Care Minister Helen Whately was savaged during a series of brutal interviews this morning as she struggled to provide answers to key questions on the supply of PPE, deaths of frontline workers and testing errors.
Ms Whately suffered four car crash grillings after she was sent out to bat for the government by Downing Street.
She was hammered by ITV Good Morning Britain host Piers Morgan for failing to know how many health staff have died from coronavirus.
It was the second interview between the pair in less than a week with Ms Whately’s previous appearance seeing her criticised for laughing after Mr Morgan confronted her over the number of people dying in care homes during the current crisis.
Ms Whately also faced a tough time today during separate interviews with BBC Breakfast, BBC Radio 4’s Today programme and Sky News.
She was forced to defend the government’s record on the supply of vital PPE for the NHS amid fears shortages are putting the lives of frontline workers at risk.
She insisted ministers are moving as quickly as possible to boost supply as she spelled out the challenge of finding the ‘billions’ of items needed.
The Tory frontbencher was unable to explain why current testing numbers are so far below the available capacity.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock has set a target of carrying out 100,000 daily tests by the end of the month but the latest numbers show approximately 20,000 are currently being done every day despite a capacity of about 40,000.
She also admitted that some of the early coronavirus checks carried out on NHS workers ‘weren’t effective enough’, raising the prospect that some staff who were told they were negative for the disease may have gone back to work while they were actually infectious.
Speaking from her home in Kent this morning Helen Whately appeared on Good Morning Britain
The doctors’ daughter who entered politics to improve the NHS
In another life Helen Whately could have been on the other side of the coronavirus debate – directly helping patients in hospital.
The mother of three, 43, has been the MP for the affluent seat of Faversham and Mid Kent since the 2015 election.
But her parents are both doctors and she came close to following in their footsteps.
However, in her maiden Commons’ speech in 2015 she revealed her upbringing had led her to a different path.
‘I come from a family of doctors, and I nearly followed in their footsteps, but time spent in hospitals as a teenager—not because I was ill; I just did lots of work experience—triggered a different ambition,’ she said.
‘I wanted to improve the National Health Service itself. After a stint in telecoms, I spent nearly a decade working in healthcare.’
Mrs Whately was tipped in 2008 as a rising Tory star by society journal Tatler.
After studying Politics, Philosophy and Economics (PPE) at Oxford she worked as a management consultant and an advisor to shadow culture secretary Hugo Swire she contested Kingston and Surbiton in 2010, losing heavily to current Lib Dem acting leader Ed Davey.
She was chosen for her Kent seat on an all-female shortlist for 2015 as the incumbent Hugh Robertson stepped down.
She was briefly made a deputy chairwoman of the Conservative Party in the dying days of Theresa May’s administration last year, before becoming a junior minister at the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport last September.
In February this year she was promoted to Social care Minister, as the coronavirus outbreak began to become a global concern.
She has been married to Marcus since 2005.
During this morning’s interview, Mr Morgan asked Ms Whately about reported statistics which show that 111 care workers across the UK have died from coronavirus.
But the minister said it was her understanding that 61 NHS workers had died and just 15 care workers.
Mr Morgan also referred to a report from the Financial Times which suggested the number of people in the UK who have died from the disease could be as high as 41,000.
Ms Whately said the figure was not one that she recognised as she said the government is currently changing the way it collects data.
‘We know 61 NHS workers have very sadly died and we have a figure at the moment of 15 care workers that have died,’ she said.
Mr Morgan then showed a graphic of the people who work in the NHS and across the care home sector which suggested that 111 care home workers have died from the virus.
The TV presenter suggested the government is understating the true picture regarding the deaths of frontline workers.
Ms Morgan replied: ‘We are indeed setting up the systems to make sure we have accurate data and that is why we are careful to make sure we use data that is accurate. We don’t want to mislead people.’
The pair then clashed over the government’s coronavirus testing strategy amid mounting questions over why the number of checks does not match capacity.
Mr Morgan said the testing regime was a ‘spectacular failure’ and that ministers were not going to get ‘anywhere near’ to hitting the six figure target in just eight days’ time.
Every time Mr Morgan asked Ms Whately about why daily testing was so low she began by referring to the growing testing capacity.
Mr Morgan repeatedly said he was asking about how the government will actually carry out 100,000 daily tests rather than whether they could be done in theory.
Ms Whately said: ‘We know that testing is really important and so we have been working hard to ramp up the testing capacity in the country.’
Mr Morgan interrupted and said test numbers had actually fallen in recent days, adding: ‘I don’t want to hear about your ramping up. Care Minister, with respect, you are not ramping it up… you are going backwards. Do you see?’
Ms Whately then said the UK had ‘trebled’ the number of tests which can be done prompting Mr Morgan to exclaim: ‘You are not doing them! You are doing 18,000 a day which is less than you were doing 12 days ago.’
The Care Minister then asked Mr Morgan to ‘let met me finish speaking’ but the exasperated TV presenter said: ‘You keep talking about capacity. I am asking you about how many you have done.’
Helen Whately’s four car crash interviews
The Care Minister was savaged in four separate broadcast interviews this morning.
Here are the worst moments:
Good Morning Britain: Ms Whately repeatedly clashed with Piers Morgan on the issue of testing. She dodged questions about the number of tests being carried out by repeatedly talking about capacity. Mr Morgan interrupted the frontbencher on a number of occasions to push for an answer, prompting Ms Whately to demand he ‘let me finish speaking’.
BBC Breakfast: Ms Whately was grilled over the number of frontline workers who have died from coronavirus. She said 61 NHS workers had died and for care workers the number was 15. But she admitted there was a need for ‘more comprehensive data amid suggestions the care home figure is actually much higher. She was also asked about this during her interview with Mr Morgan.
Sky News: Ms Whately admitted that some early tests on frontline workers were not as accurate as they should have been raising the prospect of some workers having been given the all clear while actually having the disease. The minister said affected staff had been written to telling them to get tested again.
BBC Radio 4 Today: The Tory minister was forced to defend the government’s efforts to acquire PPE for health and care workers amid fears shortages are putting lives at risk. She spelled out the challenge of trying to find ‘billions of items’ given current global demand for products like gowns, gloves and masks.
On the issue of PPE, Ms Whately defended the government’s efforts to acquire vital kit for health and care workers.
She said the government had been contacted by more than 8,000 potential suppliers and that ministers are concentrating on those with established supply chains.
‘What the team is doing … is moving quickest on those who have the largest scale that they can supply because we need billions of items of PPE,’ she told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
‘Some companies we have heard from have only set up in the last couple of days and have had a conversation with somebody they think they can get some stock to the UK.
‘There is a difference between that and those who have established, experienced supply chains.’
On Sky News the minister was asked about claims that some frontline workers who were tested early on in the outbreak need to be re-tested because their tests were inaccurate.
Asked about the ‘invalid’ tests, she said: ‘My understanding from the clinical advisers is that some of the early tests were evaluated and the evaluation was that actually they weren’t effective enough.
‘This is a normal process when you are using a test for an illness, as we know this is a new illness and we are learning all the time.’
Ms Whately said people who were given ‘invalid’ tests have been contacted and offered another test.
Asked if that meant that some NHS workers and care staff have potentially been sent back to work with coronavirus, she said: ‘In general we know that the guidance has been to people that if you have symptoms to make sure you are isolating.
‘We have to make sure that we look at the reliability of tests and this has also been the whole debate around the testing of people who don’t have symptoms for instance.’
The series of car crash interviews for Ms Whately came as:
- Dominic Raab is said to have forced a top civil servant to drop his claim that snubbing EU procurement scheme on coronavirus PPE was ‘political’
- Empty 4,000-bed Nightingale hospital turns away 30 ‘life or death’ coronavirus patients from other packed London wards because it lacks nurses and has only treated a total of 40 people
- Leaked memo reveals coronavirus tests given to NHS staff to let them return to work are flawed and gave false all-clear readings
- An RAF plane carrying vital PPE lands in Britain but it only has half the promised 84 tonnes of equipment
The deaths of even more frontline workers were reported yesterday with a ‘dedicated and always happy to help’ orthopaedic surgeon and a ‘passionate and hardworking’ nurse having been some of the latest victims.
Sadeq Elhowsh, 58, described by his colleagues as ‘a much-loved member of the team’, worked at St Helens and Knowsley Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust in Merseyside as a surgeon for 17 years before he died at Whiston Hospital.
In a tribute to the surgeon, who died in the hospital he worked at, the father-of-four’s family said: ‘Sadeq was a wonderful husband as well as a devoted father and he dearly loved his family.
‘We cannot put into words the depth of our loss. He loved his work and was dedicated to supporting his patients and his colleagues.’
Hospital chief executive Ann Marr OBE added: ‘Sadeq will be sadly missed by all who knew and worked with him. He was without doubt a much-loved member of the team.’
Josephine Peter, a nurse at Southport and Formby District General Hospital, has been described as a ‘heroine’ by her devastated husband after she died from the virus on Saturday, April 18.
According to a GoFundMe page set up to honour Mrs Peter, who worked as a nurse for 20 years, she leaves behind her husband Thabo, her two children Bongani and Buhle who live in South Africa and a granddaughter.
She was raised in Johannesburg, South Africa during Apartheid where, according to the fundraising page, she was ‘whipped and humiliated by the then white ruling party’ but she never let it break her spirit.
The fundraiser, which has raised more than £3,000 so far, said she graduated as a professional nurse at University of Fort Hare and Cecilia Makiwane Hospital, South Africa, in 1998 before moving to the UK in 2002.
The father-of-four, who died in the hospital he worked at, was described as a ‘wonderful husband as well as a devoted father’
Sadeq Elhowsh, 58, an orthopaedic surgeon who worked at St Helens and Knowley Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust, died from coronavirus. Pictured with his sons
Josephine Peter, a nurse at Southport and Formby District General Hospital, leaves behind her husband Thabo, her two children Bongani and Buhle and a granddaughter
Juliet Alder, who worked at the Hammersmith and Fulham Mental Health Unit, died from coronavirus aged 58 on Tuesday, April 14
She had been working at Southport hospital since February on an agency contract until she fell ill in early April.
James Lock, chief executive of Altrix, the nursing agency that employed her, said: ‘Josephine was a diligent nurse who was highly regarded and liked by the team.
‘She would always go that extra mile and was a pleasure to work with. My team and I send our very best wishes and deepest condolences to Josephine’s family.’
Liz Shale, 61, an NHS administration worker from Leeds died two days after she was rushed to hospital
Liz Shale, a 61-year-old NHS administration worker from Leeds, died just two days after being rushed to hospital on Tuesday, April 7.
Her family, who described her as ‘loving and crazy’ have pleaded with people to ‘take this virus seriously’ after they were unable to visit and say goodbye to her before she died at St James’s University Hospital and will have to watch her funeral via video link due to new restrictions.
The grandmother-of-eight worked for the NHS for more than 20 years and spent the last decade working in palliative care in Bradford.
Her son, Danny, said: ‘She was funny, loving and crazy, she would do owt for a laugh. She was definitely a character.
‘She was always cracking jokes to make them all laugh and keep them motivated.
‘She knew she had to keep going to work when this started and started working from home the week before everyone was told to but even though she had been staying at home, she still got it.’
He added: ‘Our life will never be the same again. My mum won’t get to see my children grow up all because of this virus. How people don’t realise the impact this has?
‘Basically, she’s now just seen as another number – a statistic – and it shouldn’t be that way. People should know who she was, not see her as another person who died.’
Another victim, Kirsty Jones, 41, had been working as a healthcare assistant and recently taken up a position in one of Lanarkshire’s Assessment Centres, based in Airdrie Health Centre, to help in the frontline response against the pandemic.
Kirsty Jones, 41, was working at an assessment centre helping in the frontline response. She leaves behind her husband Nigel and two sons, Sam age 14 and Finlay, four
Her death sees her leave behind her husband Nigel, and two sons, Sam aged 14 and Finlay, four.
Mr Jones said: ‘Kirsty devoted her life to caring for others. She was larger than life itself and was a constant source of happiness for all who were around her.
‘Kirsty will be greatly missed by all who knew her. A void has opened in our hearts that will never be filled.’
Tributes have also been paid to Khulisani Nkala, a mental health nurse who died on Friday.
Khulisani Nkala, 46, worked as a mental health nurse for the Leeds and York Partnership NHS Foundation Trust and died from the virus on Friday
The 46-year-old was the first staff member at Leeds and York Partnership NHS Foundation Trust to died from the virus.
Dr Sara Munro, chief executive of the trust, said: ‘Khuli was a well-respected and selfless professional nurse who ‘always put the patient first’ and will be greatly missed by his colleagues.’
Juliet Alder, who died from coronavirus aged 58 on Tuesday, April 14, worked at the Hammersmith and Fulham Mental Health Unit supporting older people in the last weeks of their life.
She is the first member of the team to die from Covid-19, leaving behind her husband and daughter, and was described by her colleagues as ‘kind, caring and thoughtful.’
Her coworkers said: ‘She was compassionate to patients, colleagues and carers and maternal towards those who came in contact with her.
‘Juliet had a beaming smile and an infectious laughter and took great pride in looking after others. She’ll be missed by all.’
Yesterday it was announced Manjeet Riyat, a ‘widely respected’ doctor, who became the first Sikh to work as an A&E consultant in Britain, was one of the latest NHS victims of the pandemic.
Manjeet Riyat died at the Royal Derby Hospital on Monday (University Hospitals of Derby and Burton NHS Trust/PA)
The 52-year-old was described by colleagues at the Royal Derby Hospital as the ‘father of the emergency department.’
The married father-of-two, who previously worked at Leicester Royal Infirmary and Lincoln County Hospital, has been described as ‘instrumental’ in building the emergency medicine service in Derbyshire over the past 20 years.
He died on Monday at Royal Derby Hospital, the University Hospitals of Derby and Burton NHS Trust said.
Married father-of-two Craig Wakeham, a doctor at the Cerne Abbas surgery in Dorset for three decades, died from coronavirus at the weekend, it emerged on Monday.
Married father-of-two Craig Wakeham, a doctor at the Cerne Abbas surgery in Dorset for three decades, died from coronavirus at the weekend, it emerged today
His colleagues at the surgery said: ‘His industry and innovation led our practice for 30 years.
‘He was also a leading light in both the Clinical Commissioning Group and Local Medical Committee, as well as a devoted husband a father to his two boys.
‘His legacy lives on in our patients who he cared for diligently, and in the good name he built for our surgery.’
Mr Riyat also acted as an emergency medicine tutor at Derby College where he oversaw the education of junior doctors.
His death marks the second at the trust, after Dr Amged El-Hawrani, an ear, nose and throat consultant at Queen’s Hospital Burton, became the first frontline hospital doctor to die in the pandemic.
Dr Amged El-Hawrani became the UK’s first front-line hospital doctor to die from coronavirus following warnings that a lack of protective equipment would cost medical staff lives