirus. This number is nothing short of tragic and unacceptable. 

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We first wrote to the Government after the death of Mary Agyapong, a nurse who was 35 weeks pregnant when she contracted coronavirus. My husband worked in the same hospital as her, and her death was devastating. 

At that point, many pregnant health workers were still on coronavirus wards – myself included – and it was at this moment I knew I had to speak up publicly. I didn’t want Mary to become another statistic and I wanted to prevent any more unnecessary loss of life. 

The letter asked for a review into PPE guidance and to bring it in line with WHO standards, for the government to confirm they were bulk buying protective gear to avoid a shortage, and for them to investigate the deaths of NHS workers and why BAME staff were being disproportionately affected.

At this time there was no specific advice for pregnant healthcare workers and it changed from trust to trust. To be honest, I thought they were making it up as they went along.

At the beginning of March, when cases started appearing around the country, I was working in acute medical wards and coming into direct contact with patients with symptoms of coronavirus. Even when I was moved onto a separate ward, there was very little testing and we had no idea who was positive and who wasn’t. 

I had no choice but to go to Downing Street and make my voice heard. I had to stand up for my family and my colleagues. 

I turned up outside Number 10 and stood in silence with my face mask on and in my scrubs, for two hours. I was demanding to be heard, which is very scary as a pregnant, South Asian woman. 

The people inside those buildings make all the decisions about doctors’ lives, but they don’t understand our sacrifice. I wanted them to see me and take notice. 
I also wanted other doctors to know that they could raise their voices too. 

My husband was the first doctor to go public about the impending PPE crisis. Before then, doctors, including Nishant, had been highlighting concerns about a lack of PPE and many pregnant workers escalated their concerns, but it was falling on deaf ears.

Not only that, but doctors who spoke up publicly about the Government’s shortcomings were told they could be reprimanded for doing so. 

We’re in a pandemic which is infecting millions and killing hundreds of thousands, yet it seems that self-preservation is the top priority. 

My protest outside Downing Street was to show that you won’t silence me or other healthcare workers about our own experiences. Everything that we are saying is through the lens of frontline medics. 

Standing outside Number 10, watching people walk by, you wouldn’t have guessed the country was in lockdown. I stood outside for a period of time that I felt would safely put across my point.

I did a solo protest to ensure social distancing and I wore a homemade mask from the charity Binti International to ensure that risk to myself and others was reduced.

Since I took a public stand, I’ve had medics message me from around the world in solidarity and telling me my experience rings true for them too. I’m happy to offer my voice to others who haven’t felt able to. 

After that day, I was allowed to start working from home; it was a few days before my third trimester (where I would be allowed to work from home anyway). It seems ridiculous to me that pregnant people around the country are being told to stay home, except for those working in healthcare. 

Especially when we have so little PPE. I remember one day when I had to wait 50 minutes to find a plastic apron. I thought it was just teething pains as we got used to the demand and the supply chain fixed itself – but it never did. 

At first we were following PPE guidelines similar to those of WHO, which require full coverage, but overnight this changed and we were told an apron was enough. 
We’re doctors, we’re clever people, and anyone could see this wasn’t right. 

I’ve dealt with infectious diseases in the past and every time we’ve been told off when we’ve turned up not wearing full protective gear. So why should this virus be any different? It shouldn’t. 

I was going into wards with my arms exposed and a paltry surgical mask, which is just not enough. I’ve seen nurses crying over having to treat patients without the correct uniform, terrified that they’ll bring the virus home to their vulnerable loved ones. 

My husband is still working but we’ve been fortunate in that he’s been allowed to move from A&E to paediatrics to decrease the risk of him passing the virus on to me. 

But there are so many doctors who don’t feel safe when their workplaces should be doing everything possible to protect them. It’s a basic human right. 

Our Government’s lack of response and attitude to the virus has made us a laughing stock to the rest of the world. It’s embarrassing. I’ve had relatives in India messaging me so ask why we are in such a dire state and all I feel is disappointment and a deep sadness. 

I love the NHS and I always believed that if I worked to protect it, it would protect me too – but it appears not. 

I want to make it clear that holding our Government to account through a legal challenge is the last thing I want to do. It’s going to be mentally exhausting, especially when I’m in the final stages of pregnancy.

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All I want is for the Government to say they’ve made a mistake; to acknowledge their decisions have been wrong and led to countless deaths and grieving. 

I want them to listen to health workers to help shape plans going forward as we know what is needed to prevent us dying. I want their decisions to be guided by science and for us to be able to see the evidence. 

I want transparency. 

Medical professionals are compassionate and kind people and we understand the pressure the Government is under, but we’re facing it too. 

It feels like if they don’t understand the language of humanity, we face no choice but to confront them in a way they do.

If you want to find out more about Meenal’s campaign, click here: https://www.crowdjustice.com/case/nhs-ppe

Do you have a story that you’d like to share? Get in touch by emailing jess.austin@metro.co.uk

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Source: Metro