BMA survey reveals almost half of doctors have relied upon donated or self-bought PPE and two thirds still don’t feel fully protected

by BMA media team Press release from the BMA
Published: Sunday 3 May 2020

In what’s believed to be the biggest survey of frontline NHS doctors since the Coronavirus crisis began, over 16,000 UK doctors1 have responded to a BMA survey, answering questions on PPE provision, their well-being and drug shortages.

This is the third ‘tracker’ survey2 the Association has carried out in recent weeks, asking doctors about availability of PPE, where there are shortages; their health and wellbeing and where they are experiencing shortages or rationing of drugs and medicines.

The first set of results to come from this latest survey show that overall, nearly half the doctors say they have sourced their own PPE for personal or departmental use3, or they have relied upon donations. Breaking it down by profession, the majority, at 69%, are GPs with 34% being hospital doctors.

Dr Chaand Nagpaul, BMA Council Chair said:

“In what is the biggest survey of frontline NHS staff during this crisis, thousands of doctors have told the BMA that they have had to personally buy PPE for themselves or their department or rely on donations. 69% of GPs told us they sourced their own PPE or relied on donations and 34% of hospital doctors.

“On the one-hand it shows how resourceful they have been and how much support there has been from the general public in providing kit; but far more importantly, it is a damning indictment of the Government’s abject failure to make sure healthcare workers across the country are being supplied with the life-saving kit they should be.

“The survey shows that overall, there has been an improvement in the provision of PPE, but if almost half of all doctors report that they had to resort to purchasing PPE themselves or rely on donations, then there is still a lot for the Government to do to protect its frontline. Doctors are still reporting shortages in gowns, with one in three not having enough gowns in settings where they are most at risk with the most poorly of Covid patients.”

The survey also revealed that one in four doctors either failed or had not been fit tested for a FFP3 mask at all – a mask of this type is used when performing highly infectious medical procedures and which if not properly fitted means a healthcare worker remains at significant risk of becoming infected.

One doctor commented: “The PPE situation is an outrage for all staff. Lives lost for want of plastic visors, masks, and eye protection.” Another said: “Adequate PPE supply in terms of gowns and visors would reduce stress within the team as almost all of our patients are Covid positive”

Dr Nagpaul went on:

“Thirty percent of doctors told the BMA they wouldn’t bother to speak up about an issue such as PPE or drug shortages4, as they didn’t think anything would be done about it. That’s a terrible state of affairs and the BMA calls upon NHS England and the Government to remind employers to encourage and support staff to speak out and be heard."

But perhaps the most telling and troubling of all the responses is the one in which 65% of doctors told the BMA they felt only partly, or not at all protected from coronavirus, in their workplace5. And one in four report worsening mental distress during the pandemic including depression, anxiety and burnout6.

Dr Nagpaul said:

“The Government has five tests it has said must be met to ease lockdown – the first of which is ‘making sure the NHS can cope’. Six weeks into this crisis, how can the Government be confident that this condition is anywhere near being met, or that the pandemic is under control, when the very people on the frontline are not being made safe?”


Notes to editors

  1. 16,343 doctors responded to the survey which was carried out between the 28th and 30th April 2020. Full results will be published on Monday.
  2. More information on previous tracker surveys here.
  3. On the question, “Have you had to purchase items of PPE directly yourself, or received supplies as an external donation (e.g. charity, local firms), due to non-availability of official NHS procurement supplies?”
    Just under 50% said that they had either bought PPE or had it donated to them for use. Broken down by type of doctor, 34% of hospital doctors had either bought for themselves of their department or used donated kit and for GPs, the figure was 69%.
    The overall number of doctors across both primary and social care who reported buying PPE for their own use, or that of their department, or used donated PPE was 48%.
  4. On the question, “If you have not reported or spoken out about an issue – PPE, staff shortages, testing, drug shortages - why was this?”
    7% said there were fearful to do so but 30% said they didn’t think anything would be done about it if they did.
  5. On the question, “Taking everything into account, do you feel safely protected from coronavirus infection in your place of work?”
    65% of doctors said the felt either partly or not at all protected.
  6. On the question, “ During this pandemic, do you consider that you are currently suffering from any of depression, anxiety, stress, burnout*, emotional distress or other mental health condition relating to or made worse by your work?” (*Burnout is characterised by a state of emotional, mental and physical exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress)
    Although half reported they were not suffering, 28% said they were and that it was worse as a result of the crisis.
  7. All figures in this press release are UK-wide. Please contact national press offices for separate figures for Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland. Breakdown of figures by English regions here.

Those taking part in the survey had the opportunity to place some ‘free text’ within the survey. These are examples of the comments received:

  • “The PPE situation is an outrage for all staff. Lives lost for want of plastic visors, masks, and eye protection. I almost certainly had Covid in early March, but was unable to get tested to confirm.”
  • “I feel very unprotected.”
  • “Coping but it's a worrying time on the front line, no NHS eye protection and only flimsy aprons and cheap surgical masks (no NHS FFP2 or 3).”
  • “Adequate PPE supply in terms of gowns and visors would reduce stress within the team as almost all of our patients are Covid positive.”

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