'We love you NHS': UK health service gears up for virus peak

Full Screen
1 / 14

FILE - In this Tuesday, March 31, 2020 file photo work continues at the ExCel centre which is being made into a temporary hospital called NHS Nightingale in London. In the fight against the coronavirus pandemic, soldiers are delivering millions of face masks to hospitals and helping to build makeshift medical facilities, including one at London's ExCel convention center that can treat as many as 4,000 patients. (Stefan Rousseau/Pool Photo via AP, File)

LONDON – Dr. Nishant Joshi is on the front line of the coronavirus pandemic — and he's angry.

The emergency medicine specialist says he risks his life every time he walks into a British hospital because doctors and nurses haven't been equipped with the personal protection equipment they need to prevent them from being infected with COVID-19.

But he’s not just a doctor: he’s a 31-year-old husband expecting his first child.

“Some of my colleagues have been taking out life insurance in the last few weeks,’’ Joshi told The Associated Press. “The government has to take square responsibility for this, because you should never be putting your health care workers in a situation where we are scared for our lives."

Britain's National Health Service, the cornerstone of the nation's post-war welfare state, will be stretched to the breaking point in the coming weeks as hospitals treat an expected tsunami of critically ill patients when the pandemic reaches its peak across the United Kingdom.

Created in 1948, the NHS is a revered institution that promises free medical care to everyone in the U.K.

Yet with years of austerity cuts and rising demand already straining resources, the health service is facing the biggest test in its 72-year history. After delays that have been sharply criticized, the Conservative government is racing to ensure that hospitals and clinics across the country have the staffing and equipment they need to cope with the coronavirus onslaught.

Authorities have urged retired doctors and nurses to return to work — and some 20,000 have complied. Routine surgeries are being canceled so resources can be focused on COVID-19. The government is building several makeshift hospitals as it scrambles to find thousands of additional ventilators and build up stocks of masks, gloves and other protective equipment.