Doctors still facing potentially 'fatal' consequences of treating patients without adequate COVID-19 protection, warns BMA

by BMA media team

Press release from the BMA.

Location: UK
Published: Tuesday 31 March 2020
Contract and pen article illustration

The BMA is seeking clarity from the Government on what it is that healthcare staff should do and, particularly, what risks they should not have to take if they do not have adequate personal protective equipment (PPE).

This follows comments from the Communities Secretary, Robert Jenrick, who said that ‘we cannot and should not ask healthcare workers to be on the frontline without appropriate protective equipment', as he confirmed that the delivery of ‘millions’ of masks, gloves, eye protectors and gowns was already underway.  

The doctors' union is warning that the health of doctors and patients is still being placed at considerable risk as many hospitals and GP practices continue to face life-threatening shortages of personal protective equipment, despite the assurances from the Government that enough would be delivered.

Over the past weekend, the BMA has continued to receive reports of doctors and NHS workers who do not have adequate PPE in hospitals and GP practices across the country.

As one junior doctor reported: “I have asthma and had a recent chest infection. I fear that I am risking my health and life because adequate PPE has not been made available in my workplace.”

Other doctors working in Shropshire said: “Every single day we work on the respiratory ward and we have to enter a bay full of Covid positive patients multiple times whilst we feel unprotected. We have to walk out of the ward every day worrying that we may pass on Covid to other negative patients merely due to the inadequacy of the PPE.”

Commenting on the threat that frontline staff face, BMA consultants committee chair Dr Rob Harwood, said:

“We need clarity from the Government on what it is that healthcare staff should do and, particularly, what risks they should not have to take if they do not have adequate PPE, if they should find themselves in this situation.

“This is about the safety of patients and doctors first and foremost. Doctors are placing themselves at significant risk by treating patients on the frontline and there are concerns that sometimes this is without adequate PPE.

“While the Government has been forthcoming in letting us know that protection is on the way, there are still doctors and other NHS staff who today, tomorrow and in the coming week, may face the daunting prospect of having to consider treating patients without adequate protection.

“Having seen the tragic deaths of medics in Italy and now closer to home here in the UK, doctors and NHS staff have every right to be concerned, knowing that a lack of adequate protection is not only dangerous, it may be fatal.”

The BMA is also hearing that there are large variations in the level of PPE available for GP practices throughout the country.

As one concerned GP in Wolverhampton said: “Only this weekend myself and a colleague treated a child with a fever, in an urgent care setting with only a surgical mask, flimsy gowns and gloves as per current PHE advice.

"This is simply not safe. I know locally there is huge variability and availability of PPE. Some doctors are using hazmat suits with eye protection and respirators to see any symptomatic patients whereas I am hearing that most GP practices are struggling to source even surgical masks.”

Another GP said, “We've placed an order, it's been accepted but they will only give us half of what we need and cannot tell us when it will be delivered.”

Commenting, the chair of the GP committee Dr Richard Vautrey said: “Despite the promises about the urgent delivery of personal protective equipment, the reality for many practices on the ground remains the same.

“We are still hearing reports that many have insufficient PPE supplied to them and don't know if or when more will be coming. Understandably, many GPs remain seriously concerned that what has been provided does not offer them sufficient protection for both themselves and for patients.

“This situation cannot be allowed to continue. Practices need action not more promises.”

The BMA's The Doctor magazine also takes an in-depth look at the issues of inadequate personal protective equipment for doctors in the UK1.


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.

1. Read The Doctor article ‘Lack of protection unmasked’ here

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