Doctors and patients will die without adequate personal protective equipment (PPE) across the NHS, the British Medical Association (BMA) has warned.
It said doctors are risking serious illness and death due to a lack of stock, and it warned many more could go off sick unless immediate steps are taken.
The BMA said there is “growing evidence that thousands of GPs and hospital staff are still not being provided with the kit they need to properly protect themselves and their patients”, despite government assurances. The union said it has heard accounts of no stock, very small amounts of PPE, rationing and kit that does not offer sufficient protection.
We are ‘inundated with concerns’ from our members about a lack of PPE or inadequate equipment – often a paper mask no eye protection and a plastic apron instead of a proper gown @CNagpaul tells @bbc5live
— The BMA (@TheBMA) March 24, 2020
Health Secretary Matt Hancock has said millions of pieces of PPE have been sent out in recent days and a hotline has been set up so staff can report where there are shortages. The government’s deputy chief medical officer Dr Jenny Harries also insisted on Wednesday that there is enough PPE available for all.
The government has faced criticism in recent days over the lack of PPE in the NHS:
This is astonishing. Whilst @BorisJohnson repeatedly states “ we have huge stockpiles of PPE” our Frontline hero’s in the NHS are wearing 10p plastic carrier bags on their heads for protection.
Somethings wrong !! Somethings VERY WRONGhttps://t.co/Awvhm64fSI
— Ian Lavery MP (@IanLaveryMP) March 22, 2020
How, in the sixth-largest economy in the world, are we not able to provide all NHS staff with the protective equipment they desperately need? pic.twitter.com/DBNtL4FuX4
— Richard Burgon MP (@RichardBurgon) March 24, 2020
As Burgon highlighted, staff have made public requests for support:
If any diy stores want to help at this time then donating supplies of visors and glasses will greatly help NHS staff. We have Trusts who for various reasons are running short-contact your local Trust and ask for the Supplies or Procurement Department-thanks.
— HCSA (@HCSAprocurement) March 21, 2020
Can anyone help? We are in urgent need of single use soap sachets for our nurses and wondering if there are any organisations who might be able to help us out 🤚🏽🧼 any help would be really appreciated 🙏🏼 #WashYourHands #nhsworkers #Convid19uk
— NHS Maudsley (@MaudsleyNHS) March 19, 2020
“I wish this was actually a joke”
One doctor told the BMA: “Coughed on by Covid patients all day today. No visors available… tomorrow I’m borrowing my nine-year-old’s safety specs she got in a science party bag. I wish this was actually a joke.”
Another said: “We have no testing or PPE on mental health units, and the environment was never designed to contain an epidemic.
“Given that asymptomatic people can spread the virus, within weeks 100% of patients and staff will be infected, and it will be just pot luck who survives.”
Under NHS guidance issued on Friday, any healthcare worker within a metre of a patient with possible or confirmed coronavirus should wear a fluid-repellent face mask, apron, gloves and eye protection if there is a risk of splashing. For those who are at risk due to “aerosol generating procedures”, such as putting patients on ventilators, suctioning and cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), they should wear an FFP3 respirator, a long-sleeved disposable gown, gloves and eye protection such as disposable goggles or full-face visor. But the BMA said this did not meet recommendations from the World Health Organisation (WHO).
“Government expects NHS staff to put themselves at risk”
BMA council chairman Dr Chaand Nagpaul said: “A construction worker wouldn’t be allowed to work without a hard hat and proper boots.
“Even a bee-keeper wouldn’t inspect a hive without proper protective clothing.
“And yet this Government expects NHS staff to put themselves at risk of serious illness, or even death, by treating highly infectious Covid-19 patients without wearing proper protection. This is totally unacceptable.
“We are told that lorries are shipping hundreds of boxes of supplies of PPE to GPs and to hospitals, but that isn’t the reality for thousands of our members.
“The type of PPE being supplied is not in keeping with World Health Organisation (WHO) recommendations.
“GPs in many parts of England have been told to go and buy their own stocks, only to find none is available.
“In Cumbria, GP practice staff went to Wickes to try and secure masks.”
‘I cry every day thinking I am going to infect my husband’
One hospital doctor told the BMA they are not sure they can carry on.
They said: “We are being asked to risk our lives and our loved ones’ lives in flimsy paper masks and plastic aprons. I don’t know if I can do it. I just don’t know if I can.
“I don’t think it is fair to expect this of us. I am terrified. How can this risk to practitioners, other patients, practitioners’ families be justified?
“My husband is not a medic and I cry every day thinking I am going to infect him.”
The doctors contacted the union between 19 and 23 March.
This situation “has to stop”
Dr Nagpaul said there are limits to the risks that doctors should expose themselves to.
“If adequate protective wear isn’t available, a doctor in hospital has every right to ask to be moved to a low risk area or to provide patient care that doesn’t expose them to becoming infected with Covid-19,” he said.
“For GPs with patients who still need face to face care, again they need to think carefully about the level of risk they are exposing themselves and other patients to if they give that care without protection.
“They risk making themselves ill and infecting other vulnerable patients and GPs should not have to make that choice because they don’t have the masks, gloves and gowns they should have.”
Dr Nagpaul said it is time for the Government to be “transparent about the level of supplies we really have”.
He added: “We know hundreds, if not thousands, of doctors and front-line staff are risking their health and lives every hour of every day caring for Covid-19 patients and they should not have to do so without the right protection.
“For their sakes and for the sake of the population at large, it has to stop. Every healthcare worker in every hospital or every GP surgery must have the PPE they desperately need and have it today.”
Heidi Travis, chief executive at Sue Ryder, said: “For Sue Ryder’s doctors and nurses, access to significant amounts of additional personal protective equipment is now critical.
“As a result of Covid-19 we are expecting an increase in people needing end-of-life care in the coming weeks and months.
“The NHS is asking Sue Ryder to plan to support more patients and yet our medical teams are already providing palliative care for patients with Coronavirus symptoms with only enough Personal Protective Equipment for a matter of days.
“This means that Sue Ryder will soon be unable to protect our doctors and nurses from contracting the virus.”
On Tuesday, chairman of the Doctors’ Association UK Dr Rinesh Parmar claimed medics will be forced to leave the profession over a lack of protective equipment available to safely treat patients during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Featured image via DarkoStojanovic
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