Doctors forced into impossible situations as NHS staff report dangerously low levels of PPE

by BMA media team

Press release from the BMA.

Location: UK
Published: Friday 10 April 2020
Contract and pen article illustration

The BMA has learned that personal protective equipment (PPE) supplies in two large areas of England are running at dangerously low levels, and that some pieces of equipment are no longer available – forcing doctors into impossible situations and ultimately, putting their lives at risk.

The doctors’ union understands that current PPE supplies in London and Yorkshire are not sufficient to deal with the COVID-19 outbreak. This means staff and patients are increasingly being placed in harm’s way as they battle against the virus.

The Government is therefore, forcing doctors to place themselves and their patients in grave danger by expecting them to treat COVID-19 patients without adequate PPE.

The evidence comes just two weeks after the Government said that supplies of PPE were plentiful, and that equipment was flowing out to trusts.

According to a recent survey(1) by the BMA, however, more than half of doctors working in high-risk environments(2) said there were either shortages or no supply at all of adequate face masks, while 65% said they did not have access to eye protection.

Furthermore, 55% said they felt pressurised to work in a high-risk area despite not having adequate PPE.

Dr Chaand Nagpaul, BMA council chair, said: “No doctor should ever have to be in harm’s way when they go to work, and in these unprecedented times, this has never been more important.

“This is not the flu. We are dealing with an unknown, highly-infectious, and potentially deadly virus that has already claimed the lives of several healthcare workers, including 11 doctors in the UK. It is absurd that the people trained to treat this disease are the ones who are not being appropriately protected – and without them, we face real disaster.

“It’s unclear whether the lack of PPE is directly linked to the recorded deaths of doctors so far, but we know that no healthcare workers have been infected in a hospital in Italy precisely because their PPE supplies are sufficient and of high-quality.

“This must be replicated here, in every healthcare setting, as a matter of urgency. Without it, doctors are being forced into a corner, facing heart-breaking decisions over whether to carry on caring for patients without proper protection and put themselves and patients at risk.

“This is an immensely difficult position to be in, but is ultimately down to the Government’s chronic failure to supply us with the proper equipment. We cannot continue like this, and need to see enough, adequate PPE delivered to staff across the country as soon as possible, not just for our health, but also, and most importantly, our patients’.

“We note the Government’s announcement this afternoon and its three-strand PPE Plan. However, PPE should not be a ‘precious resource’ and for NHS staff facing shortages of protection they need today, they don’t want to hear of a plan, but that this vital equipment is made available to the front line now.”

ENDS

Notes to editors

The BMA is a trade union and professional association 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.

1. BMA members in the UK were asked to give feedback on their current PPE supplies between Friday, 3 April and Monday, 6 April.

2. High-risk environments include delivering or assisting with an aerosol generating procedure (AGP) including in intensive care units or the ‘hot zone’ of an emergency department. These areas require healthcare staff to wear a higher level of PPE including long-sleeved gowns, FFP3 respirators, eye protection, and gloves.

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