We now know that the number of NHS workers who have died so far of coronavirus is 19.
During the coronavirus briefing yesterday evening, Health Secretary Matt Hancock was asked two simple questions: how many frontline NHS workers have died of Covid-19, and what investigatory processes have been put in place to look into these cases so that lessons can be learnt and further deaths prevented.
Hancock did not answer the questions. Instead passing it over to the chief nursing officer for the UK Ruth May, who was standing right beside him. She in turn proceeds to avoid both questions with the impressive skill of someone who's been in politics for decades:
We know that every death from coronavirus is a tragic one. We also know that a death from one of our workers, one of our family, is heartbreaking. We do have numbers of people who have died – nurses, midwives, heathcare assistants, doctors. It would be inappropriate for me right now to go into listing them and numbering them because we haven't got necessarily all of the position across England, with all of the people's family's giving us the permission to talk about them.
But I recognise that we will... we want to make sure that we are learning any lessons to be learnt, but it would be inappropriate for me to comment on any individual death.
This of course makes little sense. The government was just being asked to give a number and a broad strategy, not comment on individual cases.
People were quick to point out the absurdity of both the health secretary and the chief nursing officer refusing to ask such a simple question, and speculate on what the government was trying to hide.
It seems the criticism was lous enough, because appearing on BBC Radio 4 this morning, Hancock decided to share the number.
He was asked point-blank how many NHS workers had died during the course of the outbreak, to which he replied:
So far, the number of NHS workers who died is 19. My heart goes out to each and every one.
He then went on to say that they "look into" where people were affected and whether they were infected at work. The obvious response was to ask whether healthcare workers should continue to work if they do not have the necessary personal protective equipment.
Hancock responded that this was a choice which had to be made on a case-by-case question, and went on to suggest that PPE was being "over-used". This didn't seem to go down any better than his original choice to just not answer the question.
Hancock also subsequently appeared on BBC Breakfast to discuss the issue.