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‘I had to choose between Covid-19 patient and my injured dad’ nurse tells Tower Hamlets May Day rally

PUBLISHED: 19:11 02 May 2020 | UPDATED: 11:15 04 May 2020

Nurse Diana Swingler... caught between treating Covid patient and helping her elderly father collapsed in street. Picture: Unison online

Nurse Diana Swingler... caught between treating Covid patient and helping her elderly father collapsed in street. Picture: Unison online

Unison

A community nurse has told a May Day rally of her heartache decision at having to choose between treating a Covid-19 patient or looking after her 90-year-old father who had fallen in the street.

Frontline workers picketting Tower Hamlets Council in 2019 at the start of their dispute over working conditions now being imposed after the pandemic. Picture: Mike BrookeFrontline workers picketting Tower Hamlets Council in 2019 at the start of their dispute over working conditions now being imposed after the pandemic. Picture: Mike Brooke

Diana Swingler, a community nurse at Mile End Hospital, took part in last night’s online “virtual rally” staged by Unison public workers union protesting at lack of PPE for key workers and Tower Hamlets Council’s controversial change in their work contracts at the end of the crisis.

“Deaths have been needless,” she told the online rally. “Several of us are already off with the virus while the battle for PPE continues. We are putting ourselves at risk.

“My dad fell over in the street while I was with a Covid patient. I had to make a choice whether to stay with the patient or go out to my father. I didn’t have the right protective equipment.”

Diana had also taken to the streets on Tuesday protesting with fellow NHS staff at the lack of PPE for key medical workers.

Unison general secretary Dave Prentis... warns of  Unison general secretary Dave Prentis... warns of "day of reckoning"” when Covid-19 crisis is over. Picture: Unison online

“We came out in the rain,” she added. “We protested with banners saying ‘No kit—no care’.”

Unions representing 4,000 Tower Hamlets council frontline workers and staff have called for a “day of reckoning” after the Coronavirus emergency is over for the lack of protective equipment.

The call came from national union leaders and from the Poplar and Limehouse MP taking part in Unison’s public online May Day rally staged last night.

Unison’s general secretary Dave Prentis warned of “a day of reckoning” when the crisis is over, calling for the government to be held to account with a public inquiry into lack of PPE and “the inequality of key workers” kept on low pay.

Unison trade union convenor Tom Kay leading the 'virtual' online May Day rally. Picture: Unison onlineUnison trade union convenor Tom Kay leading the 'virtual' online May Day rally. Picture: Unison online

The “virtual rally” was held instead of what might have been another picket outside the town hall, with public gatherings banned under emergency regulations.

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It started with 124 people logging on and more joining later, which was led by Unison’s shop steward convenor at Bow School Tom Kay to protest at new council contracts being imposed on staff as soon as the pandemic is over.

Fire Brigades Union general secretary Matt Wrack, ex-firefighter at Poplar fire station when he lived in Millwall, was furious at “the lack of emergency planning” for a pandemic.

Fire Brigade Union's chief Matt Wrack... furious at Fire Brigade Union's chief Matt Wrack... furious at "lack of emergency planning for a pandemic". Picture: Unison online

He said: “There is a disgraceful lack of protective equipment, yet key workers are told to carry on working.”

He cited the Grenfell Tower tragedy in 2017 for “cost-cutting” that had led to 71 people dying in the blaze which was later blamed on cheap cladding installed on the tower block that lacked fire resistance.

“We saw how safety had been sacrificed at Grenfell Tower by profits put before people’s safety,” Matt added. “The government expects working people to pay, but many with their lives.”

Poplar and Limehouse MP Apsana Begum joined the online rally to point out the “lack of protective equipment” for key workers in a system “ill-prepared for this crisis”. There was a shortage of PPE and services were already cut to the bone from years of austerity.

The rally held a minute’s silence for frontline workers who have died, including Yusif Ali who drove transport for the Stephen Hawking School in Stepney and David Last from Poplar.

Kerie Anne, assistant secretary of Unison’s Tower Hamlets branch which suspended a strike on Easter Monday due to the pandemic crisis, homed in on the bitter 15-month dispute over staff contracts claiming that all 4,000 council employees are being forced to sign when the emergency is over or “be out of a job with no redundancy pay”.

She revealed: “We made a ‘good faith’ offer to suspend the strike — but they rejected it with a dismissive and blunt letter dripping with false information. Yet we still stopped strike action to support the community in crisis, even if the council didn’t show leadership.”

The council stated earlier in the week that no jobs would be lost, those refusing to sign the new contracts being allowed to continue on the new terms and conditions.

But yesterday’s May Day rally warned that frontline staff rejected “empty plaudits” and were prepared for strike action when the pandemic is over.


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