The BMA says that, without proper personal protection, some doctors treating COVID-19 patients are likely to become very ill and some may die.
Without personal protection, the infection will spread, the epidemic worsen, and if doctors are sick, this will deplete the very workforce we need to care for ever growing numbers of very ill patients.
The doctors union has issued this unambiguous warning because of 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.
The BMA has asked its members for their accounts of how or if gowns, masks, aprons and goggles are getting through to front line staff and the responses show that in the main, they simply are not – or if they are, it’s in very small amounts and is rationed or not offering sufficient protection.
One doctor wrote: “Coughed on by Covid patients all day today. No visors available…. tomorrow I’m borrowing my 9 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.”
The BMA’s chair of council, 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 in not in-keeping with 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. Hospital doctors are telling us: ‘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.’
“There are limits to the risks that doctors should expose themselves to and to go beyond those is not fair on themselves, their families or their patients. 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.
"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.
"We know that from international data that healthcare workers are at higher risk of becoming infected and many dying – they are naturally worried about the risks to their their own and families.
“It’s time for the Government to be transparent about the level of supplies we really have, and how they can provide healthcare staff with the level of protection they need.
"We know hundreds, if not thousands of doctors and frontline 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.”
Notes to editors
The BMA is a trade union representing and negotiating on behalf of all doctors in the UK. A leading voice advocating for outstanding health care and a healthy population. An association providing members with excellent individual services and support throughout their lives.
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