The Trades Union Congress has called for a public inquiry into what it calls the “grotesque” failure to provide adequate personal protective equipment for frontline coronavirus workers.
The TUC is urging the government to set up an independent, judge-led probe after the news that more than 80 health and social care staff have died of Covid-19.
The union body says the shortages of PPE reported by NHS trusts shows a lack of planning and has resulted in people being exposed to unnecessary risk.
Amid criticism of the amount of masks, gowns and goggles available the government has said it has supplied more than a billion pieces of equipment during the pandemic.
And the prime minister’s spokesman said government is “working round the clock” amid “unprecedented global demand” to get the items needed to safeguard staff from the disease.
But Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS Providers, has said trusts are being forced into "hand-to-mouth" workarounds, including washing single-use gowns and restricting stocks to key areas.
Last week Public Health England relaxed guidance for health workers to reuse PPE if stocks run low.
TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Every day frontline workers are being forced to risk their lives because they don’t have the proper protective equipment.
“And now they are being told just to make do.
“This is a grotesque failure of planning and preparedness. It must never be allowed to happen again.
“Our NHS, social care and key workers deserve better.”
She added: “Right now, the government must sort out the PPE crisis urgently.
"But we are also calling on ministers to commit to an independent, public inquiry into the failure to provide frontline workers with adequate PPE, kicking off by the end of this year.”
The TUC say the inquiry must look at delays in the planning and delivery of PPE, the supply chain problems, the clinical guidance, the use of inadequate or out-of-date PPE, and the threats of disciplinary action for raising concerns about the issue.
A government spokesman said: "It's our job as a government to ensure that frontline healthcare staff are protected as much and as appropriately as possible and that they feel safe.
"We are working around the clock to ensure enough supply is reaching the front line."
The calls for an inquiry come as an RAF aircraft was dispatched to Turkey to pick up a delayed shipment of protective kit following what Number 10 described as “unexpected delays” in the shipment.
The BBC reports that the plane left the UK at around 5pm on Monday to pick up the order of 400,000 gowns.